chest exercises - JMax fitness

The 4 Most Effective Exercises for a Bigger, Stronger Chest

Everybody wants a thicker, bigger, stronger, and more impressive chest.
But as old man Ronnie Coleman would say, “Ain’t nobody wanna lift heavy ass weight.” Or in an effort to paraphrase for our current generation, “Ain’t nobody wanna put much thought into their session these days.”

The exercises that follow may not cause you to morph into Ronnie Coleman. You may not develop a chest that would evoke the envy of Arnold overnight (we can dream). But at the very least, the following four exercises will help blow up your chest, take your #gainz to new heights, and make you buy some new shirts.

Part 1: Dumbbell Hex Press

Ideal Sequencing: Dumbbell Hex Presses serve as a fantastic initial exercise in your primary or secondary chest session for the week. They do an excellent job of helping you locate and connect with your pecs. They also loosen up your elbow flexors, extensors, and triceps. Spend some time flexing hard at the top in the contracted position, and absolutely hammer blood into your chest.

Set + Rep Best Practices: Being that these are often used to kick off a great session, they’re best utilized with a lower set, higher rep approach. To effectively establish your mind-muscle connection and drive blood into your chest, I suggest making small weight jumps. Work up in sets of 8-10 until you get to a hard 8 – then stop. Alternatively, you can also commit to 4 sets of 12, or something to the tune of 6 sets of 8. Take nothing to failure here.

Purpose: The goal in using hex presses, especially to begin your session, is to stimulate the mind-muscle connection, get blood flowing, and “activate” your chest without creating much accumulative fatigue. Basically, we want to get your chest psyched up for the beating you’re about to lay down.


1) Either on a flat bench or a low incline, grab two dumbbells and press them into one another using a neutral grip.

2) Continue to press them into each other as you lower to your chest, by letting your elbows and triceps move away from each other. This will create a bit of a triangular shape as you lower the dumbbells.

3) When you hit your chest, pause for 2-seconds or so before driving your elbows back together. Bring your chest into a strong contraction at the top.

4) Keep a slight bend in your elbows and squeeze the life out of the contraction for 2-3-seconds.

bigger, stronger chest

The Dumbbell Hex Press is a fantastic movement for driving blood into your chest and warming up your elbows.

Part 2: Incline Barbell Bench Press

Ideal Sequencing: The incline barbell bench press is a great second or third exercise in your chest routine. Shifting it from the usual top spot in your session allows you to use something more joint-friendly – such as a dumbbell press – to loosen up your joints, establish a strong mind-muscle connection, and fill your pectoral shelf with blood. Once you’ve attended to those warm-up steps, you can move into heavier loading patterns on the incline bench.  These will really crush your chest, and stimulate your central nervous system.

Set + Rep Best Practices: Much of my programming will use incline barbell bench work in the context of building strength and power. I’ll usually use something along the lines of 6 sets of 6, 4 sets of 8, or occasionally 4 sets of 3-4.

Purpose: The purpose of the incline bench press is typically to place working emphasis on the upper shelf portion of your pecs. This allows you to “fill out” the area around your collarbone and create a broad, sweeping chest that inspires awe. Thanks to the ability to use heavier loads, you can create a strong stimulus with this movement.


1) Take a grip that’s just outside shoulder width.

2) Lower the bar until it’s 2-3” off of your chest.

3) Pause for 1-2-seconds.

4) Think of explosively trying to push yourself away from the bar while trying to pull it apart with your elbows.

5) Stop just short of lockout to avoid shifting the tension to your joints.

Part 3: Smith Machine Guillotine Press

Ideal Sequencing: I find Smith Machine guillotine presses are best served in the latter third of your session. They can be utilized as a great, last “pumping” movement before you move onto a finisher. Or, you can use these presses AS your finisher. Bonus #gainz available if you’ve got the cajones to turn this movement into a wicked drop-set, or litter it with intra-rep pauses.

Set + Rep Best Practices: Go high, or go home. Guillotine presses on the Smith Machine are best suited to higher reps and sets for a few reasons.

1) By the time you get to this point in your session, your chest should be sufficiently fried. Your loading will naturally go down.

