The 5 Best Chest Exercises For Women

Add these 5 Best Chest Exercises For Women to your workout routine! Chest exercises are often skipped by women, but they are important for supporting good posture, building and maintaining upper body strength.

The 5 Best Chest Exercises for Women

We have several upper body workouts on the blog. In fact, this toned arms workout is one of the most popular workouts on the blog.

Shoulders, biceps and triceps likely have a regular place in your fitness routine. But women specifically tend to overlook and under-train this key major muscle group: THE CHEST. 

On of my least favorite exercises, and the exercise I struggle with the most, is push ups. And as a group fitness instructor I know I’m not alone in this because push ups are the upper body exercise I see women struggle with the most in my classes as well.

Push ups are an essential chest exercise, and they are at the top of the list for today’s 5 Best Chest Exercises for Women.

Push Up Chest Exercise

Why are chest workouts for women so important?

First, the chest is one of the largest muscle groups in the upper body.

Second, chest muscles assist in everyday activities for women (specifically for mothers). Chest exercises mimic daily ‘horizontal pushing’ activities; think pushing a stroller, or pushing a heavy door open. Have a strong chest can also improve your posture (Shape).

Third, exercises that target the chest muscles also tend to engage other upper body muscles like — biceps, triceps, upper back and shoulders. So if you want strong, toned triceps and shoulder muscles, adding chest exercises to your strength training routine also helps you build your entire upper body.

the best chest exercises for women

It’s important to have ‘muscular balance’ — meaning, you don’t have one stronger muscle group overcompensating for a muscle group that’s less active.

Shoulder muscles tend to ‘take over’ in women that have weaker chest muscles. This often leads to shoulder overuse and injury, specifically in aging women.

Building chest muscles allows your body to work through multi-muscle exercises, like push ups, more cohesively rather than one muscle group overcompensating for another.

The Workout: The Best Chest Exercises For Women

This strength workout specifically targets your chest muscles, but also engages the shoulders, tricpes and upper back muscles. Choose the workout format you prefer, I’ve outlined three chest workout options below.

Equipment: Medium to heavy set of dumbbells for dumbbell chest exercises. I recommend 8-15 lbs dumbbells. And bodyweight for bodyweight chest exercises like push ups and army crawl.

20 Minute Chest and Arms Workout for Women

You can approach this chest workout three different ways:

  1. Make it a 20-Minute Chest Workout — set a timer for 20-minutes. Complete 10 repetitions of each chest exercise, taking breaks as needed. Repeat as many rounds as possible, or AMRAP, in 20-minutes.
  2. Make it a 10-Minute EMOM Workout — or an ‘every minute on the minute’ workout. Set a timer for 10 minutes. At the start of the first minute complete 15 repetitions of the first chest exercise. Then rest for the remaining time left in the minute. At the start of the second minute complete 15 repetitions of the second chest exercise. Then rest for the remaining time left in the second minute. Repeat this format for all 5 exercises, a total of 5 minutes. Then repeat the same format a second time, for a 10-Minute EMOM workout.
  3. Make it a Burnout Chest Workout that you add onto the end of your upper body workout — Complete 12 repetitions of each exercise one time through to ‘burnout’ or fatigue the pectoral muscles at the end of your arm workout. Burnout workouts are great for building muscle — you have to bring the muscle to fatigue to build it up again.

Standard Push Up

push up

We love to hate them, but push ups are hands-down one of the most effective ways to strengthen your entire upper body. Different push up variations target different muscle groups, but a standard push up is your best option to focus on your chest muscles.

Note: I have a whole post on push-up variations and substitutions. If you’re working on progressing from a modified push up on your knees, to completing push ups on your toes, you need to check out this post.

How to do a standard push up:

  1. Start in high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, weight evenly distributed amongst all 10 fingers. Pull your kneecaps up towards your belly.
  2. Hold this position maintaining a straight line with your body, flat back, tight core, and neck in-line with spine, gaze slightly in front of you.
  3. Slowly lower your chest down towards the ground, keeping your elbows pinned to your sides. Maintain a straight line with your body — head, chest and legs in one straight line.
  4. Once at the bottom of your push up, exhale as you push back up into high plank position. Repeat.

Modify push ups by dropping down to one or both knees. Or check out this post for more ways to modify push ups. 

Dumbbell Chest Press

dumbbell chest press

How to do a chest press with dumbbells or dumbbell bench presses:

  1. Lay flat on your back (on the ground, on a bench, or on a stability ball) with one dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent at a 90 degree angle and your feet pressed firmly into the floor.
  2. Activate your core by pressing your lower back into the ground.
  3. Exhale as you push both dumbbells up at the same time so they finish directly above your shoulders. Make sure your wrists are strong and in line with shoulders.
  4. Lower back to starting position and repeat.

Narrow Chest Press

narrow chest press

How to do a narrow chest press with dumbbells:

  1. Lay flat on your back (on the ground, on a bench, or on a stability ball) with one dumbbell in each hand, elbows glued to your sides, dumbbells at mid-chest point, and palms facing in toward one another. Press your feet firmly into the floor.
  2. Activate your core by pressing your lower back into the ground.
  3. Exhale as you push both dumbbells up in a straight line, ending with your arms fully extended, wrist over shoulders.
  4. Lower back to starting position and repeat.

Dumbbell Chest Fly

chest fly with dumbbells

How to do a chest fly with dumbbells:

  1. Lay flat on your back (on the ground, on a bench, or on a stability ball) with one dumbbell in each hand, arms extended directly above your shoulders, palms facing in towards each other. Press your feet firmly into the floor.
  2. Activate your core by pressing your lower back into the ground.
  3. Inhale as you slowly open your arms, lowering the dumbbells in a wide arc until they reach shoulder level (or the ground). Your elbows should remain soft and not over-extended.
  4. Exhale as you pull the dumbbells back to starting position. Keeping your chest puffed out and your elbows slightly bent.

Army Crawl

army crawl chest exercise

How to do an army crawl:

  1. Start in high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, weight evenly distributed amongst all 10 fingers. Pull your kneecaps up towards your belly and push your heels towards the wall behind you.
  2. Hold this position maintaining a straight line with your body, flat back, tight core, and neck in-line with spine, gaze slightly in front of you.
  3. Maintain this position as you drop down to one forearm, followed by dropping down to the other forearm so you are in a low plank position with your shoulders stacked over your elbows.
  4. Exhale as you push yourself back up to the starting high plank position, one arm at a time, while trying to maintain stable hips, square to the ground.
  5. Repeat this alternating forearm drop.

Modify army crawls by dropping down to one or both knees. 

Want more upper body exercises?

Check out these popular upper body workouts:

Pin this Workout: 5 Best Chest Exercises For Women

Chest + Arms Dumbbell Workout

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2 comments
  1. Ugh, pushups! 🙂 Thank you for this post. How would you incorporate this with your workout calendar? Just after all the upper-body only videos? Thanks!

    • Hi Karen…I had to laugh, you’re not alone in disliking push ups that’s for sure. But I’m glad you find this post helpful. Fortunately, most of these exercises are included in the ‘arm’ and ‘total body’ workouts on the 30-Day Calendar so GOOD NEWS, you’re covered! That said, if you’re specifically striving to get off your knees with push ups or improve push up form you could tack-on an additional set of push ups (10-20 reps) daily or every other day. I hope that helps + keep up the great work! -Lindsey