You are here: Home > Exercise > The Best Upper Chest Exercise – The Secret To Perfect Square Pec Development

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

by Garry Davidson on December 23, 2012

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 dumbbell incline 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. I go over all this and much more in my advanced chest training program, the Chest Sculpting Blueprint.

You can learn more about Chest Sculpting in this free video:

Chest Sculpting Newsletter

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Asoin May 18, 2013 at 2:30 am

Good article…I include inclined dumbbell presses in my routine while concentrating on good form. I too believe in proportionality and I like a good upper chest. I hope to become stronger and have a better body ratio soon. Keep up the work,


Garry Davidson May 18, 2013 at 7:29 am

Hi Asoin. If you want to add in some variety, or if you find yourself overtraining your triceps with too many pushing exercises (dips, shoulder presses, flat bench presses etc), then you may also consider doing pullovers. I’ll do a detailed write-up on pullovers in the near future. I was pretty skeptical when I started doing them at first, but did them anyway knowing they were a staple in almost every bodybuilder’s regime back in the classic era. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it’s an amazing builder of the upper chest. It works the upper chest in a whole different plane from any compound pushing exercise.

If you give it a try, do let me know how it goes ;)


damien May 28, 2013 at 2:36 am

I want to buy the blueprint is it all downloaded even the bonus stiff like hypnosis dvd and can I do push ups on dumbells and nearly touch the floor with my chest to substitute a bench press machine, I can get access to one but trying to do everything in the one room so I can look after the kids, love everything you’ve sent me so far the least I can do is buy the blueprint, I’m 2 weeks into hoot weight training(squats,dead lifts,chin ups,dumbell pushups, shoulder presses and dips) I feel great am I on the right track for reducing man boons? ThanksGarry… Damien


Garry Davidson May 28, 2013 at 6:05 am

Hi Damian, thanks for the comment.

Yes, everything in the Chest Sculpting Blueprint is downloadable to your computer, including the hypnosis audio and exercise DVDs. I actually prefer pushups to the bench press because pushups are more of a full-body workout (having to maintain your posture while you move your whole body, as opposed to just moving your arms). Just be sure to progressively increase the weight by adding weights into a backpack.

Your training regime sounds pretty solid. Chinups are great for both the chest and back. Try to make dips your first pushing exercise, since it is the most demanding.



Raghu October 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Hi Garry,
I have started to workout in gym as per your advice. ( Bench press, dead lift, shoulder press, barbell squat, shoulder press) . Is it ok to stretch before and after the workout?


Garry Davidson October 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

Hi Raghu

It’s great to hear you’ve started working out, let me know how you get on. Stretching is perfectly fine, in fact I encourage it. Stretching has multiple different benefits, like helping to stimulate muscle growth, improving flexibility, reducing chances of injury, improving blood flow, etc.


William November 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

o agree with you about bringing the dumbbells together at the top of the press, but after my gym switched from metal to those rubber-coated dumbbells, I stopped because of the annoying “bounce”. And then after reflecting on the physics of the movement, it occurred to me that tension largely leaves the pecs as the arms become vertical, and especially as they tilt inward as the dumbbells come together. I was able to easily feel this when I experimented. I even got fewer reps with the weights I had previously been bringing together, which I deduced was because my po ecstatic no longer got the partial rest they had been getting at the end of every rep. Having stuck with this new “constant tension” technique for about 18 months, I notice a new thickness in the pectorals. And I’m no beginner, I’ve been lifting intensely for twenty years. I have preferred and focused on dumbbell pressing when I received poor results from my first several years of barbell focus.
I do think the db incline press is a great movement, particularly at 30 degrees, but I would question the efficacy of bring the dumbbells together each rep. I do believe in training the full-range and all functions of the pec, but I train the arm crossing the midline of the body function with the cable crossover (either an actual crissover). I should mention that I only tweaked my flat and incline db press form. I was doing all the other same exercises for chest I had done for years, the same body part split, the same frequency, everything identical except the new dumbbell pressing form where I never reach fully vertical with my arms. The middle region is growing as well. 
Also, could you please share which emg studies you have seen indicate that bringing the dumbbells together better isolate the pecs, and contract the inner region better? I have been scouring the Web and have not encountered such a study. I’m not saying there isn’t one, I would just love to see it, or them. I know that what I feel during a movement can vary from or even contradict an EMG, and stretch of tendons and ligaments and such can confuse matters for example.
If you were referring to the Bret Contreras study, I was not aware that he specified dumbbell touching as part of his form. Perhaps you assumed this? I know the accompanying picture suggests that, but who knows if he selected the picture. It is not him in it.
Anyway, thanks for an interesting article and I would love to hear your rebuttal of my points as I try to train as intelligently as possible and will be the first to admit if I am wrong.


