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Chest Workouts for Women

The Ultimate Chest Workout

Strength and power can be yours using this four-pronged approach to chest training.

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Hey girlfriend, how much can you bench? Said no woman, ever. As a group, women aren’t too concerned with training chest. Sure, we give it a thorough, weekly workout, mostly because we know we’re supposed to. But regular chest training helps prevent upper-body imbalances, which can lead to injury down the road. And since most chest exercises also work your shoulders, triceps and even your back, they work toward total-body functional and synergistic strength.

This workout employs four advanced techniques to work every fiber of your chest, building sleek, strong muscles without added bulk. Combine this workout with the Chestretch moves and your pecs will turn heads — for all the right reasons.

Movement Prep

This mini-workout/warm-up is designed to wake up your chest, shoulders and upper back and get your muscles and nerves firing properly. The hand-release push-up is a good option here: It moves through a greater range of motion than a standard push-up and all but eliminates the possibility of cheating, because you start each concentric rep from a dead stop on the ground. And the standing Svend press charges up your chest using constant tension while minimizing shoulder engagement.

Use a light weight and focus on form and control with each repetition for this stage of the workout. Between sets, do some of the Chestretches or some rotational shoulder work — windmills, arm swings and the like: Mobile shoulders translate into better upper-body position, greater range of motion and stronger subsequent pectoral contractions.

Exercise Sets Reps Directions
Hand-Release Push-Up 2 10 Don't rush and keep your body tight.
Standing Svend Press 2 10 Maintain isometric squeeze throughout.

Hand-Release Push-Up
Hand-Release Push-Up

Hand-Release Push-Up

Get into a push-up position with your hands just outside your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned, head neutral. Keep your body taut as you bend your elbows and lower yourself all the way to the floor under control. Once down, lift your hands off the floor briefly by drawing your shoulder blades together to raise your elbows, keeping your toes on the ground. Replace your hands, reengage your core and push upward forcefully to return to the top.

Standing Svend Press
Standing Svend Press

Standing Svend Press

Hold two small plates (2.5 pounds or 5 pounds) sandwiched together between your palms at chest height, fingers forward and elbows lifted parallel to the ground. Actively press your hands together, squeezing the plates, as you extend your arms straight out from your chest. Return slowly to the start.

1.5-Rep Set

Increasing your time under tension with techniques such as this one means more work completed in less time. Because you double your workload in the bottommost portion of the move — where generally you’re at your weakest — you develop more strength and power in that range of motion, which over time translates to greater strength without having to heft super-heavy weights. Though you can use this technique for any chest move, we chose the bench press because it’s a high-payoff exercise that hits the chest, triceps, shoulders and upper back. Just use a lighter weight than normal, since you’re training a part of your chest that is inherently weaker.

Exercise Sets Reps Directions
1.5-Rep Barbell Press 4 8-10 Use a lighter weight than you would with a normal bench press.

1.5-Rep Barbell Bench Press
1.5-Rep Barbell Bench Press

1.5-Rep Barbell Bench Press

Lie on the bench with your back arching naturally and your feet flat on the floor for stability. Draw your shoulder blades together behind you and arch your upper back slightly, lifting your chest toward the bar. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip outside your shoulders, centering it over your nipple line. Bend your elbows to lower the bar until it touches or nearly touches your chest, then explosively press it up to the halfway point and pause. Lower slowly down once more, then explosively press it all the way to the start to complete one rep.

Tip: Drive through your heels when pressing the barbell upward to create more total-body tension, which generates greater upward power.

Superset

Supersets increase your workout intensity by eliminating the rest interval between exercises, overloading your muscles to promote hypertrophy while improving muscular and cardiovascular endurance. These two back-to-back incline moves double-team the upper and inner pecs with concentric and isometric contractions. Use moderate-weight dumbbells for this superset, moving consistently without rushing through each rep.

Exercise Sets Reps Directions
Incline Dumbbell Flye - superset with - Incline Dumbbell Squeeze Press 3 12-15 Use moderate weight; rest 30 to 60 seconds between supersets.

Incline Dumbbell Flye
Incline Dumbbell Flye

Incline Dumbbell Flye

Set an incline bench to about 45 degrees and sit with your back arching naturally and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a set of dumbbells over your upper chest with your arms perpendicular to the floor, palms facing inward, knuckles touching, elbows slightly bent. Maintain this slight bend as you slowly open your arms to the sides, lowering the weights until your wrists come almost to shoulder level. Reverse the move and squeeze your inner pecs as you come to the top.

Incline Dumbbell Squeeze Press
Incline Dumbbell Squeeze Press

Incline Dumbbell Squeeze Press

After completing your reps for the dumbbell flye, hold the dumbbells together over your chest with your palms facing inward, arms straight. Actively squeeze your chest by pressing the dumbbells inward against each other, then maintain that tension as you bend your elbows and lower the weights toward your upper chest as low as you can. Press them quickly back to the top and repeat right away.

Finishers

These final two moves will incite hypertrophy while training your muscular endurance, and because they’re done on a stability ball, they add an element of balance for a little extra core work. Use a moderate weight for the pullovers and a light weight for the one-arm flyes, resting no more than 30 seconds between sets. Want to be a total badass? Perform them together as a Tabata — doing 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, for a total of eight rounds — alternating between the two moves each round to push your limits.

Exercise Sets Reps Directions
Stability-Ball Two-Arm Dumbbell Pullover 2 15-20 Use moderate weight; rest > 30 seconds between sets.
Stability-Ball One-Arm Dumbbell Flye 2 12-15 (each arm) Use light weight; rest > 30 seconds between sets.

Stability-Ball Two-Arm Dumbbell Pullover
Stability-Ball Two-Arm Dumbbell Pullover

Stability-Ball Two-Arm Dumbbell Pullover

Position your upper back and shoulders on a stability ball and lift your hips to align with your head and knees, feet and legs about shoulder-width apart. Hold a set of dumbbells vertically with both hands, arms straight. Keep your body and your back straight (don’t arch) as you slowly lower the weights down over your head toward the floor. When your upper arms come level with your ears, reverse the move and return quickly to the start, pressing upward a little at the top, squeezing your pecs.

Stability-Ball One-Arm Dumbbell Flye
Stability-Ball One-Arm Dumbbell Flye

Stability-Ball One-Arm Dumbbell Flye

Use the same start position on the ball as with the pullovers and hold one arm steady, perpendicular to the floor, as you open your other arm out to the side to come level with your shoulder. Raise it back to the start and continue, alternating sides.

Chest + Stretch = Chestretch

Do these exercises before and after chest training to improve flexibility while preventing injury.

Preworkout Huggers

Swing your arms open and closed at shoulder height, giving yourself a hug. With each rep, change the top arm for 20 total reps.

Exaggerated Clap

Hold your arms straight out at chest height, palms facing inward. Open them as wide as you can, then bring them back to the front until they almost clap together, stopping just short of contact. Increase your range of motion and speed as you move through your sets. Do 10 to 15 reps.

Postworkout Child’s Pose

Kneel on the floor with your toes touching, knees opened wider than your hips, and sit your glutes back on your heels. Round forward and reach your arms in front of you, dropping your head between your shoulders. Hold and breathe for 60 seconds.

Foam Roller Snow Angel

Lie on top of a foam roller so it runs along your spine with your head supported, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Open your arms to the sides, palms up. Slowly raise them over your head, then move them in an arc all the way down your hips. Do two sets of 10 reps, then repeat with your palms facing the floor.

One-Arm Doorway Stretch

Place one arm, bent 90 degrees, against a door frame (or squat rack). Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulder and hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Do two to three sets on both arms.