Everyone has their favourite moves and machines when it comes to the gym. While we love the burn of squats and power of deadlifts, we can’t forget about how crucial upper body training is. That means targetting the back, shoulders, arms and chest for a strong body.
That last one is an often forgotten muscle group when it comes to women’s weight training, particularly due to myths about becoming “bulky”, but it’s a mistake to leave the benching just to men. Doing so can result in serious imbalances in your body, bad posture and weaknesses in the shoulders and triceps too.
Not sure where to start? Each week, Emma Obayuvana and Alice Miller, fitness trainers and members of the Strong Women Collective, answer some of the most asked questions from women who want to get into lifting. Today, they’re explaining the best way to get a stronger chest.
WHAT ARE THE BEST CHEST EXERCISES?
Alice Miller, Strong Women Ambassador
“For me, the biggest change in my chest strength came when I implemented ring dips into my routine. They challenge you in a different way because you’ve got to stabilise through the core as well as work through the chest in a really deep position, which stresses the muscle, and stressing the muscle until failure leads to results.
“Ring dips are a slightly more advanced version of bar dips that you can do in the gym, which are also a great chest exercise, and press-ups are another bodyweight move that work the chest muscles. The more traditional exercises like bench press, incline press and all other variations are great, too. Chest flys are also a really great isolation exercise.”
Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women Ambassador
“Press-ups are a great move to start with. They work your chest, shoulders, arms and core. Make sure your hands are wide apart to really get the chest. Then there’s the classic barbell bench press which is my second go-to. You can also use dumbbells and do chest presses. I like doing an incline chest press, where the bench is at an angle, to hit different areas of the muscle.”
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WHY DO WE NEED TO TRAIN CHEST?
Alice: “If we don’t train our chest it creates a big imbalance in our upper body. If you train your back, you need to train your front. It’s also important to lengthen those muscles so that your shoulders don’t round forward.”
Emma: “It’s important in terms of overall strength. The chest, or pec, muscles are involved in a lot of different movements, including every day pushing actions that we have to do. Also, in terms of posture, it’s important to have the balance in muscle development.”
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HOW OFTEN AND HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU TRAIN CHEST?
Alice: “I train chest once a week, which is enough to see progression if you work until failure. In those sessions, begin with the big compound moves like bench press, or the moves you really struggle with, such as dips, so that you can put all of your energy into them.
“If you’re looking to build strength, work in the lower rep ranges, so up to six reps per set. If you’re looking to build muscle, work at eight-12 reps per set. If you feel these things get too easy after a few weeks, progress your movement. For example, swap your press-ups for deficit press-ups, where your chest comes lower than your hands, so that your body has to work even harder.”
Emma: “I would train low reps, heavy weight if you want to build strength. You can do an upper body weight training session two or three times a week and include chest moves on those days. Make sure that you stretch after training chest. It’s really important because otherwise you will be tight through the chest and it will pull your shoulders inwards and you’ll have a rounded posture.”
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Images: Getty / Alice Miller
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).