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The Best Upper Chest Exercise – The Secret To Perfect Square Pec Development

by Garry Davidson

Best Upper Chest Exercise

Anyone can build a big chest, but most guys have no idea how to get the right proportions that will give you that truly unstoppable, masculine look.

Tell me something. Do you want to look drop-dead gorgeous with people turning their heads to check you out on the beach, or do you want to look like an overgrown freak that makes people wanna throw up when they look at you?

If you’re in the game to look great with stone-slabs for a chest that gets women weak at the knees, then today’s exercise is definitely one you should be doing.

See, most guys who work on their chest, end up getting a huge lower chest because the lower chest is just naturally wired to respond to exercise better than the upper chest.

The lower chest is naturally thicker and more responsive to growth. Guys with an overgrown lower chest end up looking like they have man boobs, even if they don’t have any breast tissue or fat on their chest.

The secret to getting the perfect look, is not to have a sloping chest that sticks out at the bottom, but to have a vertical drop – like a cliff-face – with the upper chest being almost as thick as the lower.

This is important for all guys who want to build a powerful-looking chest, and it’s especially important if you have man boobs, because a thick, muscular upper chest can make your man boobs almost invisible!

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of guys who do understand this, because I see guys at the gym doing incline bench presses all the time, but the trouble with the regular old barbell incline bench press is it targets way too much of the anterior (front) deltoids of the shoulders.

Incline Bench Press Anterior Deltoid Activation

The traditional barbell incline bench press results in too much anterior deltoid involvement

See, EMG studies have shown that the more you incline the bench, the more you involve the anterior deltoids, and the less you involve the chest.

So what’s the solution? How then do you work out the upper chest while minimizing the involvement of the shoulders? Well the secret is a powerful exercise that was used by the legendary Steve Reeves to carve out a truly thick set of upper pecs that all his competitors were jealous of.

Who was Steve Reeves? Steve Reeves was the bodybuilding superstar before Arnold. He was one of the biggest icons of modern bodybuilders that ever existed, and has long been considered the pinnacle of the male physique. Born in 1926, Reeves won every major title of his era, retiring from competitive bodybuilding in 1950.

Steve Reeves Chest

Steve Reeves had perfectly even chest development. He was more concerned about proportionality and looking great, than he was about size.

Now, back in those days, bodybuilding was all about proportionality and achieving the ideal masculine look. Unlike bodybuilding the way it is today, it wasn’t about taking steroids and getting as big as you possibly can. Face it, today’s competitive bodybuilders look like freaks and women and people in general are repulsed by them.

Even most of Reeve’s competitors at the time were open about the fact that Reeves had the perfect male physique. One of Reeves’ most envied body parts was his chest. He had very unique square pec development, with a particularly thick set of upper pecs.

Everyone at the time tried to duplicate Reeve’s results. After questioning him, they found that the secret to his success was the incline dumbbell press.

Steve Reeves Incline Dumbbell Press

Steve Reeves’ secret to his perfect chest proportions was the incline dumbbell press

Now hold on, isn’t the dumbbell incline press the same as the barbell incline press?

No, not at all. With the dumbbell incline press, not only can you get a greater stretch at the bottom of the movement, but EMG studies have shown that you can get a more intense contraction in your pecs at the top of the movement, especially if you bring the dumbbells in toward one another at the top.

By bringing the dumbbells in at the top, not only do you isolate the pecs (as opposed to the anterior deltoids) better than in the barbell incline press, but you also stimulate those inner fibers near the midline of your upper chest, to really bring out that pec separation line.

Being able to bring your hands together at the top of the movement using dumbbells, is the secret key that Steve Reeves used to develop a thick upper chest that was the envy of all of his competitors.

Although Reeves wasn’t the first guy to ever use dumbbells, he was one of the only guys of that era who was known to use the incline dumbbell press, at a time when everyone else was using barbells. Nobody else knew that dumbbells allow you to isolate the upper pecs better than a barbell ever could.

How To Perform The Incline Dumbbell Press

You can do the incline dumbbell press with your torso anywhere between a 30 and 45 degree angle to the floor.

If you go much lower than 30 degrees, then you won’t be putting enough emphasis on the upper chest. Go higher than 45 degrees, and you’ll be putting too much emphasis on the shoulders. Personally, I prefer 45 degrees :p

You will find that you can lift less on an incline press than you can on a flat bench press. This is because, as we discussed, the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle is naturally thinner and weaker than the lower portion.

1. Lie back on a bench inclined at 30-45 degrees with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs.
2. Using your thighs to help push the dumbbells up, assume the starting position by lifting the dumbbells to your chest.

