Written by Coach Austin Current
In this article, we are going to cover how to grow your upper chest from looking deeper at the important anatomy, best exercises, and programming tips.
I get asked multiple times per week on my Instagram what my methods and recommendations are for growing the upper chest. In the past, I would have simply told you that you cannot directly target the upper chest; your best luck is to simply train the chest more often and it will grow. I also would have said something about genetics impacting your ability to grow your upper chest.
Well, thankfully I have since learned that my old answers were wrong. We can target and grow our upper chest. To start learning how to let’s go over chest anatomy.
Table of Contents
There are three regions of the pec major:
- Clavicular (upper)
- Sternal (mid)
- Costal (lower)
First, let’s highlight the region of the chest that we are focusing on today (highlighted green).
When you look at the upper chest region (1), do you notice what direction the muscle fibers are running? They are running diagonally from the humerus (upper arm) to the upper regions of the sternum and clavicle (collar bone).
The pec major carries the responsibility of transversely adducting the arm. The easier way to think about this would be, it helps drive the upper arm toward the sternum (midline).
Now, when looking at the divisions that make up the upper region, do you see how the upper arm would need to travel across the chest? Do you see how the angle of the upper arm may need to be adjusted to best train this division of the pec?
Let’s look at a video of me performing a Clavicular (upper) Cable Fly:
See this post on Instagram
One of the biggest mistakes when trying to train the upper chest would be the angle of your upper arm and its relationship with those upper chest fibers you’re wanting to train.
It’s very common to want to create a very “high” arm path for the sake of correlating “high” with “upper”. If the goal is to line up the resistance with the fibers we are trying to train, our arm angle should be closer to match the one in the video.
So, contrary to popular belief, “high” does not necessarily correlate with “upper”. Your arm path should line up with the fibers you’re wanting to bias and train.
Now that we understand the anatomy, let’s take a look at the best exercises for training your upper chest.
BEST EXERCISES FOR UPPER CHEST
Understanding the anatomy of the chest, helps us look closer at which specific exercises may be best for training the upper-division. To make it easy, I kept the list brief and split them specific to cable and free weight.
Clavicular (upper) Chest Cable Fly (as shown in the video):
Incline Clavicular Chest Press (as shown in the video):
Exercise Selection: Listed above: Clavicular (upper) Chest Cable Fly and Incline Clavicular Chest Press.
Sets & Reps: When getting started with any new movement, it is advised to use more sets and fewer reps. This helps you train in a proper movement pattern with more frequent exposure to the movement at a lower volume.
Tempo: The suggested tempo for the cable-based movement, is spending 1-2 seconds in the shortened ⏤ contracted ⏤ position. The suggested tempo for the dumbbell-based movement would be a smooth and continuous rep tempo. It is advised to spend time where the movement is challenging.
Example: 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps with a 3-4 RIR is a good place to start within your first 1-2 weeks of implementing this movement. The better your execution gets, the fewer sets and more reps per set you can perform effectively.
At first glance, it may seem as if there is a lot to remember when trying to bias the upper chest. Once you start to better understand the anatomy and the main function of the pec [major], you can start to make sense of how and why your exercise selection, and execution matters.
Questions? Ask me here.
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Written by Coach Austin Current, BSc, CSCS, IFBB, Pn1