How to Build Chest & Shoulder Muscles

Young handsome man doing exercises on a bench press

Developing your shoulders and chest gives you the strength and endurance to improve performance in all manner of activities, from golfing and gardening to swimming and football. The chest and shoulder muscles, also called the pectorals and deltoids, are major muscle groups that can have a major effect on how you look and feel. So, if you’re readying yourself for a weekend of sports or just trying to look fitter and stronger, these steps, which target all the areas of the chest and shoulders, will put you on the right track.

Chest Exercises

Perform bench presses. Lie on your back on an exercise bench. Grasp a barbell using a wide overhand grip. Hold the barbell above the chest with arms extended and elbows slightly bent. Lower the bar until it touches the mid-chest, hold briefly, and extend the arms back to the start position. You may use a pair of dumbbells instead of a barbell.

Grasp a pair of dumbbells and -- lying on your back on an exercise bench -- hold them above your chest with arms extended and elbows slightly bent. This is the starting position for chest flies. Turn your hands inward so the dumbbells are parallel. Lower the dumbbells to either side of your body, keeping elbows slightly bent, until they are level with your chest. Squeeze your pectorals and bring them back together in the starting position.

Position yourself between parallel bars that are close to shoulder-width apart to perform chest dips. Grasp each bar with palms facing inward and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Lift your body by extending your arms until almost straight, hold briefly, then return slowly to the starting position.

Shoulder Exercises

Grasp a barbell or pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip wider than shoulder-width apart to do overhead shoulder presses. Begin with the barbell at upper chest level and arms bent beneath the bar. Extend your arms to press the weight above your head. Stop when your arms are almost fully extended, hold briefly, and return to the starting position.

Hold a barbell or a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip at shoulder-width or narrower to prepare for upright rows. Hold the barbell at thigh-level, elbows slightly bent. Bend your elbows outward and lift the bar until it is level with your shoulders. Return slowly to the starting position.

Stand over a barbell or pair of dumbbells with knees slightly bent for rear deltoid rows. Lean forward until your back is parallel to the floor, keeping it neutral and straight. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, hands beyond shoulder-width apart. Without moving the rest of your body, lift the barbell toward the chest with your arms until the upper arms are past parallel with the floor. Hold briefly, then lower slowly to the starting position.


To really develop the size, strength and endurance of these muscles, separate your workouts so that you can focus exclusively on these exercises once or twice a week.

To increase your amount of lean muscle, perform eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, using medium weights and lifting at 70 percent to 85 percent intensity. Rest for one to two minutes between sets.

To build power and strength, do four to six reps with heavier weights at around 85 percent to 95 percent intensity, resting for two to four minutes between sets.


Overloading your muscles is essential for strength training, but it should still be done in moderation. For safety and the prevention of injury, increase the weight you lift for each exercise by only about 10 percent per week.

If you are uncertain about whether you should perform these exercises or you experience pain during exercise, seek the advice of a medical professional.