Use an overhand grip as you would with a barbell. Your elbows should be flared out, with your upper arms at 90° from your torso.

Here at the bottom of the movement, your hands should be wider than shoulder-width apart, allowing your elbows to go down below the level of your chest.

Incline Dumbbell Press Bottom

3. While breathing out, push the dumbbells up in a slight arch, so the inner bells of each dumbbell touch at the top.
4. Tense your pecs hard at the top, trying for a hard contraction.

 Incline Dumbbell Press Top

5. While breathing in, lower the weights back to the starting position, being sure to get a deep stretch at the bottom of the movement.
6. When you are done, place the dumbbells back on your thighs and then on the floor.

Incline Dumbbell Press Video

In case the instructions above aren’t clear enough, here’s a video of the incline dumbbell press in action. This stuff is much easier to see in a video, don’t ask why I bother with the above instructions… eaah ok, I suppose I do it because I have this sneaking suspicion that not everyone likes watching videos.

In this video, I got my chest sculpting expert buddy Mihailo, to do an incline dumbbell press. I did ask him to do it at 45 degrees, but he went ahead and did it at 30 degrees. If you can, I really do prefer that you go at it at 45 degrees.


Ok, so the key to a powerful set of pecs is to develop a thick upper chest, which gives you that square-cut appearance with a vertical drop.

Upper pec development is tough, and most guys get it wrong by either doing barbell incline work, or neglecting incline pressess altogether.

The secret to ultimate upper pec development is to do incline dumbbell presses like good ol’ Steve Reeves back in the day when bodybuilding was all about proportionality and looking great as a man.

EMG studies have shown that bringing the dumbbells together at the top, helps not only to isolate the pecs, but also to contract those inner pec fibers, which give you that upper chest thickness.

How To Get A Square Chest

If you’re out there to get a powerful set of square, stone slab-like pecs, you need to do a lot more than just the incline dumbbell press.

You need to combine this exercise with multiple different exercises, use the correct angles and range of motion, and know how to torch fat in the chest area, so you can really get that chiseled look.

To discover these secrets (and more), click the following link, where I uncover the secrets of chest sculpting:

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

martand naik August 15, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Hi Gary. I have a shoulder problem so I don’t prefer bringing my elbows too far down or flaring them while doing presses. In fact I only do floor dumbell presses. I don’t have access to an incline bench either. What would be a good upper chest exercise for me?
Martand india.


Garry Davidson August 16, 2014 at 9:43 am

Dumbbell pullovers from the edge of your bed. If you have a shoulder problem, then it might be best to avoid flaring your elbows. Flaring your elbows and bringing your elbows down, puts your shoulders is a weak position. This can be dangerous if you have a pre-existing shoulder injury/problem, or if you are overtraining or lifting too heavy. However, the fact that your shoulders are in a weak position, is a signal in itself to make your chest muscles work harder – since the chest muscles play a large role in stabilizing and moving the shoulder joint.


Barry December 9, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Mate-I have a big chest (111cms) but not good upper chest development. Read your article on dumbbell presses re Steeve REES. HAVE BEEN TRAINING FOR YEARS BUT NOT GOOD UPPER CHEST. would LIKE VERY much to get it..
As well as the dumbbell presses should I also do:1.dumbell pullover on inclined bench 2.Dumbell pullover across horizontal bench 3. Cables from high level in the form of flies?
How many times a week should I train the upper chest and how many sets?
Many thanks Garry. I live in Australia


Garry Davidson December 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Hi Barry

Yes, dumbbell pullovers are some of the best exercises for developing the upper chest. If you have access to an incline bench, then even better. There’s no need to do it both on a flat AND incline bench, either one will do. With cables, I would suggest you have the pulley in a LOW position, and pull upwards in the form of flys – this would target the upper chest.

I would suggest you train the chest three to four days a week, training on alternate days. In terms of sets and reps, if you want to increase the size of your chest muscles, there are many different hypertrophy protocols you can choose from. I’d do multiple sets of 8-15 reps. You might try 3 sets of 10 reps, or even Vince Gironda’s famous 8×8 protocol for example.


Rohan December 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

Hello Sir,
I don’t have any access to gym. I mostly do free hand exercises at home including, incline and decline pushup, dips. But can you give me some idea how to do incline dumbbells at home? I am 18 years of age and i live in India.


Garry Davidson December 18, 2014 at 11:27 am

Hi Rohan

One thing you can do is to get a stability ball. These are great for doing dumbbell incline presses on. They are low cost, easy to store (when I had one I used to tuck it away on top of my wardrobe), and can be used for many different exercises to replace the bench. The only downside is, on a stability ball, you can’t lift very heavy weights on a barbell.


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