T Nation

Upper Chest Development


Do inclines really work the clavicular head of the pectoral muscle.Ian King states in the Book Of Muscle that most chest exercises hit most chest fibers and i agree. I have a workout partner that only does flat db presses and he has a full chest from top to bottom.


everyone develops differently, your friend may only need to use a flat bench to target his entire chest while someone else may need to do incline,flat and decline.

id say throw incline into the mix anyway, its not like its going to make you smaller.


I think of the range of motion from dips to overhead press as a continuum of chest and shoulder movements, with flat bench in the middle. Imagine declining a bench all the way until you were upside down, pushing the barbell from your chest to your lower stomach. While it is clearly impractical to train while hanging upside down, flip it downside up and you get parallel bar dips. So you have a range of movement staring with dips and progressing through decline bench, flat bench, incline bench, and a seated overhead press. You engage more chest in the lower part of the range and more shoulder in the upper part of the range. In other words, dips are all chest, declines mostly chest with a little shoulder, flat bench chest and shoulder, and inclines mostly shoulder with a little chest, and overhead press all shoulder.

To prove this, grab on to the front part of your shoulder (anterior deltoid) with one hand and move your other arm up and down like you are doing dips. You will feel not feel your deltoid muscle being engaged at all. Now try to do a simulated 30 degree decline bench movement and you'll feel that the anterior deltoid is starting to work. Do the same thing for the flat bench movement, an incline movement, and a seated overhead press movement, and you'll feel the shoulder becoming more and more engaged. Now do it all over again except this time hold onto your pectoral muscle. You will feel it being used a lot for the dip movement and not at all for the overhead press.

While it is true that the decline bench tends to focus on the lower pectoral fibers and the incline bench tends to focus on the upper pectoral fibers, I don't think you have to hit the chest at multiple angles to develop it completely. But change is good, especially when it comes to weight training, so I think it is a good idea to mix dips and decline/incline benching with your staple flat bench movements.


Your "to prove this" doesn't work because there is no load in the dip position unless you are well dipping. By moving your arm up to the decline bench position there is load that your anterior delt has to work against, your arm.

If you think dips are entirely a chest movement then you are sorely mistaken.

Chest shape(like other muscles) is mostly genetic, if you develop a great upper chest from flat pressing then it's likely not your technique that's doing it. You can manipulate body positions and work the stretch of a movement to your advantage but you aren't going to create what you weren't intended to in my opinion. Can you put emphasis on certain aspects of the muscle? Yes. Will you develop a Markus Ruhl upper chest by suddenly adding inclines? Probably not.


I'll say in my case, I did nothing but flat for years and had decent development. But, as someone pointed out that's my genetics. However,after getting my incline up I feel like my chest is looking better than ever. I don't know if it's that I tried something different or what, but it worked.


Weighted Dips and Decline Blast Strap Push Ups for me...

Find what works for you.

If his buddy is doing only flat DB presses...then I can only imagine that he has plateaued in it OR he is probably doing other stuff too. Honestly, how many people in the gym do ONLY ONE movement for their chest?

While his buddy may have gained a significant amount of mass from DB Presses alone, it's hard to gauge his development based on this due to the high likelihood that he is doing additional exercises as well. Furthermore, as previously mentioned genetics as always will play a role in muscle development.


Dips, bench, and overhead presses are compound movements, so of course more than one muscle is being worked. Delts are a synergist in the dip (along with triceps, and a lot of other muscles as stabalizers). But even compound movements have primarily targeted muscles, and its standard convention to ignore synergist and stabilizers in order to talk about movements in a somewhat idealized way.

My point is simply that as the bench angle declines, the chest is targeted more and the delts less, and as the bench angle inclines the shoulder muscles are targeted more and the pectorals less.

But sure - you are right. It is not strictly true to say that the dip is all chest. I guess I should have written "targeting primarily the pectoral muscles, secondarily the triceps, and evolving the deltoids, lats, romboids, and a host of other muscles as stabilizers." That would have made things much clearer, right?

The next time someone says the curl is a biceps exercise, you be sure to correct them by stating the obvious. "If you think curls are entirely a biceps movement, you are sorely mistaken! Don't you know that the brachialis and brachioradialis are synergists and the anterior deltoids, trapezius, scapulae, and wrist flexors are stabilizers!"


Unless you are only benching to increase your flat bench, I think you should be doing declines, inclines, and dips at least sometimes. You should also mix it up with barbell and dumbbell variations in my opinion.


No need to get an attitude ha. The better word would have been emphasis. Most of us know that you are going to get shoulder and triceps and serratus etc activation and that if you want the pectorals can be the prime move, but not everyone knows those things you know? Seeing things like "all pectorals" is not correct and I don't want someone who doesn't know what we know reading it and thinking it to be true. See my point now?


I'm not too sure about that one Scott.

Upper chest used to be a weak point for me so I added incline DB flyes and incline DB presses, sure enough my upper chest filled out. Now if I flex I can get that line running through the middle Columbu style but on a much smaller scale.

I don't know if there are studies showing whether you can or can't isolate individual sections of a muscle group and to be honest I don't really care. What I do know is that when I added more incline work my upper chest filled out. So my personal opinion is that if someone wants to fill out their upper chest they may want to give inclines a try, if they already have good chest development then they should just continue to do what they're already doing.


