These Moves Will Strengthen Your Chest

Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Even if you're not working up to your bench press PR (or know what that means — no shame), it's still a great idea to do some strengthening and stretching of your chest. After all, your chest muscles — namely your pectoralis major and minor — play an important role in lots of everyday movements, such as pushing, pulling, and lifting. And if you're the sporty type, a strong chest can improve your game in sports like tennis, swimming, and anything that involves throwing a ball.

While you might have heard that doing a ton of push-ups could make your chest bigger and fill out that bikini top, it's not exactly true; women don't tend to have the testosterone levels that are required for major muscle mass. (Plus, we're fans of learning to feel great about the way your body looks right now.) But focusing on the chest definitely has some aesthetic benefits: Specifically, stretching your pecs can help with posture, since hypertonic — a.k.a. overly strong and tight — chest muscles can actually pull your shoulders forward, creating a rounding in your upper back. And there's nothing like standing up straight and holding your head high to make you look and feel awesome.

So whether you're working out to feel better in your body generally, you're training for a sport, or you just want to be strong enough to move all those boxes into your new apartment on your own, it can't hurt to try out a few moves to make sure your upper body is in tip-top shape.

Click through to find a few chest-strengthening and -stretching moves. You can do these at home with minimal equipment (though if you prefer heavier dumbbells or a barbell, make sure you have a spotter).
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Downward Dog
If you think of this yoga staple as just a stretch for your hamstrings, think again — when done properly, Down Dog can really get at the muscles around your chest.

1. To get the proper placement between your hands and feet, begin in a straight-arm plank.
2. Shift your hips up and back until your body is in an inverted "V" shape.
3. Press your heels toward the floor (but know that they may not make it all the way — that's ok!), and push your chest toward your legs, feeling the stretch in your chest and shoulders.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Cat-Cow
1. Start on all fours, with your knees underneath your hips and your wrists underneath your shoulders (with fingers pointing forwards). Inhale to drop your belly and point your chest toward the ceiling.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Cat-Cow (cont.)
2. Exhale, tucking your tailbone down and using your abdominal muscles to arch your back towards the ceiling. Lengthen your neck and tuck your chin towards your chest. Inhale back to the stomach-down, chest-up position, and continue moving between "cat" and "cow" for 10-15 repetitions in each position.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Supine Chest Fly
1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, with the dumbbells resting on your knees, lie on your back on a flat bench. Raise the dumbbells directly above your chest (if they're heavy, you can use your thighs to help hoist them up), extending your arms but not locking them out at the elbows. Hold the dumbbells together with palms facing each other.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Supine Chest Fly (cont.)
2. Inhale, slowly lowering the dumbbells into a wide arc until they are level with your shoulders or chest. Exhale and slowly return them to the starting position. If your dumbbells are on the lighter end, perform 10-12 reps. If they're heavy, perform 4-6 reps. (Either way, the last 1-2 reps should feel quite challenging.)
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Supine Pullovers
1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, with the dumbbells resting on your knees, lie on your back on a flat bench. Raise the dumbbells directly above your chest (if they're heavy, you can use your thighs to help hoist them up), extending your arms but not locking them out at the elbows. Hold the dumbbells together with palms facing each other.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Supine Pullovers (cont.)
2. Slowly lower your arms, keeping the dumbbells together, until they are in line with your ears. Keep your elbows extended, but not locked out. Then slowly pull the weights back to the starting position. If your dumbbells are on the lighter end, perform 10-12 reps. If they're heavy, perform 4-6 reps. (Either way, the last 1-2 reps should feel quite challenging.)
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Single-Arm Dumbbell Press
1. Holding a dumbbell in one hand, with the dumbbell resting on your knee, lie on your back on a flat bench. Bring the dumbbell to the side of your chest with your palm facing in, bending your elbow so your forearm is perpendicular to the floor. (If the dumbbell is heavy, you can use your other hand to help get it into the proper position; then, rest your other hand on your stomach.)
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Single-Arm Dumbbell Press (cont.)
2. Inhale, then exhale to press the dumbbell straight up, extending your elbow fully without locking it out. Then, slowly return the dumbbell toward your torso. If your dumbbell is on the lighter end, perform 10-12 reps. If it's heavy, perform 4-6 reps. (Either way, the last 1-2 reps should feel quite challenging.) Repeat on the other side.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
You might be thinking, How does this move work my chest? The truth is, it doesn't, exactly — but it's fantastic for your posture and works the complementary muscles in your upper back that help stabilize your chest.

Rear Lateral Raise
1. Stand upright, holding two dumbbells in your hands, with your feet about hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hinge forward at the hips so your chest moves downwards, until your back is at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. Bring the dumbbells directly under your chest, arms extended down, and engage your core to stay stable.
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Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Rear Lateral Raise (cont.)
2. Inhale, then exhale to raise the dumbbells straight up and out to the sides, to shoulder-level, keeping your arms extended. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down. Throughout the move, think about engaging the muscles around your shoulder blades so that they don't jut out, and so your chest stays wide rather than hunching over.

If your dumbbells are on the lighter end, perform 10-12 reps. If they're heavy, perform 4-6 reps. (Either way, the last 1-2 reps should feel quite challenging.)
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Stability Ball Push-Up
1. Stand facing a stability ball, place your hands on it, and carefully walk your feet out to a plank position. If you feel too wobbly, put the ball against a wall or a heavy piece of furniture so it stays put.
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Stability Ball Push-Up (cont.)
2. Bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the ball, keeping your body in a rigid line. Then, push back up to a plank with extended arms.

This move is quite challenging, so only do as many reps as you're able to perform with great form. If you need to modify, do a knee push-up, with your hands on the ball if it's small enough, or simply on the floor.