What is the “BEST” Chest Exercise? (Supported by Science)

And chances are, you have never done it before.

What is the best chest exercise? Is it possible to come up with that answer utilising science as a reference? Yes, you can, and Mike Israetel decided to talk about just that recently.

Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, is a well-respected professor in the bodybuilding community.

Dr. Mike Israetel and Milo Wolf, both scientists in the field, talked about a potential breakthrough in the chest exercises domain. Milo, a coach for Renaissance Periodization and Stronger by Science, engages in a discussion with Dr. Israetel regarding their findings.

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What is the “BEST” Chest Exercise? (Supported by Science)

The two scientists cautiously introduce the idea that they may have identified the world’s optimal chest exercise, emphasizing the inherent variability among individuals. Dr. Israetel acknowledges Milo Wolf’s expertise in range of motion in training, citing his significant contributions to the field.

As they delve into their announcement, Dr. Israetel presents the cambered bar bench press as a potential candidate for the best chest exercise. He highlights its advantages, such as placing the individual in an accentuated loaded stretched position—a factor deemed crucial for hypertrophy by Milo’s research. The cambered bar bench press also offers stability, loadability, and a small progressive element akin to a traditional barbell.

They discuss the universal applicability of the cambered bar bench, contrasting it with the potential limitations of machines or specialized equipment. Israetel proposes the cambered bar bench press as a strong contender, considering its unique benefits and versatility.

However, Mike acknowledges the nuances of individual preferences and variations, drawing an analogy to the subjectivity of declaring the “best” anything. He likens it to choosing the best restaurant, recognizing that personal preferences play a significant role.

Milo contributes to the discussion, noting that the dumbbell fly is a competitive option, offering stability, loadability, and an isolation aspect. However, he acknowledges that not everyone may find the cambered bar bench press suitable, emphasizing the importance of individualisation.

man performs effective shoulder exercise with dumbbells

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Throughout the conversation, Israetel and Milo Wolf express the theoretical advantages of the cambered bar bench press while maintaining a realistic perspective on the variability of individual responses. They conclude with practical recommendations, including the importance of controlling the eccentric phase and adjusting the load and sets for optimal results.

Sadly, most gyms don’t have a cambered bar available for you to bench press and blow up your chest gains. In this case, you can choose a dumbbell movement, like the flyes, to maintain that increased range of motion and put tension on your muscle while it is stretched.

However, if you are really serious about growing your chest, Israetel advises you to save up money and get a cambered bar yourself to add to your home gym.

For a full conversation between Mike and Milo, the humour and banter between the two, plus all the information laid out in a more well-rounded manner, watch the video below.

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Israetel’s conclusion from the video above comes close to what we at BOXROX found for ourselves. In an article titled “What is The Best Chest Exercise?” we tried to answer that question by combing through all chest exercises available.

This is what we have had to take into consideration before discussing the best exercise for the chest:

  • How effectively it targets the muscle group
  • Is it easy to apply progressive overload?
  • Is it safe to do it?
  • Can you find this equipment nearly in any gym around the world?

It is exactly because of the last consideration – finding the equipment in most gyms around the world – that the cambered bar bench press was not considered.

In the end, the final battle was between the barbell bench press and its dumbbell counterpart. The winner for us? The barbell bench press.

crossfit womenSource: Photos Courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Learn More

Training your chest can have a number of benefits for your overall fitness and physical health. Here are some reasons why you might want to train your chest:

  1. Strengthening your chest muscles: Chest exercises like bench press, push-ups, and dumbbell flyes can help you build stronger chest muscles. This can improve your overall upper body strength and make it easier to perform daily activities that require pushing or pulling.
  2. Aesthetics: A well-developed chest can enhance the appearance of your upper body, giving you a more balanced and proportional physique.
  3. Improved posture: A strong chest can also help improve your posture by pulling your shoulders back and helping you maintain a more upright position.
  4. Increased metabolism: Chest exercises can also help boost your metabolism, which can help you burn more calories throughout the day.
  5. Improved athletic performance: A strong chest can improve your performance in a variety of sports and activities that require upper body strength, such as basketball, football, and rock climbing.

Overall, training your chest can have numerous benefits for your physical health, appearance, and athletic performance. It’s important to incorporate a variety of exercises into your chest workout routine to ensure that you’re targeting all the muscles in your chest, as well as other muscles in your upper body.

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How Often Should You Train the Chest?

The frequency at which you should train your chest depends on several factors such as your fitness goals, overall fitness level, and your training program.

In general, it is recommended that you train your chest muscles at least once per week to see improvements in strength and muscle growth. However, some individuals may benefit from training their chest more frequently, such as 2-3 times per week, especially if they are more experienced lifters and are looking to target specific areas of the chest.