IQ I have a hard time explaining how I think genetics work with bodybuilding and you showed that here ha. Some people gain a complete chest from whatever movement they do, these people suck and I hate them. Some people "could" gain a complete chest if they worked certain movements(this is the category you would fall in) and some people just can't gain a complete chest despite using the movements the previous category of people did.

What I should of said was more along the lines of if you don't have a thick upper chest within the first two years of serious training then you likely aren't going to make it a standout bodypart. You can improve upon it usually, but chances are you can't make it the feature point of that muscle unless the blueprint was there for you(and you just hadn't figured out how to maximize it).

To go off topic slightly but I think it helps explain what I mean. People look at that old picture of Dorian Yates when he's in his teens and proudly proclaim that he's got bad genetics. They don't look at the fact that when he was exposed to the correct stimulus(heavy training and at some point the drugs) he blew up to become a dominant bodybuilder. It didn't look like he had great bodybuilding genes, because he hadn't been given the correct stimulus.

Hopefully in my crazy logic you see the connection of what I'm trying to say. Replace Dorian's overall genetics with your upper chest genetics, his overal training and drugs with incline movements, and I "think" you will see what I'm trying to say.


Point taken.


I hear you.

I was thinking about Dorian as an example before I got to that point in your response. He makes a good example of my viewpoint, you'll never know your potential unless you try. Some people just like to say I've got bad genetics so it's not even worth trying (not saying this is you btw).

People assumed the picture I used as the starting point in my introduction thread was before I started training, I had been training for around 2 years before then. I could have decided my genetics were terrible and given up but luckily I didn't. Now (post cluelessness) it turns out my genetics aren't so bad after all and I'm taking advantage.


It looks like no one has mentioned using dumbbell flys as a solution to filling up the chest.

Sure, if you're a weakling who doesn't have any chest development to speak of then flys aren't going to help you. We're all familiar with the concept that "you can't flex bone."

So before you can do dumbbell chest flys with enough weight to actually give your muscles any signifigant trauma, you should be able to handle a pretty hefty amount of weight with the dumbbell bench press. This is the same premise behind why people shouldn't be curling if they can't do chin-ups with a 45lb plate: they're not strong enough to care about isolating lagging body-parts for symmetry since everything is lagging.

Having trouble filling up your upper-chest? Then do low-incline chest-flys with dumbbells. If you can't do 10 reps of low-incline dumbbell bench press with 100lb dumbbells, then you don't have enough chest strength or size to even care about if your upper chest is lagging.


This might be because your friend is pressing the dumbbells above his nipple line. Johnnie Jackson said the Barbell Floor Press hits his upper pecs harder than Incline Benching because the bar is almost over his neck instead of over his chest.

And Franco Columbo had some awesome upper-pec development but I'm pretty sure most of his chest work came from powerlifting-style training.

So it could be a mixture of this guys genetics and the form he uses.


Genetics definitely play an important role. Some people are born with more muscle cells, or a greater ration of fast to slow-twitch fibers, or a faster ability to recover. Some of us have to work harder for our gains than others. All that being said, I think that genetics (like steroids) are too often used as a cop out by people who are training or eating wrong.

I get frustrated when friends, family, or coworkers ask me how I "got my muscles." Invariably, after I tell them, they give me their excuses for not training hard or eating right, or else lecture me on what I'm doing wrong. Did they forget that they were asking me because I had some results and they didn't? Even worse is the guy who says, "Yeah, I do pretty much the same thing" and then goes to the gym to bench 5x5 of 80 pounds for the 200th workout in a row, all the while lamenting his bad genes.


I don't want to start an argument, but I really disagree with this sophomoric BS. First of all, I agree entirely with what I think is the principle behind what you are saying. Too many beginners focus way too much on showy isolation movements (especially curls), and neglect the compound movements that really build size and strength. Same goes for the average gym socialite who lifts the same weights in the same routine year after year.

That being said, I think insinuating that trainers do not have the right to perform certain exercises until they meet some arbitrary strength standards is ridiculous. Curls are excellent mass builders, and they have a place in every trainer's routine. Of course newbies shouldn't be doing volume work for biceps with multiple variation movements, but a reasonable amount of isolation work is not only acceptable, it is beneficial. For example, flies are great for pre- and post-exhaustion supersets, and you don't have to be benching 200 or more to benefit from those.


A 45lb plate may have been too high of a benchmark but I stand by my points that you need to develop a solid base of muscle and strength before you can find flys and curls to be more beneficial than just doing strength-building compound moves.

If you can only use the 50 pound dumbbells for Dumbbell Bench, you're probably doing chest flys with no more than 25 pounds. Weights this light aren't going to do much of anything for you.


Some of you guys may think I'm nuts, but I've been doing these closER grip incline benches with a multi curling bar using a grip on one of the bends that's halfway between pronated and neutral when pressing. A little narrower than shoulder width and the grip is like I was throwing a cross with both hands. Elbows about 45 degrees. This has really been hitting the tris and the upper chest really well. I got some used 25 and 44 pound standard plates that have really helped. Actually I've been doing these in the decline position too. A weird exercise I know, but between those and dumbbell work chest workouts have been great.


You're making the mistake of getting caught up with numbers. How much weight you lift isn't as important as how much effort it takes for you to lift it. That said, if someone who is relatively weak uses a relatively light weight they can produce the same stimulus as you, relatively speaking (i.e. enough to grow).

If there were really some gateway weight at which exercises became valuable, most beginners would be too weak at everything to ever make any progress.