How To Build The Upper Chest

How To Build The Upper Chest With Specific Workouts And Exercises: An Open Discussion

Upper Chest Clavicular HeadNow that’s a great upper chest you see on the left there. You hear a lot of discussion about building parts of a muscle. Some of the most frequent are, how to build upper chest, lower biceps and the like. But can you actually change the look of PART of a muscle? Well I guess that depends on the muscle and it’s attachments. Well the groups that make up the muscle more than the attachment, but we’ll get into that.

Building The Upper Chest : My Opinion

Some people say that because the chest is a fan shaped muscle you cannot work the upper chest separately. Others swear that exercises such as the incline press, planche pushups and elbows high pec deck works them like crazy.

I think a couple different things about building the upper chest at this point in my training. I think that most lack of upper chest development (beside the fact that someone doesn’t train chest at all) is because of tight fascia and scar tissue. When people start stretching the chest more for example with incline presses, incline flyes or overhead squats, the upper chest is free to grow again. There is more blood flow and the fascia gets stretched out. That’s a part of the theory at any rate. I know after an A.R.T. session in any muscle group the pump I get there is fantastic. Since the pump is a result of blood flow and blood carries nutrients it’s not a far stretch to think that a lack of scar tissue and loosening up the fascia would have to be a great thing if you want to build your upper chest area. At the very least it certainly can’t hurt at all.

That is just my opinion at this point. Mind you it’s a great opinion (if you can’t agree with yourself then you got problems!). This reasoning has led me to only doing upper chest stretching (as part of my normal stretching routine) and to hit the 80/20 chest exercises when I work chest.

But What About Actually Building The Upper Chest Through Workouts And Exercises?

I guess the real question at this point though is: Can or will doing specific upper chest building exercises or workouts build the upper chest any faster than another say ‘flat’ chest movement?

What is the upper chest first of all?

The upper chest is the Pectoralis Major but more specifically you can see it is the clavicular head. One side attaches on the inside two-thirds of the front edge of your collar bone and the other ‘end’ just below the top of your arm bone, along the outside edge. Look at a picture of Franco Columbo for an outstanding example of upper chest or clavicular head development.

What does the upper chest do?

It adducts (pulls into the center of your body) the upper arm horizontally across the front of the chest and also assists in elevating the arm. The clavicular head works closely with the sternal head when the arm extends back in a dumbbell or cable fly. In the fully extended position the stress is primarily on the sternal head, as the arms begin flexing forward the stress begins to shift from the sternal head to the clavicular head. With the arms held in the front at the completion of the movement, the stress is shifted almost completely to the clavicular head.

Bottom Line On Upper Chest Development Through Workouts And Exercises?

There is a function of the upper chest, we’ve shown it. If there is a function then it can be trained through specific weight training exercises that can be put into an upper chest workout to build it up.

I found this information below on the IFPA website and it started to shed some light.

There is still an ongoing debate between the researchers performing MRI analysis and bodybuilders.

The MRI research shows you cannot move stress on the pectorals from the medial fibers (inner) by performing narrow grip chest presses, or to the lateral fibers (outer) by performing wide grip chest presses. The reason is that the pectoral fibers run from clavical to humerus as a single fiber. You can move stress upward, to the clavicular head with incline presses and lower, to the inferior sternal fibers, but research says you cannot move stress medially or laterally on the chest. However, many bodybuilders disagree, they have found that they can develop medial or lateral pectoral fibers.

Bodybuilders claim that the wide grip chest press works the lateral fibers and narrow grip chest presses, with the elbows flared at 45 degrees work the medial fibers. I would like to hear from the athletes performing these movements and see what results they get.

Here are a few of my favorite exercises for working the upper chest that fill all the criteria needed to build the upper chest.

1. Upper Chest Cable Cross-Overs
You will need either a cable-cross over machine or a single high pulley for this exercise.
Get into position standing between the two high cross-over pulleys then take a small step forward. This small step forward puts more tension on the upper pecs at the start of the movement by increasing the stretch.

Bend over at the waist up to about 90 degrees.

The movement itself is very similar to the normal crossover. However, as you bring the cables in, you should push your hands forward of your body in a wide arc rather than bringing them directly down under your torso.

Essentially, you will be trying to bring the cable handles under your face rather than under your chest. This is the key to activating the upper pectoral fibers.

Keep your back arched and your chest puffed out and be sure to come around and forward as though sweeping your fist far out and around

?2. Lying Cable “Y” Flyes

The reason I call these “Y” Flyes is from the position of your body and arms on the bench when you do them.

Set a flat bench in the middle of the cable cross-overs (this exercise can also be done one arm at a time on a single low pulley if you don’t have access to a full cross-over machine set-up). The end of the bench where your head will rest should be about 4 to 6 inches forward of an imaginary line between the two pulleys.

Use a moderate weight for this exercise as we’ll be focusing on the squeeze of the upper pecs and the feel of the exercise, not the amount of weight we’re using.

Grasp the cable handles then sit on the bench. Shift yourself forward on the bench so when you lay back onto the bench, your head is set a few inches forward of the pulleys.

You should notice that, at the bottom of the exercise, your arms are angled up and back, just like the “Y” I mentioned above.

Be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent but stiff during the movement. Also, don’t let your upper arms get pulled down past parallel. The real value of this exercise is at the contracted position at the top of the movement.

Do the cable flye movement from there, bringing your hands together directly ABOVE YOUR FOREHEAD. This is critical because the angle of your arms in this track will throw the vast majority of the tension directly onto your upper pec area.

Squeeze the pecs hard at the top, lower down slowly and repeat.

3. Side Lying Incline Dumbell Flyes

Lie on your side on an incline bench (if you can set the angle, use about 30 degrees). Your shoulder should be set just off the forward edge of the bench so you can move the arm freely up and down. Your feet should be set somewhat apart on the floor to provide greater stability and pushing power.

If you are lying on your right side hold a dumbell in your right hand and let it hang down. Don’t worry about losing tension here – the benefit of this exercise lies at the top of the movement.

Use a fairly light to moderate dumbell with this exercise. You don’t need much weight to get a full contraction and using too much could cause you to lose your balance on the bench.

Keeping your arm slightly bent and stiff, raise the dumbell in a flye type motion in front of you, around and up until your upper arm is as vertical as you can get it.

Squeeze hard at the top. You should feel a sharp burning sensation in your upper-midle pec area right on the cleavage between the two pecs. To really feel the movement working, place your non-working hand right on the upper, middle area of your chest as you do the exercise. You should be able to feel that area of the muscle contract solidly.

This exercise will really hit the inner pec area, bringing out separation between your two pectoral muscles.

One of my personal favorite upper chest building exercises is an incline fly done slightly differently.

  • Start on an incline bench like you were going to do an incline curl. Not like the regular incline press or fly.
  • From the bottom position of the ‘curl’ keep your arms straight and lift the dumbbells forward, up and together until they are above your eyes.

Conclusion On Building The Upper Chest Area:

My opinion is that the upper chest can be built with movements that adduct and elevate the humerus along with a good stretching routine to remove scar tissue and loosen up the fascia. What are you thoughts?

Suggested further reading: Building The Upper Chest With Anthony



  1. josh says

    thisis all true but i train my chest three time a week lower,middle ,upper chest and my chest seems to not grow any more although i have work them till failure and iam currently doin 3 sets of incline press,flat bench 3dumbell press,3lower dumbell press, 3incline flys 3flat flies and 3decline flies ,3close grip bench press, then finchesing off i do pus ups till failure(i do all with heavy weight so iam only able to preform 5 reps or less) i also take protein supplement and multivitims what should i do ? i would realy appresiate if i found something to change this thanks for your time,

  2. says

    Thanks for a great article.

    I just want to comment on josh’s post as I think opening up to the idea of lets sets and more concentration on form, weight, intensity, rest and growth is key to solving many of these connundrums….. then I want to comment on this Upper Chest Article.

    josh – I agree with Ray Burton. I happen to subscrbe pretty much to Mike Mentzer’s principles. Check out his HIT priciples with an open mind…. Basically, in my case I train chest once every 12-22 days, using 2-5 exercises. That’s 2-5 sets every two and a half weeks on average. That’s for GROWTH, for an advanced trainer. I sometimes grow. I never lose muscle or decline, unless ill, very unluc ky, or neglectful, and that is rare. I do chest with back (2-5 sets), and on another day I do shoulders and traps (3 exercises, 3 sets) with arms (4 total sets) and squat (1 sets after warm ups), and I rest for 9-22 days. Also and I do core training (including neck and rotator cuff) on another day or maybe tagged onto each session., so it may end up more frequently for the core, but Im less advanced there. This is all for growth, and the conditioning that comes with it.. To burn calories I run 2-4 times per week (since it’s not HIT), and for other conditioning I do an HIT sprints session every 7-14 days, and heavy punchbag (medium intensity I guess) when I feel like it. Frequent training let’s say to half of the amount you describe, is useful for quick progress for people in their first 6 months of hard training – and becomes redundant or counter productive after 12-18 months. This is a conservative guide. HIT principles also work for beginners, although beginners must practise and teach the body the error of their ways – hence in my opinion a beginner can do six or even 8 high intensity sets per bodypart, once per week, or even with some basic exercises, they can get away with twice per week now and then (but less sets)…… bearing in mind they are not lifting heavy weights, compared to what they will be lifting 12 months later…….

    Back to the Upper Chest: a very good article. I actually looked into this last night, using my Tortora anatomy and physiology textbook, because I noticed that my upper chest was lagging behind my lower chest and shoulders now, compared to how it used to be say 12 years ago….. and I came up with a few new exercises, which are remarkably similar to the suggestions in the article……Okay, here is the detail:

    Firstly, my chest upper chest seems to be lagging is because of two exercises I have neglected (dips and incline press).

    Second, I think that the point about upper chest stretching may be relevant to some people, but for me it’s not a factor. I don’t see how I have any more scar tissue there as opposed to anywhere else on my upper body. It gets strectched through hanging, chinups, etc, just as much as other parts of the body. Chest streching would benfit my whole chest, I guess.

    With regard to the debate about fibres and inner and outer, yes it’s clear that inner and outer are a seprate debate. In fact while it’s wholly true that anatomically inner and outer fibres cannot be isolated through tension – because they are the same fibre – you have to factor in stretching, and the angle. In other words, if you do flyes with a heavy heavy weight and strech right out, of course your outer chest is at the end of the lever and is going to hurt and get pulled out of shape more than the inner part ! This growth or compensation or hardening is not actually due wholly to the tension action. The ‘angle’ factor is the fact the the lower (sternal) chest fibres generally go straight across, angled about 5 degrees downwards. In other words….. when you bench press you are bringing the arms together to some good extent, but you are also bringing the arms towards the head and above it (in most cases), and other muscles such as the lats and triceps are strongly used, whereas in the case of flat flyes, the deltoid (internal rotation) is really the only other muscle used, AND the added factor is that flyes pretty much hit the exact function of those lower fibres…….so in effect, the pecs can get ‘more’ wider than they already are getting with the bench press, and maybe this is another reason why growth seems to be – or actually is – greater when specifically ‘going wide’ with the grip, doing streching flyes, etc.

    With regard to the debate about the two heads, it seems that the pecs are unique. The triceps, teres, biceps, etc, all have sepearate heads. As we know, we can emphasise one over the other, if we have the skill. But they are different to the two pec heads, because in those cases all the heads are attached to the same bone as their counterparts. With the pecs, the lower head inserts at the arm (shoulder) and originates at the sternum, whilst the upper head inserts at the arm and orignates at the clavicle.

    What does this mean? Well, the pecs are primarly designed to move the upper arm closer to the middle of the body. That is why there are constructed as they are, in terms of the fibres’ direction. Now, the upper pecs almost always assist in this, or get duly compressed, hence being ‘forced’ to assist. However, the upper pecs are designed to help squeeze the arms in the direction of the neck, more than the sternum. So when we do bench press, we are using both, but using the upper pecs to a lesser degree, as in relaity the bar is never going ‘up and back’ that much. But with this bench press, we are in a very strong position lifting heavy weights, so it is valuable all-round for the chest. With flat flyes, it’s similar, but even less on the upper pecs, because there is less weight (an assumption?) and less ‘backward’ movement (again, based on most people’s technique).

    Okay, incline press effects the shoulders more (although not that much more) than the flat bench. The incline bench puts the arms in an ‘overhead’ position ESPECIALLY IF WE START NEAR NIPPLES AND PRESS THE WEIGHT BACK ABOVE THE HEAD. In fact, you cant avoid pressing the weight back, as gravity deems it unsafe on an incline to try to keep the weight forward. Okay, so instead of a 90-100 degree angle of arms on the flat bench, we have a 100-135 degree angle. Hence more use for the upright, ‘going towards the clavicle’ as well as being squeezed together, part of the pecs, which is the upper pecs.

    The article comes up with some great exrecises and I came up with remarkably similar ones. However, the big ommision is Dips !!!

    Dips pull the arms together (both pecs), use the pec minor (pushing down), and yes, at the same time use the upper pecs (pushing down, squeezing towards the calvicle!) And that’s why dips (if done leaning foward and not back, which is for tricpes) give a graet pump in the upper chest!


  3. says

    This is by far the most educated and most in depth comment I have ever read on any blog let alone this one. MAN MY READERS ROCK!

    Adam, if you ever want to write an article for this website, send it over. It would be great to have someone like you adding their two cents.

  4. says

    Thanks very much Ray and that sounds good. I sent you an e mail message about this from my adamcornwellphotography e mail address, but I think it may have been blocked by your spam filter.

  5. says

    I actually got your email Adam but was waiting to have more time to write a proper response..but since we are here… I agree with everything in the email and doing the promo and all is totally cool with me.

  6. elevator says

    Someone shoud wield together a hybrid between one of those seated pec fly machines where you pull the vertical handles together fixed in front of you and with the pullover machine where you push/pull horizontal fixed levers downwarnd against force, iow you would want to start in a Y position fly move the arms together and THEN do a pullover with it , just prior befor the handles would hit your legs the machine would force the handles to your sides, like you finish in the normal pullover machine. Also this movement would include the stress like you’d receive from a forward leaning dip

    Also, there should be a button on the machine to do this pullover fly in reverse, from bottom to top

    Nautilus shaped cams should provide optimal resistance path, the fly movement should have a seperate cam from the copmbined pullover movement.

  7. Adam Cornwell says

    Yes, definitely evil ! (ie a good piece of engineering thinking).

    One step away from not laying in bed at night thinking……. but instead not having a bed, but sleeping in the said machine….

  8. says

    Handstand pushups, pullups, and hindu pushups.. that’s about all i ever have time to do but they work wonders for me

  9. Jeff Chui says

    Thank you for this article! I normally don’t bother commenting on these sites, but this was 100% brilliant.

    I’ve been to the gym regularly for about 5 years now and my upper chest have always been under developed. It was not only until the past 6 months a friend gave me a simple suggestion to focus on upper chest and nothing else during my chest workout days. I took up the challenge and found that after 6 months, my upper chest has grown substantially.

    I key which I found helped me was that since I focused just on upper pecs, I was able to set my mind to feel and stretch and focus on that part of my chest more intensely. I found that, through habbit, I was able to relax the lower chest while flexing the upper muscles with each repetition – this also helped with much lower weights (I used 3-4kg dumbbells and now use 5kg for incline flies). I find that using low weights and really concentrating to use only the correct muscles will build a great upper chest (i.e. chest work outs usually incorperate the triceps, and general chest…try to isolate the upper chests through technique and mind power).

  10. zac says

    Hi everyone! I just thought I’s chuck in my two cents (if you look hard you’ll see they’re actually wooden nickels ; ). Anyhow, for many years I had over developed lower (or sternal) pecs. I tried all kinds of stuff, stuff that should have worked; here’s why it didn’t: my lats were too tight. Your lats internally rotate the humerus (upper arm) and over time the pec minor, pec major and coracobrachialis shorten to accommodate their new working length. This problem usually won’t show up with the sternal portion of the pec because it’s still possible to work them through a normalish range of motion. I don’t want to blather on all “sciency” here so I’ll say this simply: if you fail to stretch the upper pec fibres during (which requires that the humerus externally rotate, which requires the lats to be loose (figuratively)and the middle and lower traps be tight (literally)) exercise then you fail to stimulate hypertrophy (and neural adaptations, read: strength). I use leaning forward dips on flying rings, Ring Flies, Skin the Cat (to stretch, go easy on these) and of course, dumbell inclines (keep your WHOLE back flat against the bench, traps, low back; everything). As many people have pointed out: you have to feel around with your position and how you keep your muscles tight throughout your movements, so that you call really feel those fibres being stimulated. Before I knew this I worked myself into a 110lb weighted dip on the rings and my upper pecs were non existant (figuratively ; ); I change how I do the exercise by using perception: results with only bodyweight!(initially). Please excuse my wanton misuse of anatomical terminology, I may have made word or two up: I’m baked. Have a stimulating(!) day (or evening or whatever). : )