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IN THE AGE of peak fitness influence on social media, there’s no shortage of exercises circulating your feed. While it’s nice to have a vast library of movements to keep your days in the gym interesting, many of those influencer-designed options are better served to gain clicks than they are for building muscle. Chest-focused training, in particular, has seen a particularly problematic influx of questionable content.

While there is some value to having a diverse range of movements—you do need more than just basic bench pressing and pushups here, since your chest will grow from the focused squeeze that comes with adduction—there is such thing as too much. Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., says that his time on fitness social media has exposed him to some of the dumbest chest exercises he’s ever seen.

“We’re talking about exercises that aren’t really going to stimulate our chest, that aren’t going to push us to our goals, and they’re just not really going to help us get that good mechanical tension that we need to build chest size and chest strength,” says Samuel.

Many of these exercises have the right idea in mind, but ultimately execute in a non-optimal way. Here, Samuel provides a few small tweaks that can make them effective.

3 Chest Exercises to Avoid

Prayer Press

In theory, the prayer press is meant to stimulate chest adduction by squeezing two plates together and lifting and lowering in a similar pattern to a traditional bench press. This exercise can be performed standing or lying on a bench.

Neither option optimally loads the chest, though. If your perform this movement standing, gravity places more load on the shoulders to control the weight. If done lying down, the plate cuts the range of motion, neglecting a proper stretch through the chest before contraction. Thus, more of the work is applied to your triceps.

Plus, progressively overloading this movement is hugely challenging, Samuel says. The bigger the plate, and the more you slap together, the more awkward and difficult it is to situate.

Prayer Press Alternative: Bench Supported Cable Fly

So, what can you do instead? The bench supported cable fly is an underrated exercise that properly loads up chest adduction.

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How to Do It:

  • Place a bench in between two cable machines. Set the bench up to where it’s at an angle of 30 to 45 degrees. Set the anchor of the cable to the bottom.

  • Grab onto both handles and lean against the bench. Create about a 30 degree bend through the elbow, and slowly lower your arms out wide until you find a healthy stretch through your chest.

  • Exhale and squeeze to pull your arms together into your midline.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps


Hex Press

The hex press is very similar to the previous exercise in that the goal is to squeeze the dumbbells together as you’re pressing the weight upwards in an attempt to train adduction while also pushing. As you hold the two dumbbells in a neutral grip with your elbows close to your torso, however, you lose the optimal angle to create true mechanical tension in your chest. The tension here instead is going through your triceps, rather than your chest.

Hex Press Alternative: Banded Dumbbell Press

To get the best of both worlds, grab a resistance band and loop it around your back. The placement of the band really emphases a squeeze at the top of the motion.

How to Do It:

  • Place a resistance band around your back, and loop it through your palms. Grab your dumbbells.

  • Lie back, and bring your dumbbells up over your chest. Slowly lower your elbows down, creating a 45 degree bend through your armpit.

  • Find a good stretch through the chest before exhaling and pressing the dumbbells up towards the sky. Squeeze at the top to fight the extra resistance provided by the bands.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.


High Incline Press

The high incline press is typically used to place an emphasis on the upper chest. When the bench incline goes north of 30 degrees, however, the line of gravity runs more through the shoulders than it does your chest.

High Incline Press Alternative: Single-Arm Incline Press

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The single-arm incline press allows you to hit that upper chest, so long as you keep the angle of the bench to 30 degrees. The exercise provides other big advantages: Moving one arm at a time allows you to focus on the mind-muscle connection, and dial in on working though a full range of motion, which will help to maximize your muscle building.

How to Do It:

  • Situate your bench to an incline of 30 degrees.

  • Grab one dumbbell, and press the weight arm straight over your chest. You can extend your off arm out to the side for balance. Squeeze your abs and glutes to maintain your posture on the bench.

  • Slowly lower the elbow down, a little bit off the ribcage. Find a good stretch in the chest before exhaling and pressing back towards the ceiling.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.


What Makes a Good Chest Exercise?

There are a few criteria for determining what makes a chest exercise effective. The first thing to look for in an exercise is that it can be progressed. “We’ve got to be able to go heavier in these exercises. That way, as we get better at them, we can load them up more,” Samuel says. This will lead to muscle gains, too.

The second is that the exercise needs to create significant mechanical tension through the muscle group you’re looking to target. With many of these exercises, the influence of gravity and the external load ends up puts more of the mechanical work on other close-by muscles, like your shoulders and triceps. You want to make sure the focus is squarely on the pectoral muscles as much as possible.

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