5 Chest Exercises to Improve Performance and Prevent Injury

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Barbell Bench

Most athletes loves to perform chest exercises for their sizing-boosting gains. But did you know that chest exercises are also a valuable tool for improving performance and reducing injury?

Chest exercises primarily strengthen the pec muscles, specifically the pectoralis major and minor; however, they also strengthen the delts, triceps and other upper-body muscles that stabilize the shoulders, helping the upper body work as a cohesive unit with no weaknesses, making you a stronger athlete and preventing injuries.

The exercises below will help improve skills in several different sports:

  • Swimming — Butterfly and Breaststroke
  • Football — Tackling and Blocking
  • Hockey — Body Checking and Shooting
  • Wrestling — Hold and Push Moves
  • Basketball — Rebounding, Passing and Shooting
  • Baseball/Softball — Throwing and Hitting
  • Volleyball — Spikes and Sets

Select two or three of the following exercises and incorporate them in your upper-body workout two times per week. Warm up properly beforehand to prevent injury.


This multi-joint bodyweight exercise effectively builds the chest muscles and strengthens the shoulders, triceps, back and core. Or, choose a Push-Up variation to specifically target different chest areas.

  • Assume Push-Up position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Bend elbows and lower until chest is two inches above ground; keep elbows to sides and core tight
  • Forcefully push up against ground to return to starting position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3x10-20

Bench Press

The Bench Press is the most popular exercise for building the chest. It's an excellent tool for dramatically increasing strength and size, but don't overdo it. The Bench Press should be a part of your upper-body program, not the whole program.

  • Lie with back on bench
  • With arms extended, grip barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Keeping low back on bench and elbows to sides, slowly lower bar to chest
  • Explosively drive bar back up until arms are straight
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x6-10 with moderate to heavy weight

Dumbbell Fly

Another popular chest exercise, the Dumbbell Fly isolates the pecs. As such, it should be used as a supplement to multi-joint exercises.

  • Lie with back on bench, holding dumbbells with arms extended over chest and palms facing together
  • Lower dumbbells out to sides in arc, keeping arms straight
  • Contract chest to pull arms together to assume start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x8-12

Barbell Pullovers

The Barbell Pullover is an often-overlooked exercise that strengthens the chest, shoulders and upper back.

  • Lie on bench holding barbell with arms extended over chest and shoulders
  • Lower bar toward floor overhead as far as possible without discomfort; keep arms straight
  • Pull weight in opposite direction to return to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-3x8-12


Dips are a multi-joint exercise involving almost the whole upper body as well as the core. Perform them leaning forward to further engage your chest along with your triceps.

  • Grasp handles of Dip machine and support body with straight arms
  • Lower body with control until chest is at hand level
  • Push body up until arms are straight; repeat for specified reps
  • Use weight belt to increase challenge

Sets/Reps: 2-3x8-12

Still interested in more ways to work your chest? The STACK Chest Guide contains a rich variety of exercises designed to help you meet your goals.

Photo:  hamptons.com

Jim Carpentier is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a New Jersey-licensed massage therapist and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as associate health and wellness director at the Greater Morristown YMCA in Cedar Knolls, N.J.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock