When it comes time to train your chest, you might have your favorite chest exercises like bench press that you know you’re going to do when you hit the gym.
But if you have goals for bigger pecs or a bigger bench press overall, should you be focused on doing more bench press, or are there other exercises you should include on your chest day?
Here’s my quick answer:
What else should you do on chest day? Most chest days should include pressing movements, like the bench press and overhead press, and their variations. You can also do more pec exercises, pulling exercises, and more dedicated tricep work. Your exact workout will be a function of your training frequency, weekly split, and goals.
Let’s get into the specifics now.
4 Examples You Can Add To Your Chest Day
There are four main things you can add to any chest day:
- “Push” Exercises
- Pec Exercises
- Pull or “Antagonist” Exercises
- Tricep Exercises
1. Push Exercises
Push exercises are lifts that, quite literally, require you to push the weight.
Think about the bench press, where you press, or push the weight away from your body. The same is true with an overhead press, but we push the weight upward. A seated chest press machine, dips, and push-ups all do the same.
For the most part, any exercise that has you pushing a weight is a great supplement to a chest workout, because most of them incorporate the chest in some way, and all of them incorporate muscles that work complimentary with the chest.
In particular, if you are interested in having a stronger bench press overall, variations of the bench press are a key element.
The inclusion of close grip bench press, paused bench press, tempo bench press, incline bench press, and board bench presses are proven to make you stronger when applied correctly, so give them a shot.
Alternatively, many of the bench press variations used for strength training can be applied to grow your muscles as well.
The close grip bench, wide grip bench, negative tempo bench, and paused bench are all excellent tools to stimulate hypertrophic growth in the triceps (close grip) and pecs (wide grip, paused, tempo variations) when applied correctly and consistently.
Whatever your goals, push exercises of all varieties should be the main course for your chest training.
An example chest day with more push exercises might look like this:
- Bench Press – 4 sets of 8 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Standing Overhead Press – 4 sets of 8 reps
- Seated DB Overhead Press – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Chest Press Machine – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Dips – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Push-ups – 4 sets of AMRAP
2. Pec Exercises
There are other exercises that train the pecs that aren’t necessarily pushing motions, or do a better job of isolating the pecs without incorporating other muscles. These are also a great option to include in your chest day, for more than just obvious reasons.
Examples of pec exercises are the pec deck machine, dumbbell flyes (flat, incline, or decline), dumbbell scoops, and cable crossovers (high, medium, and low pulleys).
These may seem like they are only options for the bodybuilder, focused on growing their pecs. They can be performed for high reps to get the desired effect of a hypertrophic response, targeted directly on the pecs.
However, these are also a great addition for the strength athlete or powerlifter as well.
Personally, in my powerlifting training, I’ve incorporated isolated pec training to help grow my chest for the long term, so that I have more pec muscle to draw upon as I train it to make my bench press stronger.
An example chest day with more pec exercises might look like this:
- Bench Press – 4 sets of 8 reps
- Wide Grip Bench Press – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Negative Tempo Bench Press – 4 sets of 5 reps, 5 second negative
- Incline DB Fly – 4 sets of 10
- Pec Deck Machine – 4 sets of 10
- Cable Crossovers – 4 sets of 10
3. Pull or “Antagonist” Exercises
A less obvious inclusion to your chest training is to train pulling exercises. These are considered “antagonist” exercises because they do the opposite action of the chest, and are placed on the opposite side of the body (your back muscles).
Other examples of antagonist muscle groups are the quads and hamstrings (one pulls the leg in, the other extends the leg out), biceps and triceps, glutes and hip flexors, etc.
The reason you would train pulling motions on a chest day is to maintain balance in your training and physique.
As you grow your chest, your back muscles help stabilize your pressing movements. Without training your back, your shoulders would feel more unstable, and be prone to injury.
Notwithstanding, your physique will look weird if you only trained one side of it, like the front.
Depending on your load and rep ranges, pulling motions can be used for both strength training as well as hypertrophy training.
An example chest day with pulling exercises might look like this:
- Incline Bench Press – 4 sets of 8 reps
- Paused Bench Press – 4 sets of 4, 2 second pause on chest
- Chest Press Machine – 4 sets of 12 reps
- Single Arm DB Row – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Lat Pull Downs – 4 sets of 12 reps
- Inverted Rows – 4 sets of 10 reps
4. Tricep Exercises
The triceps are often being worked the same time as the chest, so it makes sense to give them some extra training on chest day.
