3 Best CrossFit Chest Workouts – Build, Shape And Tone Your Pecs

by: Michael Perry

May 27, 2022

Unless you've been living on a different planet, if you're at all involved in fitness, you've likely heard of CrossFit.

For folks who are into this workout, it's not a workout — it's a lifestyle.

CrossFitters can get pretty rabid (but hey, when you find a program you love, you tell people about it.)

In case you need a refresher, CrossFit training involves doing different workouts every day. Sometimes the workouts are timed, so you have to try and complete as many rounds as possible in the allotted time-frame.

So, how do CrossFit workouts help build up your chest muscles? Well, that's why you're here, isn't it? Let's dig in.

Does CrossFit Build Your Chest?

There are different muscle groups you can train via weightlifting to give yourself an ego lift and look like you move heavy weights. Having a muscular chest is definitely one of them.

So, are there CrossFit chest workouts to get you a big chest? Short answer: it depends.

If you go to a traditional CrossFit gym, you might find direct chest work, and you might not. Sometimes a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) will include things like push-ups and bench pressing. Some won't.

CrossFit combines strength with high-intensity exercises (muscle-ups, anyone?) for a whole-body workout with functional fitness in mind.

That said, if you want to use CrossFit training to get a stronger chest, you can.

However, you just might have to do some extra chest workouts to get you there. The good news is we've collected the best CrossFit chest workout moves designed to get you the muscular chest and upper body you're looking for.

TL;DR: You can use CrossFit chest workouts to stimulate muscle growth. It just might take an extra-strength training session or two.

Is There Benching in CrossFit?

Man is tired after a crossfit chest workout

Again, this will come down to the program at your specific CrossFit community gym.

Some will include bench presses, and some won't.

Now, a bench press is absolutely a solid way to get your chest work in. It allows you to lift some heavy weights (once you get there, you have to build strength first), and it's very targeted at your chest muscles.

And we're absolutely going to cover the best bench press workouts to help you build a strong chest.

One of CrossFit's hardest challenges is that the WOD changes every day. But that's also one of CrossFit's greatest strengths.

So whether you're doing a rope climb, dumbbell flyes, or weighted dips, you're basically always working in progressive overload (or overloading training).

Progressive overload is when you're constantly challenging your muscles in new ways to keep building them.

Whether that means adding weight to your bench press, introducing a new chest exercise completely, or adding another set to your chest exercises, the point is, your muscles get continuously stimulated to grow.

TL;DR: In CrossFit chest workouts, the bench press might or might not make an appearance. But you're still going to be challenged each day, and you can still build a strong chest.

What About Weights, Sets, and Reps?

One of the most essential parts of building any muscle, including gaining chest strength, is to get your set and rep ranges right. (In fact, it's so important, we have an entire guide for it, The Ultimate Guide to Sets and Reps)

In case you need the quick-and-dirty version, in general:

  • If you want to build up muscular endurance (how long you can lift), aim for higher rep ranges or 3–4 sets of 12–15 reps.
  • If you want strength gains (great for building a strong chest), aim for a low rep range of 2–6 sets of 1–5 reps.
  • If you want muscle up with hypertrophy (gain visible muscle mass), you're looking at 3–5 sets of 6–12 reps.

Now, as for weights, that's another big enough topic. We have our How Much Weight Should You Lift (Based on Your Fitness Goals) guide to help you out.

But if you're pressed for time, here you go.

If you're new to lifting, start with just your bodyweight or very, very light dumbbells. Yes, really. You need to make sure you don't sacrifice form just to throw around weights that are too heavy for you and get injured.

If you have more experience, especially with a barbell, you can start there. How much weight you use will depend on what you've lifted before and how easy or difficult it felt.

For CrossFit specifically, the weight you use will depend on the exercises in your WOD. CrossFit workouts are notoriously hard to predict, so I'm afraid you're in for some trial and error here. But stick with it! The strong chest of your dreams is worth it.

TL;DR: In your CrossFit chest workouts, aim for anywhere from 3–4 sets of 4–12 reps, depending on your experience level and which chest workout you're doing. For weight, start with just your body until your form is solid.