2) “Guillotine” implies that you’re lowering the bar to, and pressing from, your collarbone/neck region. This puts your shoulders in a bit of an awkward position  – one which is not wise to be throwing a ton of weight onto. I’ll often program these to be done for 2-3 sets of 20-25 with the final set being a massive drop set, with some partials tacked onto the end for good measure.


The goal in using this slightly awkward pressing movement is to fully stretch the pecs at the bottom and force them to work hard out of that stretch position. Moving into the higher rep ranges will aid in finishing off the thrashing you’re placing on all the muscle fibers in your chest.


1) Set up in the Smith Machine on either a flat bench or the lowest possible incline. I don’t advise going any higher than a 30deg incline for these. Slide the bench around until you’re where you can lower the bar to your neck or collarbone.

2) Take a grip width that’s just outside your shoulders. Feel free to play with going even wider. 3) Slowly lower (2-3-seconds), until the bar is grazing your neck or collarbone. Pause for no more than 1-second (remember, you’re likely doing 20-25 reps).

4) Drive the bar off your chest by flexing your pecs to move the weight up. Come up as high as you can before quickly moving into the next rep.

bigger, stronger chest

The Smith Machine receives a TON of hate. But when you program it correctly, it can generate a ton of stimulus.


Part 4: Pec Minor Dips

Ideal Sequencing: The jury is still out on where these fit best within a chest session. On a personal level, I’m able to get the strongest contraction when I use these first. This is great for establishing blood flow and a mind-muscle connection. On the other hand, I’ve also noticed that many lifters’ triceps will come out to play a little bit harder when done later in the session.

To that end, pec minor dips are great as the final movement in your chest session as your pec minor often goes relatively untouched in the rest of your chest exercises. That’s not to say that you don’t tap into it at all but in comparison to the stimulus your pec major receives…it pales. My suggestion is for you to experiment with these. Try them first, try them at the midpoint, and try them last. You’ll figure out where they feel the best and most effective pretty quickly.

Sets + Rep Best Practices: I really like to program these in a low set range, with higher intensity. Since the pec minor is such a small portion of your chest, 2-4 sets (depending where you do them in your session) is sufficient. Rep wise, I’ll have clients either stay in an 8-12 range while focusing on squeezing the contracted position for 2-3-seconds, or have them rep with 1-2-second held contractions until form failure.

Purpose: The purpose with these is simple. Relative to the stimulus your pec major receives with most chest work, the pec minor is often overpowered and neglected. Yet, there’s something about filling out that lower, outer “sweep” portion to your chest. It helps create a very polished, clean, and full look. By isolating and targeting the pec minor, you’re able to work on enhancing that sweep and bringing stimulus to the whole of your chest.


1) Set up on a dip station and begin at the top with soft-locked elbows (very slight bend).

2) Think of the movement as a reverse shrug, and allow your shoulders to travel towards your ears while your chest drops down.

3) To contract, and come back up, flex your pecs and push yourself away from the floor (your elbows shouldn’t have moved at all).

4) Come into and hold the contracted position for 2-3-seconds.

Bonus) Leaning forward ever-so-slightly allows most to sink deeper, get a better stretch, and flex harder out of the bottom.

bigger, stronger chest

Don’t forget: Building up ANY muscle groups takes time, patience, and plenty of reps and focus.


In isolation, these are all fantastic exercises by nature. When performed in calculated unison, the training effect you can place on your chest is fantastic. Here are some options on how you could fit these into the context of your training:

  1. Take these four exercises and perform them back-to-back in true giant set fashion.
  2. Break these movements down into two pairs. For example, Hex Presses superset with Pec Minor Dips, and Incline Barbell Presses superset with Smith Machine Guillotine Presses.
  3. Follow a traditional bodybuilding approach and perform straight sets, progressing through each movement sequentially.

Your Action Steps

  1. Take one of the approaches above, and implement it on your next session.
  2. Come back to this post and leave a comment, or shoot me an email. Let me know how it went, what your thoughts are, and if you found any way to improve the session.

About the Author

Alex_Mullan_HeadshotAlex is a self-proclaimed anti-meathead and part-time nerd. When he's not working towards Greek God status or learning how to better serve his clients, he can be found exploring how to further crush life, perfect his flair in the kitchen, or pull the perfect shot of espresso. You can learn what he's all about at