William November 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Looks like my comment’s first sentence submitted clipped. I had typed ” I used to agree with you about bringing the dumbbells together…”


William November 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

And I meant to say that I believe “my pectorals got a partial rest” when I used to bring the dumbbells together. It is my understanding that the force is directed downward due to the earth’s gravity, and when supported by vertical arms or squeezed in while holding dumbbells, the tension is negligible and not much different in that final squeeze whether the dumbbells were 100 lbs or 50.


Muhammad Jamil December 18, 2013 at 9:55 am

Hi Garry!
Really l am very much convinced with this upper pec exercise. As you have narrated l have always been doing pushups, barbell bench presses etc. and have a good combination of  lower pecs with reasonable shoulders but lacking upper portion of chest. I am very busy banker by profession and  a 59 years old YOUNG man with 4 abs. still striving hard to remain fit and good looking. I still have an ambition of clear visible chest line. I am sure that this exercise will help me to achieve my goal. Thanks a lot for this help, may God bless you.
Muhammad Jamil


Garry Davidson January 6, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Hey Muhammad. Wow, a four-pack at age 59, that’s awesome! And even as a busy banker. Keep up the good work. Let us know how you get on with the exercise. Be sure to add in some dumbbell pullovers.


Stephen April 14, 2014 at 7:54 am

Hi Gary,
    I live in an apartment complex in a small town.  We have an onsite gym but unfortunately no free weights. The only resistance available is cable machines. Any suggestions on applying this and the pullover workout to machines?


Garry Davidson April 21, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Hey Stephen.

It sucks that they don’t have any free weights at your gym. However, cables are almost just as good as free weights, and sometimes even better. You just need a little creativity to emulate the same exercise you would normally do with free weights. With the pullover exercise for example, with a cable, you can do it standing using a high position pulley. Simply stand facing away from the pulley, hold the handle above your head with both hands, and pull forward in an arc-like motion, just like you would with a dumbbell lying down.

For this to work, the pulley has to be higher than the level of your head, and you have to be standing with your back right up against it. This is to prevent the wire from touching your head as you move your arms down and forward. You will likely still have to move your head out of the way by tilting it sideways. This is not a problem, as long as you alternate your head movements from left to right with each rep.


Stephen April 28, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Thank you very much Gary. I’ve been doing the upper chest exercise similarly standing off to the side with my back to the pulley and pushing up and out at a 45º angle. Unfortunately I can only do one side at a time. Is this ok as long as I keep the same reps and pace?


Garry Davidson April 29, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Hey Stephen. One side at a time is no problem, as long as you alternate equally between each side, so both sides are balanced in both volume and intensity. The main thing here is not to work one side more than the other, as this would lead to muscle imbalance, and predispose you to injury.


Berting June 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Wow. I have been wondering how to improve my chest. I just returned working out in a gym just a month ago, I never knew a program or best reps that would help me improve with my chest. Thanks for the articles, but you know I am struggling with my chest to work on it, though I have been consistent with the basics. I have been dieting also but it’s hard to gain an improvement about it. Would you care to suggest some nice tips? I also have problems with the recovery of my strength every after work out that makes me hard to lift the next work out. Any suggestion for that?

Thank you very much for the informative article, God Bless.


Garry Davidson June 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Hi Berting.

I’ve sent you an email detailing some general advice on losing man boobs.

When it comes to strength recovery after your workout, it’s all down to how hard you push yourself and how often you train. I generally advise doing resistance training no more than 3-4 days a week, on non-consecutive days. You also shouldn’t train to failure (always finish with 1 rep left in the tank), as this can increase your muscle’s recovery period by more than 48 hours.


John July 15, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Are diamond pushups better than bench press for adding size? Since it is a difficult push-up, doing more than five won't be easy per set, that is. So will it help in hypertrophy?


Garry Davidson July 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Diamond pushups are not better for adding size than regular pushups or regular bench presses. What they are good at, is hitting the inner portion of your pecs, so you can get that midline pec separation line. But if you want to hit the inner pecs, then you are likely better off doing cable crossovers, with your hands going beyond the midline by crossing over one another.


Leave a Comment

Please Leave A Comment

Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas & questions. Let's get talking :p

Loading Facebook Comments ...