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t train your chest muscles on consecutive days as this can lead to overtraining and increase the risk of injury. Additionally, it’s important to allow your muscles to rest and recover between workouts, so that they have time to repair and grow.

Source: Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Overall, the frequency at which you should train your chest will depend on your individual goals and fitness level, so it’s best to consult with a certified fitness professional who can help you design a personalized workout plan that meets your needs.

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How Heavy Should you Lift When Training for Muscle Growth?

When training for muscle growth (hypertrophy), the weight you lift, often referred to as the training load or intensity, is an important factor to consider. Here are some guidelines to help determine how heavy you should lift:

Use a weight that challenges you: To promote muscle growth, it’s important to use a weight that challenges your muscles. This means selecting a weight that allows you to complete the desired number of repetitions within the hypertrophy rep range (generally 8 to 12 reps) with proper form, while also feeling challenging towards the end of each set.

Choose a weight that elicits fatigue: The weight you select should cause fatigue in the target muscles by the end of each set. You should feel a sense of muscular burn or fatigue during the final few reps, indicating that the weight is appropriately challenging.

Progressive overload: To continue building muscle, it’s crucial to gradually increase the demands on your muscles over time. This can be achieved through progressive overload, which involves gradually increasing the weight you lift as your muscles adapt and grow stronger. Aim to progressively increase the weight as you become more comfortable with a certain weight range to continue stimulating muscle growth.

Form and technique: While it’s important to challenge yourself with heavier weights, it’s equally important to prioritize proper form and technique. Lifting weights that are too heavy and compromise your form can increase the risk of injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Focus on maintaining good form throughout each repetition, even when using challenging weights.

Source: Scott Webb

Individual capabilities: The appropriate weight will vary depending on your individual capabilities, strength level, and experience. What may be heavy for one person might be light for another. It’s important to listen to your body and select weights that are appropriate for your current fitness level.

Variation in training: Incorporating a variety of rep ranges and training modalities can be beneficial for overall muscle development. While the hypertrophy rep range (8-12 reps) is commonly associated with muscle growth, including both higher rep ranges (12-15+) and lower rep ranges (6-8) in your training can provide different stimuli and promote well-rounded muscle development.

Remember, finding the right weight is a process of trial and error. Start with a weight that challenges you within the recommended rep range, and adjust as needed based on your individual capabilities and progression. Consulting with a fitness professional or personal trainer can also provide guidance and help you determine the appropriate weight selection for your specific goals and needs.

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barbell bench press

There are several effective chest exercises that individuals can perform safely in the gym. When performing any exercise, it’s important to use proper form, start with an appropriate weight, and gradually increase intensity to avoid injury. Here are some common chest exercises that are generally safe when executed correctly:

  1. Barbell Bench Press:
    • Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the ground.
    • Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width, lower it to your chest, and push it back up.
    • Keep your back and glutes in contact with the bench and maintain a controlled motion.
  2. Dumbbell Bench Press:
    • Similar to the barbell bench press, but using dumbbells.
    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and press them up while lying on a bench.
    • Dumbbells allow for a more natural range of motion and can help prevent muscle imbalances.
  3. Incline Bench Press:
    • Similar to the flat bench press, but performed on an inclined bench (30-45 degree angle).
    • Focuses on the upper portion of the chest and anterior deltoids.
  4. Dumbbell Flyes:
    • Lie on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand.
    • Start with your arms extended and slightly bent at the elbows, then lower the dumbbells in a wide arc while keeping a slight bend in your elbows.
    • Focus on feeling a stretch in your chest before returning to the starting position.
  5. Cable Chest Press:
    • Using a cable machine with adjustable handles, stand facing away from the machine and grasp the handles at chest height.
    • Step forward, extend your arms, and then bring them back in front of your body while keeping tension on the cables.
  6. Push-Ups:
    • Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
    • Lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows, then push back up.
    • Modify the difficulty by adjusting hand placement or doing knee push-ups.
  7. Machine Chest Press:
    • Sit down on a chest press machine and adjust the seat and handles to your comfort.
    • Push the handles away from your chest while keeping your back against the pad.
  8. Machine Flyes:
    • Similar to dumbbell flyes, but performed on a machine.
    • Sit down and adjust the machine’s arms, then bring them together in a hugging motion.

Remember these safety tips:

  • Warm up before starting your chest workout to prepare your muscles and joints.
  • Use proper form to prevent injury. If you’re unsure, ask a fitness professional for guidance.
  • Start with a weight that allows you to complete your desired number of repetitions with good form.
  • Gradually increase weight and intensity over time to avoid overexertion.
  • Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard, especially if you’re new to exercising.

If you’re new to weightlifting, consider working with a personal trainer to learn proper technique and develop a safe and effective workout routine tailored to your goals and fitness level.

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