Are you looking for the best compound chest exercises to overload the pectoralis major, build strength, and gain muscle?
If so, you’ve come to the right place because we are breaking down five of the best compound lifts you can do to strengthen and develop the chest.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
Primary Muscles Worked 💪
- Chest (Pecs)
Secondary Muscles Worked 💪
- Anterior Deltoids (Front Shoulder Muscle)
5 Effective Compound Chest Exercises
1. Flat Bench Press
This is arguably the most popular exercise to build a big chest. You can perform it with a barbell to move more weight or use dumbbells to force both sides of your body to work independently.
How to (barbell):
- Load the barbell and lie on the bench.
- Reach up and grab the bar with an even overhand grip. Your hands should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Position yourself so your forehead is underneath the barbell.
- Plant both feet on the floor, retract your shoulder blades, engage your abs, and inhale.
- Unrack the bar by locking out your elbows and move it over your chest.
- Take another breath and lower the bar to your chest.
- Press the bar to the top position and exhale.
2. Incline Bench Press
Performing the exercise at an incline shifts the emphasis toward the chest’s upper (clavicular) portion.
How to (dumbbells):
- Set the incline of the bench at approximately 45 degrees (the middle point between upright and flat).
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on the bench.
- Lift the weights and place them on top of your thighs.
- Carefully lie back and immediately kick the weights as you extend your arms.
- Retract your shoulder blades and take a deep breath.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to your sides.
- Pause briefly and press the weights to the top position as you exhale.
Dips are one of the best compound chest exercises, and all you need to perform them is a dip stand.
- Step on the footplates of a dip stand and grab the handles. Your hands should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Retract your shoulder blades, flex your triceps, and engage your abs.
- Step off the platform to suspend yourself in the air.
- Lean your body slightly forward and inhale.
- Slowly lower yourself as much as possible and press back to the top as you exhale.
Like dips, push-ups are a fantastic compound chest exercise. The best part is that you don’t need any equipment. Plus, you can pick from numerous variations, depending on your needs.
For instance, knee push-ups are ideal for beginners, whereas decline and plyometric push-ups are better for more advanced trainees.
How to (classic version):
- Get down on all fours and plant your hands flat on the floor.
- Extend your body and support your legs on your toes.
- Engage your abs to prevent your lower back from arching.
- Point your fingers forward to keep your elbows from flaring as you descend.
- Retract your shoulder blades, inhale, and lower yourself as much as possible.
- Pause briefly at the bottom and push back to the top as you exhale.
5. Machine Chest Press
Performing the chest press on a gym machine is beneficial because you don’t have to worry about stability. Instead, you can focus on pressing the weight to target the chest.
Plus, given the lower stability requirement, you can typically lift more weight, which can be advantageous for growth.
- Select the appropriate weight.
- Adjust the seat height so the handles are slightly below chest level when seated.
- Sit down, grab both handles, retract your shoulder blades, and take a breath.
- Press the handles forward until your arms are straight, and pause briefly.
- Slowly bring the handles to the starting position and exhale.
The above are some of the best compound chest exercises you can do to build strength and muscle, but they are not the only ones.
It’s best to experiment and try many exercises and variations to see which ones best target your chest. For instance, the flat barbell bench press is often touted as the best chest-builder. (1)
But for that to be the case for you, it needs to effectively target your chest (feeling tension and a burning sensation in the pecs at the end of a set) without causing shoulder issues.
If that’s not the case, don’t be afraid to try a variation (e.g., dumbbell press) or go for another compound lift, such as a modified push-up or dips.
The Best Compound Exercise?
As discussed, a compound exercise is one that works multiple muscle groups. As opposed to isolation exercises, which target one muscle group.
One of the best compound chest exercises that you can do is one that we did almost daily in the Army, and that is the classic push-up. Don’t overlook this simple, but powerful exercise! This is a powerhouse compound exercise that works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core. And the great thing is you can do them anywhere and anytime.
Another awesome thing about this compound exercise, is that you can vary the resistance using a number of different set-ups: decline push-ups, incline push-ups, push-ups from your knees, and more. So even if you don’t have the strength to do solid reps, you can vary the resistance with some of these varied angles. This is a great workout for your chest muscles – upper and lower.
And sometimes you need a little something extra to break a plateau or build a stubborn muscle group. If you fit into this category (like me), then consider a top creatine powder. They are supremely helpful to supercharge your workouts, and equally important, they help with muscle recovery. Check our review below of CRN-5, a top creatine powder, to see if it might work for you!
Crazy Nutrition Ultimate CRN-5 Creatine Powder
Hitting a plateau for your bench? Check our shoulder and triceps exercises since they can be your weak point on your bench. Want to target your chest without the assistance of your delts and triceps? Chest isolation exercises can help you grow with that. A certain portion of your chest is lacking? Check our upper and lower chest exercises to target them effectively. Click to return to building lean muscle.
- Chertoff, J. (2023, May 24). Bench press: Muscles worked, benefits, how to, variations, & more. Healthline.