For example, the bench press is usually thought of as a chest exercise, but the triceps are doing most of the work once the bar gets a few inches off your chest (especially in the lockout).
Without your triceps, you don’t have much of a bench. The same is true with the overhead press, dips, push ups, and other pressing variations.
Examples of some great triceps work you can do are close grip bench press, skull crushers, french curls, rope pulldowns, cable pushdowns, and a number of tricep-focused machines found in most gyms.
These exercises can be performed for high reps to reach hypertrophy goals, and many of them can be trained for strength goals.
As I mentioned with my pec training, I’ve used isolated triceps exercises heavily in my powerlifting training to grow my triceps so I have more muscle mass to rely on as I train my bench to become stronger.
An example chest day with more tricep exercises might look like this:
- Bench Press – 4 sets of 8 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Dips – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
- Skull Crushers – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Dumbbell Floor Press – 4 sets of 10 reps
- Close Grip Push-ups – 4 sets of AMRAP
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
How To Decide What You Should Put On Chest Day
With these four options, consider the following factors when deciding which is the best application to your chest day:
- Training Frequency
- Weekly Split
- Training Goals
- Training Weak Points
- Hitting a Plateau
You will want to apply these options differently depending on how often you lift.
For example, if you only lift twice a week, you’ll be better off relying on the compound chest movements, like the bench press and its variations, the overhead press, dips, and pushups.
These exercises use many muscles to perform the lift, so you’re getting more work in with each rep than an isolated exercise, like a pec deck fly.
If you train four to six times per week, you likely have the opportunity to train chest or upper body twice in a week, so you can break things up. One chest day might focus on compound pressing and pulling movements, while the second day focuses on isolated chest and tricep exercises.
Or maybe you blend them, each chest day starting with one or two compound pressing movements, and then working your way to more and more isolated movements to burn out the pecs and triceps.
After we consider how often you train in general, we look at how you break up your training each week.
How often do you train your chest specifically?
If you only lift at all once or twice per week, you should focus on compound pressing movements.
However, some lifters follow a Bro Split, which only allows you to train chest once per week, as each day has its own muscle group to focus on.
These lifters train six days a week, so we aren’t worried about how often they train in general, but we are worried about getting enough chest work done in that single workout, since that’s our only shot to train chest that week.
In this case, your chest day should include push exercises, as well as isolated pec exercises. You can save the isolated triceps work and the pulling work for other days in the week dedicated to those muscle groups.
On the flip side, a powerlifter may train chest 2-3 times in a week as they work on their bench press.
For these lifters, one day might be dedicated to max effort benching, performing only 1-3 reps per set with a relatively heavy load.
The second workout may call for dynamic effort, where they use light weight and focus on moving the load quickly and explosively, while a third workout may call for isolated pec and tricep hypertrophy, or bench press for higher reps.
You must define your goal to know what elements to add to your chest day.
I once had a coach tell me of a client that came to him and said he wanted to bench 300lbs.
The coach wrote him a program, and after months and months of training, he finally hit 300 lbs.
When the coach congratulated him, he was surprised that the client seemed disappointed. The coach asked whether or not he was happy with the result, and the client rescinded, “Yeah, I just thought my chest would be a lot bigger by now.”
The client believed that reaching a 300lb bench press would give him a result in muscle size, which was his goal all along. Without knowing your exact goal, you can’t program the right training each week.
If your goals are to have a bigger chest, you’ll want to train for hypertrophy, which typically means more reps in each set, with the weight increasing as you adapt over time, and having a diet that supports growth.
If your goals are to have a bigger bench press number, you’ll want to train for strength, focused on lower reps with heavier load (increasing over time), perfecting your technique, and using bench press variations to break through weak points and plateaus.
If your goal is general fitness and balance in your physique, then you should do a bit of everything we’ve shared above and make sure you’re increasing the weight as you get stronger and bigger.
Training Weak Points
Whether you’re training for size or strength, you’ll recognize areas that need more improvement than others.
As a powerlifter, I’ve had to focus on extra tricep work to lock out my bench press at times, and at other times, I’ve had more issues getting the weight off my chest, so I need to do more pec work.
Bodybuilders will get notes from judges on areas they need to grow to reach the right ratios and proportions they are aiming for.
When you get that feedback, or recognize those weak points, this is a perfect chance to adjust your chest day accordingly.
For the bodybuilder, you can use that feedback to add more isolated chest work.
For the powerlifter, you can look at your last competition, or training video where you failed your bench press to make your chest days address whatever failed, whether it was the bottom of the lift near the chest, or the top of the lift where your triceps gave out.
With the knowledge of what needs to be strengthened, you can shape your chest day to address those weaknesses.
Hitting a Plateau
Finally, changing up your chest day is a great way to break through a plateau.
If you find you’ve leveled out and aren’t seeing any gains, either in strength or in size, then it’s time to change something! Maybe it’s as simple as doing the same exercises, the same split, but increasing the load and pushing yourself more.
Maybe it’s time to actually change the way we train our chest.
For those interested in size, make yourself do some heavier weights for fewer reps for a few weeks, since you likely don’t do as much of that.
For the powerlifter, let the barbell rest for a few weeks and try using the dumbbells, cables, and machines to pump your muscles for reps and feel a pump.
For the lifter who just wants to feel good and be healthy, try some exercises you’ve never done before, or quit training biceps and triceps together and try training triceps with your chest. Train chest and back together as an antagonistic pair and see what changes.
Muscle growth and strength is all about your body’s adaptations to the stress you introduce it to. If you keep introducing the same stress, your body will simply adapt to meet that level of stress and not get any stronger.
You have to change things up to keep your body adapting to the stress you are putting on it, and these chest day options are a great way to keep things fresh so you can keep growing.
Tips on Structuring Your Chest Day
With all we’ve shared above, there are three tips that are most important to making sure you are structuring a productive chest day:
- Use the same workout structure for 4-6 weeks
- Change workout structure periodically throughout the year
- Increase volume and/or intensity over time
Use the Same Workout Structure for 4–6 Weeks
No matter what you change, you’ve got to do it for 4-6 weeks at a time.
If you like any of the suggestions we’ve made above, do yourself the favor of committing to it for at least those 4-6 weeks to see the change and benefits. Anything less than that will just leave you spinning your wheels and frustrated.
Increase Volume and/or Intensity Over Time
Increase the weight/reps/sets or intensity over time.
Volume is simply the product of your total reps x weight. You can break this up by muscle group, so if you are doing 160 reps of chest work (4 chest exercises for 4 sets of 10 reps), you need to increase it over time, if you keep using the same weight.
Alternatively, you can keep the same 160 total reps, but increase the weight.
You can also increase the weight, reduce the rep (now performing with heavier weights for 6-8 reps instead of 10) and increase the sets (5-6 sets per exercise) to have a little of both.
FInally, you might make lighter weights more intense by timing your reps for negative tempos, like a bench press with a 5 second descent to your chest, or a pec deck fly with a 8 second count from your hands touching to your hands being full extended to the side, resisting the pull of the weight the whole time.
Whatever you change, you must progress your training to be more difficult over time.
Change Workout Structure Periodically Throughout the Year
Finally, changing the structure of your chest days throughout the year will help you realize your goals.
Let’s say you’ve spent 8 weeks training chest and triceps together for hypertrophy. You’ve progressed the weight, had to reduce your reps in each set, making you perform one or two more sets to get the same total reps with the heavier weight. It’s been a great block of training.
To keep progressing, this would be a great time to spend 4-6 weeks on a new style of chest training. Try moving the triceps work to another day and combining chest with pulling exercises. Or try training like a powerlifter on your chest days, doing mostly bench press and variations of it to get stronger.
Even if your goal is not to have an impressive bench, these changes to the stimulus you put on your muscles will keep them adapting and growing overtime. If you keep doing the same thing, no matter how effective it was at first, your body will adapt to it and stay the same.
What To Read Next
- How Many Times Per Week Should You Bench Press?
- How Do Powerlifters Train Chest?
- What Else Should I Do On Deadlift Day?
- What Else Should I Do On Biceps Day?
- What Else Should I Do On Shoulder Day?
- Can You Workout Back And Chest On Same Day?
- Is It Better To Do Push-Ups In Sets Or All At Once?
- Can You Train Shoulders And Biceps On The Same Day?
- Can You Train Back And Legs On The Same Day?
- 12 Dumbbell Chest Exercises Without A Bench (With Pictures)
- Can You Train Chest 2 Days In A Row? (Pros & Cons)
- Bench Press Pyramid – What Is It, How To Do It, and Common Mistakes
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.