The Results in 1-2-3 Chest Workout

Develop better pecs from every angle with this easy and effective training technique.

Photo: GettyImages

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One of the best things about training — besides the hardbody results, of course — is the fact that there’s no one “right way” to work out. 

OK, sure, there are wrong ways, like those guys who slide a 45 onto each side of a barbell and turn their curls into standing hip thrusts, or anyone still using the weighted back- extension machine. (As for the lady I noticed the other day actually dancing wildly and singing to herself while she was doing her triceps pushdowns . . . she gets points for spirit, at least.)

That said, change-ups can be a great thing for your workouts, especially when they’re expert-approved — just like the technique shared here by Michelle Basta Speers, NSCA-CPT, endurance athlete and personal trainer based in Wrightwood, California.

The premise is simple: You front-load your chest workout with barbell exercises, meaning you can tackle the most challenging presses when you’re at your strongest. You’ll follow up with a couple of dumbbell movements, allowing you to give proper attention to each side of your chest individually for balanced strength and development. Finally, you’ll wrap up with two machine exercises that give you a “safe space” to reach momentary muscle failure. 

Altogether, it’s a three-step method you can apply to any workout when you want to increase your intensity and maximize your results in 1-2-3!

The Results in 1-2-3 Chest Workout

Use a light weight for the first set of bench press as a warm-up, then add enough weight to the bar to reach muscle fatigue within eight to 10 reps for subsequent sets. Rest 90 seconds to two minutes between your sets of flat-bench and incline presses, 60 to 90 seconds between sets for each of the dumbbell exercises, and 30 to 60 seconds between sets of the machine moves.


Mode Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Bench Press 4 8-10
Barbell Incline Press 3 8-10
Dumbbell Flat-Bench Flye 2 10-12
Dumbbell Pullover 2 10-12
Machine Seated Chest Press 2 12-15
Machine Cable Crossover 2 12-15

Bench Press

Load the barbell with the appropriate amount of weight and lie faceup on a flat bench. Take an overhand grip on the bar with your hands placed about 6 inches outside of shoulder width. Draw your shoulder blades back and down and brace your core, feet flat on the floor. Unrack the bar and hold it with straight arms, wrists in line with your shoulders, and slowly lower the bar to just above your midchest. Reverse the motion and press the bar back up just short of full elbow extension.

Speers Says: “When it comes to benching, form is absolutely more important than the amount of weight you’re lifting. Keep your feet planted on the floor, but don’t arch your low back or raise your butt off the bench as you push up the barbell. The goal is to make sure your pecs — and to a lesser extent, your triceps — are doing all the work, and that means not contorting your whole body to get the job done.”

Incline Press

Load the bar with the appropriate amount of weight and lie on an incline bench. Take an overhand grip on the bar with your hands placed about 6 inches wider than your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades down and back and brace your core, feet flat on the floor. Unrack the bar, holding it with straight arms over your clavicles. Slowly lower the bar toward your upper chest, keeping your elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from your body as you do so. Pause for a one-count at the bottom, with the bar touching your upper chest, then reverse the motion to press the bar upward until your elbows are just short of full extension.

Speers Says: “When pressing a barbell, either in the flat, incline or decline position, always have a spotter on hand. If one’s not available, consider using the Smith machine or dumbbells instead — it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to benching.”

Flat-Bench Flye

Select a pair of dumbbells and sit on the end of a flat bench. Lie back and extend your arms straight up above shoulders, palms facing inward. With your feet flat on the floor and arms aligned with your shoulders, maintain a slight bend in your elbows as you open your arms outward and down toward the floor. Stop at the point at which you feel a comfortable stretch through your pectorals, then return under control to the start position. 

Speers Says: “Keep your shoulder blades squeezed together — think down and back — throughout the movement, as it helps keep your body in the best position to properly work those pecs.”


Select one dumbbell and lie on your back longways on a flat bench. Grip the dumbbell with both hands under one end, arms extended above your chest. Keeping your arms locked in a slight bend at the elbows, slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head as far as you can, feeling the stretch throughout your chest, then return the dumbbell under control to the start position. Repeat for reps. 

Speers Says: “It’s best to start with a light dumbbell with this one to learn the movement and figure out how much your shoulders can comfortably take. Also, move slowly through your reps to determine your range of motion — you don’t want to overdo it, but instead work on extending that stretch over time from workout to workout.”

Seated Chest Press

Adjust the seat height on a seated (vertical) press machine so the handles are midchest level when you sit down. Take an overhand grip on the handles, your elbows raised to roughly shoulder height, and with your feet planted on the floor, core braced and scapulae retracted, press the handles forward until your arms are just short of full extension. Slowly reverse the motion, but stop short of the weight stack touching down between reps.

Speers Says: “Don’t allow the weight stack to touch down between reps because every time you do, you give those muscles a tiny bit of rest. It’s all about maintaining continuous tension in the muscle group, which produces better results in the long run. I tell my clients that’s like doing rep No. 1 over and over again when we know the real benefits start with those final few reps of each set.”

Cable Crossover

Select the desired pulley height — a lower setting targets the upper chest a little more, a shoulder-height setting focuses on the mid chest, and a higher setting hits your lower pecs the hardest. Put a D-handle on each pulley and place the pin in the same position in each weight stack, starting light if you’re just learning the movement. Grab one handle in each hand and stand between the pulleys, assuming a staggered one-foot-forward, one-foot-back stance for stability.

Brace your core and keep your elbows in a slightly bent position as you bring your arms together in front of your chest. When the handles come together or your hands cross, flex for a one-count, then slowly reverse the motion until you feel a comfortable stretch in your pecs. As with the chest press machine, don’t let the weight stack touch down between reps. 

Speers Says: “A common piece of advice with the crossover is to imagine you’re hugging a tree as you bring your arms in front of your body — it may seem silly, but it works. This cue helps you envision the angle you want to maintain in your elbows, keeping them slightly bent but firm throughout; the angle of your elbows should not change at all as you’re moving through a repetition.”


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