Building a big chest is no simple task. It takes a combination of dedicated chest isolation and compound exercises that engage other upper body movers.
With compound chest exercises, you can build strength and mass at the same time. Here are eight hard-hitting compound chest exercises to build and define your pecs.
What is a Compound Exercise?
A compound exercise is a movement that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously. A barbell squat is the perfect example of a compound exercise. While it primarily targets the major muscle groups in the lower body, it also engages the core and upper body for stability.
Best Compound Chest Exercises
The chest muscles are comprised of the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. While your chest anatomy is relatively simple, it interacts with the complex shoulder structure. The chest plays a pivotal role in arm movement, flexion, and adduction, particularly in pushing exercises.
Compound chest exercises also engage the shoulders, back, and triceps for a targeted upper body workout that builds strength and mass. Here are some of the best compound chest exercises to add to your training.
1. Deficit Push-Ups
Deficit push-ups are a fantastic bodyweight compound chest workout that shifts the onus of the movement from the triceps to the pecs. You can scale the exercise for intensity by adding more depth with stacked plates or instability with medicine balls.
- Place two even points of elevation— plates, TRX, dumbbells, books, PVC handles,etc.— at shoulder-width. Get into the plank position with your hands resting on the elevated surfaces, gripping as needed.
- Brace your core and keep your elbows tucked, then lower your body toward the floor, extending past your hands.
- Pause at the bottom, then push yourself back upward until you reach the starting position. That’s one rep.
Maintain slow and controlled movement throughout the descent, scaling the deficit as needed.
2. Bodyweight Chest Dips
Chest dips are another effective bodyweight compound chest exercise. A slight shift in positioning from a tricep dip transfers the movement to the pecs. However, this compound exercise still engages the triceps as a secondary mover.
- Grasp dip bars or parallel bars firmly and push yourself upward, straightening your arms to hold your bodyweight. Lean slightly forward.
- Slowly lower your body, allowing your elbows to bend while keeping them tucked to your sides. Continue until your shoulders are below your elbows.
- At the bottom of the movement, push back upward, straightening your arms to lift your body, locking your elbows at extension. That’s one rep.
Keep your shoulders held back and stable, avoiding shrugging motions at the top and bottom of the movement. Form is essential to avoid shoulder and chest pain during this exercise.
3. Dumbbell Hex Press
The hex press is one of the most underrated compound chest exercises with dumbbells. A slight alteration in your positioning with this movement can make a significant impact, shifting the focus from the lower chest to the upper chest. While this movement targets the chest, it also engages the triceps for some epic bench press cross-training.
- Lay on your back on a bench while holding two mid-range dumbbells with a neutral grip. Ideally, you’ll have hexagonal dumbbells for this purpose. Hold the dumbbells together over your chest.
- Push the dumbbells together to create tension, lifting them upward in a slow and controlled motion until you reach full extension.
- Slowly reverse the movement back to starting position. That’s one rep.
While a flat bench is standard for the hex press, adding a slight incline can shift the movement to the upper chest. Maintaining tension throughout the movement enlists the triceps.
4. Dumbbell Pullover
Like many compound exercises for chest growth, the pullover can be conducted with dumbbells or a medicine ball. This exercise targets the pecs as well as the lats for a powerful upper body workout.
- Lay on a weight bench with a single dumbbell grasped in both hands. Extend your arms overhead, keeping your elbows slightly bent and letting the dumbbell sit at the bottom of your range of motion.
- Brace your core and pull the dumbbell overhead while keeping your arms extended. Take it slow and controlled.
- When your arms are perpendicular with the weight over your chest, pause, then reverse the movement.
Keep your palms facing one another and even distribution between your arms to ensure your chest and back are doing the work.
5. Standing Plate Pinch Press
While this exercise works best with a plate, you can also do it with a dumbbell or kettlebell. However, the closer your hands can be to one another, the better. This exercise targets the pectorals, triceps, and the delts in certain positions.
- Hold a 10lb plate between your palms. To increase the weight, sandwich two plates together— the smaller plates work better for this exercise.
- Stand with your shoulders back, and core braced, holding the weights at chest height.
- Extend the plates outward, allowing the plates to come up slightly as you reach full extension. This movement should be slow and controlled.
- Pause at extension, then reverse the movement, keeping your elbows tucked. That’s one rep.
Squeeze your chest muscles throughout the movement to create tension and target the pectorals. Keeping your elbows tucked will help engage the triceps for stability and power.
6. Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press
When it comes to compound movements for chest strength, the barbell bench press trumps all. This full-body movement targets the chest and triceps while also hitting the back and core. By shifting to a wide grip, you decrease the range of motion and put more emphasis on the chest.
- Lie on a bench with your eyes approximately under the bar and shoulders tucked to lift your chest and engage your back. Place your hands at 1.5-2x your shoulder-width. Grip the bar with a firm grasp, the bar resting on stacked wrists.
- Unrack the bar, bringing it over your chest with arms fully extended.
- Take a breath, brace your core, and slowly lower the bar toward your chest.
- When the bar reaches your chest, push upward using your chest and arms while driving into the bench with your lower body. The rep is complete when you reach full extension.
Preventing elbow flare is essential when bench pressing. However, this can be more challenging in a wide-grip setup. Keep your elbows tucked by squeezing the bar as though you’re trying to snap it in half. This motion keeps the triceps engaged and elbows in alignment, preventing shoulder injuries.
Many chest compound exercises often target the triceps and back. By adding a blend of compound and isolation exercises, you can build both chest strength and mass over time. When doing these exercises, pay attention to your shoulder positioning and focus on high-quality movement.