These exercise will help you focus on the upper region of your chest

June 15, 2018

Developing a strong upper chest isn’t only about which exercises you perform. It’s as much about how you perform movements and engage the muscles.

This workout was one that I put together during my early competition years when I was focusing on building an impressive and strong upper chest. I wanted my chest to look like body armor, with a strong tie-in to my shoulders, and clearly defined trap muscles sitting at the top. I had put in the work of building a physique and carrying enough muscle, but now it was time to start working on the finer details and improving on any weaknesses that would be apparent on stage next to stronger competitors.

rob riches upper chest development

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Press, Press, Press

If you look at the program below, you’ll see that the first 3 exercises all involve a press movement. After a good warm up, I proceed to lift my heaviest weight on incline presses until I reach absolute failure (I’ll often make use of a spotter during my final set).

Following this with the same movement but using dumbbells, allows for a slightly larger range of motion, bringing the weights as far down to the sides of my chest as I can. I’m not using as much weight, but this extra depth combined with the need for greater stabilization, continues to keep tension high on the pectoral muscles, particularly in the upper region – providing I’m pressing at the right angle. To achieve this, I’ll often change the angle of the bench on each set, allowing me to work the chest through a range of angles.

Notice in the program that I superset the incline dumbbell presses with incline machine presses. Using a machine keeps my range of motion fixed, which means I only have to focus on pressing the weight up and controlling it back down, and not needing to stabilize it like with the first two movements. This means I can get a tremendous pump in my upper chest until I’m literally unable to move the weight any further. I’ll usually be moving less weight by the time I get to this exercise, but incorporating drop-sets, half-reps (especially in the upper half of the movement), and slower negatives, helps me keep the intensity high on the upper pectoral region.


Cable, Machines, & Free-Weights

You can see the final section of this program makes use of three different types of movement, each one stressing the chest (in particular the upper region), in a range of different angles. When performing each exercise, always ask yourself – Where am I feeling the muscles being most worked? It’s easy to sort of go into autopilot mode when training, especially towards the end of the workout, but by staying conscious and acutely aware of every rep performed, you’ll find that you’re able to keep the focus almost entirely on the upper chest, which I find is almost as much a benefit to the goal of building the upper chest as the exercises being performed.

Mind & Muscle Connection

You’ve probably heard myself or many others talk about the mind-muscle connection, but how often do you really make use of this training tool. I’m not just talking about thinking of the muscle when you’re training it, but to already be consciously contracting it during the exercise.

I’ve found this method to give me much greater muscular contractions at the peak of each movement, but it can be quite draining so experiment with when you start using this technique within each exercise and at what number of repetitions until the end.

If you think of this like adding nitrous oxide to a car during a race, you don’t want to add it in too soon and not have enough boost for the end of the race, but you also don’t want to save it for right at the end when you won’t be able to get the full effect of it. This is something you’ll have to find what works best for you, and is one of the many aspects I enjoy about training – it’s a personal discovery that allows for continuous tweaks within your workouts to fine tune your physique and training goal.


rob riches upper chest workout

Exercise 1

4 sets of 12,12,10,8 reps (slow negatives)

Exercise 2

4 sets of 12-8 reps (superset with incline close-grip push-ups)

Exercise 3

3 sets of 12,10,8 reps

Exercise 4

3 sets of 12,12,10 reps

Exercise 5

3 sets of 15,12,12 reps

Exercise 6

2 sets of 15-12 reps (slight inward rotation as you raise dumbbells)

*(Perform as superset exercise with next exercise shown)