5 Inner Chest Exercises That Will Build Muscle Definition

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THERE’S MORE TO acquiring an aesthetically complete physique than just lifting heavy weight and bombarding your chest with bench press reps. This is especially true when it comes to developing muscle definition and hypertrophy, along with strength.

You may think that the key to chest training is having a big bench, but you’re spending too much time and energy in the wrong place if you neglect accessory moves that target how the pectoralis muscles actually work. Your aesthetic goals will be better served spending time on bettering your mind-muscle connection, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and celebrity trainer and MH Advisory Board member Don Saladino. In this case, convergence—moving weight to or past the centerline of your body (adduction)—is key to getting that well-defined chest.

“The bench press is important for strength development,” Saladino says, “but I also believe that after a period of time, you don’t really gain that mind-muscle connection from just staying with that same movement over and over and over, you don’t really get to experience what it feels like to do a movement with convergence.”

You don’t have to ditch the bench presses. But if your goal is that ripped inner chest look, you’ll need to add a few more moves to your training. Here are five of the best complementary chest exercises for your routine that can help complete that aesthetic upper body look.

5 Best Inner Chest Exercises

Squeeze Plate Press

2 sets of 10 reps

The squeeze plate press is a solid simulation of a bodybuilder’s posing routine, tightly pressing a light plate as if you’re trying to crush it between your palms. Because a light load is all it takes to create heavy tension, the squeeze plate press is oftentimes an underrated and underutilized exercise. And that is far from true. By extending your arms while squeezing the inner chest, you’ll be creating enough tension to fatigue in as little as two reps.

“It’s less about the load here, it’s more about the isometric tension that you’re creating with just your body,” Samuel says. “It works really well for beginners because it’s not about load… the moment you’re dragging your hands together, you’re learning how I’m dragging my hands together for this. I’m learning how to create that contraction.”

Single-Arm Cable Fly

3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps per arm

Here’s a unique mind-muscle masterpiece move that creates tons of tension at the midline, a major difference from your traditional pressing movements. However, by making this a unilateral movement as opposed to the standard fly, you can actually extend beyond the midline, thereby extending the range of motion.

One common mistake, however, with the cable fly is a tendency to bend too much at the elbow. Instead, focus on keeping the arm long throughout the movement, which will keep tension on your chest.

Hex Close-Grip Press

3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Pick up the intensity with a more advanced move (that might pose a challenge for anyone with limited shoulder mobility). This close-grip press is a great exercise for getting a good chest squeeze with each rep. It’s essentially a squeeze press but using a heavier load—but not too much weight that would force you to sacrifice your squeeze at the top.

The focus with the hex press is to now have the load pressed in front, but with the dumbbells held tight together in a neutral position (palms facing each other). You still want to focus on creating and maintaining tension. Slow and controlled is the way to go toward building a fuller chest, while at the same time working your shoulder and triceps as well.

Machine Chest Press

3 sets of 12 to 15 reps

The machine press is another exercise that gets a bum rap among the functional fitness crowd, but certain variations provide plenty of muscle-building and shaping bang for your buck. We mentioned earlier the importance of pressing with convergence, or focusing on moving the weight closer to the midline to add tension. Machines such as a Hammer Strength press or similar models allow you to press while creating more tension toward the midline. Another machine benefit is that, unlike dumbbells, you don’t have to focus on stability toward the end of a taxing training session, but still be able to work on the much-needed muscle contraction.

Banded Dumbbell Press

    3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

    By adding a resistance band, we add a twist—and even more tension—to this traditional chest-building staple. It’s best to go lighter with the band; a light to moderate tension band is more than plenty to add more stress to your squeeze after each rep. The goal is not to move heavy weight, per se, but moving in a slow, controlled manner to hit that inner chest.

    “When it comes to training to training your inner chest and attacking your chest, [it’s okay to] back down on the weight a little bit,” Samuel says. “Let’s own the contraction and the five exercises we’ve given you, you have no choice but to back down the weight to dominate the contraction, and that’s gonna get you the inner chest that you want.”

    Want more essential exercises for your most important muscle groups? Check out all of our Muscle Musts.

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