How to do it: Evenly position the cables at about chest height on a cable machine. Take hold of the handles, and stand so you’re facing away from the machine. Pull the handles close to your chest, then step into a split stance to create a solid base. Make sure you grab the handles and get them in front of your chest before you step away from the machine, rather than stepping and then reaching back. “If the weight is heavy, reaching too far back can cause shoulder and rotator cuff issues,” King says.
Once you’re stable, face your palms to one another, and press the cables out until your arms are straight. “Try to keep your deltoids in line with your ears and your shoulders back, so your chest is doing most of the work,” King says.
Why it’s effective: The cables stimulate your muscles differently from free weights, because you’re working against constant resistance. “The dynamic nature of having a load pulling you back while you press increases time under tension on the muscle, which increases protein synthesis and growth,” King says.
Pro tips: If it’s too easy, try to touch the palms of your hands together while keeping your shoulders back. If it’s too hard, use a light resistance band anchored to something secure and mimic the motion to condition your muscles.
7. Incline dumbbell bench press
How to do it: Lie down on a bench set to a 45° angle with a dumbbell in each hand. If the weights are challenging, rest them on your thighs and “kick” your legs up to lift the dumbbells, and then lie down. Start with the weights resting on your chest. “Press the flat plates together so your palms face one another,” King says. “As you press up, keep the weights pressed together firmly so you’re tensing the pecs as you press.” Lower back down so the weights rest briefly on your chest, then repeat.
Why it’s effective: “Holding the weights closer together allows an increased range of motion, helping recruit all the motor units available in your pecs,” King says. “To maximize results, squeeze your pecs at the top of the move. Your muscles will learn which need to fire and which can relax, placing the maximum stress on the right muscles.”
Pro tips: If it’s too easy, shorten the rest period or increase the load. If it’s too hard, switch back to a flat dumbbell chest press.
8. Dumbbell floor press
How to do it: Grab your dumbbells with an overhand grip. Sit, then lie flat on your back on the floor or a mat. Plant your feet on the floor and bend your elbows so your arms form 90° angles. (Imagine you’re pinning your lumbar spine and shoulders against the floor.) If either shoulder comes off the ground, it probably means your weights are too heavy, and you need to scale down. Test this, then continue.
“Keeping your core braced to limit overextension of your lower back, press the dumbbells toward the ceiling until your arms are straight,” King says. Lower down under control until your triceps rest on the floor. This allows your pecs to switch off before pressing into the next rep.
Why it’s effective: “The floor press is an underrated exercise that targets the chest, core, triceps, and stabilizing shoulder muscles, which all increase power,” King says. “Plus, if you suffer from shoulder or lower back pain when you press, then this exercise is a must, because being flat on the floor gives you constant feedback on whether you’re in the correct position.”
Pro tips: If it’s too easy, lie flat instead of bending your knees and planting your feet. If it’s too hard, switch to pushups to strengthen your pecs.
9. Cable crossover
How to do it: Position the cables high so they’re level with your shoulders. Grab both cables and lunge forward into a split stance for maximum stability. Press the cables in front of you, then slowly let the cables pull your arms back so they’re stretched apart (as if you were doing a flye). Make sure to maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
“Once you hit the full stretched position, exhale and bring the cables into the middle of your torso,” King says. “Instead of stopping when your hands touch, keep going until the cables cross over,” he says. Stop once you’ve created a gap (roughly the size of two knuckles) between your hands.” Alternate which hand is on top each rep.
Why it’s effective: When looking for a full, round chest, it’s important to hit some isolation work that really targets just the pecs, King says. “The bilateral aspect of the cable crossover allows you to strengthen your weaker side, whereas compound movements won’t always work on muscle imbalances,” he adds. “For maximum definition, it’s key to place muscles under as much stress as possible.”
Pro tips: If it’s too easy, pause for 2-3 seconds while the cables are crossed to fatigue your pecs, King suggests. If it’s too hard, don’t cross over, and stop when the hands are close (as pictured above).
10. One-arm decline dumbbell bench press
How to do it: Set a bench to a decline angle and take a dumbbell in each hand. If it’s a steep decline angle, secure your shins under the pads of the bench. If your bench doesn’t have pads, lessen the decline and keep your feet planted on the floor. Position your hands shoulder-width apart and start with your arms extended straight up with a pronated grip (palms out). “Squeeze your pecs and lower just one arm down under control, pausing briefly at the bottom position, then press up until the arm is extended again,” King says. “Complete the desired reps on the same arm, making sure the other is completely locked out the entire time, and your pecs are engaged.” Switch sides after all reps are done.
Why it’s effective: The one-arm decline dumbbell bench press places the central nervous system under stress, raising your heart rate and turning this strength exercise into a conditioning one to create a lean yet pumped-up physique, King says.
Pro tips: If it’s too easy, increase the load. If it’s too hard, build strength with the dumbbell chest press for about four weeks.