What Are the Best CrossFit Chest Workouts?

Ahh, now we get to it — the CrossFit chest workout routine to get you bench pressing, crushing push-ups, and killing ring dips. These chest exercises will have you building up those chest muscles in no time.

Upper Chest Workouts

It's important to have a variety of chest workouts in your routine, so you hit all the major muscle groups. Let's start with upper.

1. Medium Grip Incline Barbell Bench Press

This barbell bench press is similar to what you typically picture when you imagine a "bench press," but instead of laying flat, you're at about a 45º upward angle. Working at an incline helps target your upper pecs.

A "medium grip" is holding the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. This helps boost the "flexing" in your chest for more muscle engagement.

Benefits of the medium grip incline barbell bench press:

  • Builds chest size and strength, especially in the upper chest muscles.
  • Also works the triceps and anterior deltoids.
  • Bonus: core and lower body engagement to hold your position during the move and increase your pressing strength.

How To:

  1. Load your bar with a weight appropriate for your training level.
  2. Lay down on the incline bench with your feet flat on the ground. Your back should have a slight arch with your shoulder blades retracted.
  3. Take a medium grip on the bar. Lift the barbell from the rack, holding it above your chest with arms extended.
  4. Flex your elbows to lower the bar to your sternum. Keep your elbows under your wrists. Maintain control of the barbell, and don't bounce it off your chest.
  5. After briefly touching your torso with the bar, extend your elbows to push it back up.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as you have programmed.

2. Decline Push-Ups (AMRAP)

If you're not familiar with that acronym, AMRAP stands for As Many Reps As Possible. It basically means doing the movement until you can't continue with good form anymore. It's a super-easy way to challenge yourself, especially with decline push-ups.

(A quick note: if you haven't yet mastered a regular push-up, as in, not on a decline, you should start there. Adding the decline ups the intensity of the exercise by a lot.)

The decline puts your feet at an elevated angle, so they're slightly higher than your shoulders. This puts extra work on your upper pecs and the front of your shoulders.

If you're new to decline push-ups, start with a lower elevation for your feet, like a step. Then progress higher to make the exercise more intense.

How To:

  1. Start kneeling with your back to your stable, elevated surface. Place your feet on top of the bench, balancing on your toes. Then walk your hands out to where your shoulders are comfortably over your wrists, at about mid-chest. Keep your elbows at 45º.
  2. Brace your entire body, including your core, glutes, and quads. Bend your elbows and lower your chest to floor. Note: you won't actually touch your chest to the floor, as that means you've got a huge bend in your low back. Keep your entire spine neutral.
  3. Press away from the floor to return to the starting position, extending your elbows.
  4. Repeat until your form starts to break down.

3. Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell bench press is similar to the incline barbell press, except, well, you're using dumbbells.

A dumbbell bench press targets the upper portion of your chest, the very tippy-top of your pecs, which can often get missed in traditional chest workouts.

Plus, including an incline dumbbell press in your workouts can help address any muscular imbalances you may have. Because each dumbbell is held freely and not tied to the other, you can see if one side of your chest is stronger.

How To:

  1. Set the bench between 30 and 45º. Sit on the bench and lean back with a dumbbell in each hand, resting on your thighs. Bring the bells up with hands at your shoulders, elbows bent. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Brace your core and press both bells up as you exhale. Keep your wrists straight. At the top, the bells should almost touch with your arms perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Reverse the move to lower the dumbbells back to your chest as you inhale. Your elbows should come back to a roughly 45º angle to your torso.

4. Incline Dumbbell Flyes

Incline dumbbell flyes are an isolation exercise similar to the press in that it works those hard-to-target upper pecs, but in a slightly different way. Bonus: you get some anterior deltoid and bicep work with this move.

How To:

  1. Lie back on the bench and raise the dumbbells over your chest. Keep your elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other.
  2. Inhale and lower the bells in this slightly arced position until you feel a light stretch in your chest.
  3. Exhale and bring the weights back up to starting, maintaining that arc throughout the move.

