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Incline exercises target your upper pecs.
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Exercises like the barbell bench press, dumbbell chest press and dumbbell flyes are commonplace in many chest training routines. While these exercises can build muscle and strength, not including incline and decline exercises will limit your potential for strength and size gains in your chest. For a well-balanced pec routine, vary your exercise angles and switch your exercise selection between workouts.
When it comes to flat-bench exercises, the bench press is considered king of the chest moves. It's a powerlifting exercise and develops the musculature in your chest, shoulders and arms, stabilizes your shoulders and teaches full-body tension. People often emphasize bench presses too often though, notes trainer Charles Poliquin, who advises that at least 50 percent of your pressing exercises should be performed using dumbbells, as these offer a more natural movement pattern. Alternatively, if you don't have access to an adjustable bench, perform one-armed push-ups. These are also classed as a flat movement, but they train your shoulder stabilizers more than bench or dumbbell presses and make you increase muscular tension.
Incline exercises target the upper portion of your pecs more than flat exercises do. This can be extremely beneficial if the middle portion of your chest is well-developed, but the upper part is lagging behind. You can perform all your standard dumbbell or barbell presses on an incline, as well as isolation moves such as dumbbell flyes or cable flyes, performed by setting up an incline bench in the middle of a cable crossover station. If you want to add in push-up variations too, these can be made into incline push-ups by placing your feet on a bench or chair.
Just as incline exercises hit your upper chest, decline exercises prioritize the lower part. When bench pressing on a decline, the bar should touch lower on your chest, advises corrective exercise specialist and powerlifter Mike Robertson. To perform push-ups as a decline move, set a bar in a power rack or Smith machine to waist height and perform push-ups with your hands on it. If you don't have a specialist decline bench for bench presses, dumbbell presses or flyes, use a flat bench with the front end raised slightly on a set of aerobic steps.
Pick four exercises each session -- one barbell press, one dumbbell move, an isolation such as flyes or crossovers, plus a push-up variation. Rotate which angles you perform for each, switching each workout and training your chest once every five to seven days. Your first session could be incline bench presses, flat dumbbell presses, decline flyes and flat push-ups wearing a weighted vest. Then your session a week later could be decline bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, flat cable crossovers and incline push-ups. Aim to beat your sets and repetitions or use weight on each exercise every workout and complete three to five sets of eight to 12 reps on each.