Mid Chest

The chest workouts in this section are designed to target the middle of your chest. You'll notice a few more traditional chest exercises, like push-ups and regular bench presses, in this section.

1. Bench Press

Speaking of, it's time to talk about the traditional bench press. You're likely pretty familiar with this exercise, but just to refresh, it's great for targeting your mid-chest, triceps, and shoulders.

For your step-by-step, it's exactly the same as the incline version, just done with the bench flat.

2. Dumbbell Flyes

Noticing a pattern with these chest exercises? You can do the same moves on an incline but flat instead to target a different part of your chest. Doing dumbbell flyes flat works the mid-chest rather than your upper pecs.

And I bet you see where the step-by-step is going: yep, refresh yourself with the incline version and then find yourself a flat bench instead.

3. Plyometric Push-Ups

If you're looking for a challenge, plyo push-ups are for you. These are not for beginners to strength training but should be reserved for folks who are already decently strong in their upper body.

This type of push-up takes your traditional one and adds a small "jump" at the top. This move works your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core, making it a super-effective workout.

How To:

  1. Start in a high plank. Keep your torso and spine in a straight line, core engaged, and palms under your shoulders.
  2. Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor.
  3. As you lift back up, do so with more force than normal pushups, so your hands briefly leave the ground at the top.
  4. Land lightly and move immediately into your next rep.

Want even more of a challenge? Add a badass clap when your hands are off the ground.

4. Dips

Dips come in a few different kinds, especially in CrossFit: there are ring dips and weighted versions. We're going to talk about the basic dip that you can adjust to the variations if you choose.

This move primarily works your chest, but only if you angle yourself appropriately, but basically, you're going to want to lean forward to target your mid-chest.

You can also check out this article that features the best alternatives to the triceps 

How To:

  1. Stand in front of two parallel bars and secure a firm grip on each. Tighten your core and exhale as you lift yourself.
  2. Lean forward and slowly lower yourself toward the ground, focusing the contraction in your chest.
  3. Once your triceps are parallel with the ground, pause and then slowly press yourself back up.

Lower Chest

Our final section for chest workouts: the lower chest. This section will be shorter because it's moves we've already been through, just from different angles.

1. Incline Push-Ups

Remember how decline push-ups are harder? Incline ones are easier. If you're building strength, start here. These pushups target the lower muscles of your chest but with less effort than other versions.

Set up as you would for a regular push-up, but with your hands on some form of solid incline.

Your step-by-step is the same as for decline, except instead of placing your feet on an elevated surface, place your hands.

2. Decline Barbell Bench Press

Adding a decline to the bench press targets your lower pectoralis muscles. The biggest difference in this move is because you're on a decline, your feet will be secured to the decline bench rather than flat on the floor.

This helps keep you from sliding up the bench as you do the move.

Again, your step-by-step is the same as incline bench presses. The difference is the decline and that your feet are secured to the bench.

3. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

At this point, you're noticing another pattern, right? This move is the same as the barbell option. Just use dumbbells.

4. Decline Dumbbell Flyes

Last but not least, add a decline to your flyes to target your lower chest. 

How Often Do I Need to Train My Chest?

Whether you do presses, muscle-ups, or other high-intensity CrossFit movements, here's a general guideline for how often you should train your chest:

  • Experienced lifters: at least 8 sets of chest exercises per week.
  • Intermediate-advanced lifters: at least 10 sets of chest exercises per week.
  • Most other folks: between 12 and 20 sets of chest exercises per week.

Remember to shake up which chest exercise you do each workout for best results.

Conclusion

There you have it! Go forth, and do a CrossFit chest workout with confidence!


About the author

Growing up as the fat kid is what motivated him to take matters to his hands at fifteen, and he has never looked back again since!

When he's not pumping iron at the gym, you'll probably find him hooked to his record player listening to rock classics.

If only he could carry it with him to the gym. Sigh.

On this site, he'll do his best to help you accomplish the same results for yourself.

(We're talking about getting in shape, not trying to carry a record player to your local gym)

Michael Perry