How to Build Every Muscle in the Upper Chest With Pushups

full body shot of a young woman in a yellow and black exercise outfit as she does push ups

The upper chest is comprised of only one part of one large muscle -- the clavicular head of the pectoralis major. The traditional pushup is an effective way to build overall strength in the chest, but there are better options if you want to target the upper chest specifically. These exercises can be scaled to be made easier for those just starting out or harder for more experienced athletes.

Warm Up and Stretch

Always start your pushup workout with five to 10 minutes of light cardio such as running or jumping rope. After that, perform a dynamic stretch for the chest to prepare the muscles you will be working. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and extend your arms out to either side of you. Bring your palms together in front of you, then open up your arms again so you feel a little stretch in your chest. Repeat with a controlled motion 10 or 15 times, opening your arms a little bit wider each time.

Start With Traditional Pushups

Traditional pushups are an effective exercise that works the entire chest. Especially if you're new to pushups, master the traditional pushup before you move on to more challenging variations. To do a traditional pushup, lie on the floor on your stomach with your palms on the floor at chest height a little wider than your shoulders. Keeping your abdominal muscles contracted, press through your hands to lift your body off the floor in one solid piece -- like a plank. Press up until your arms are straight, then slowly lower back down with control. If you can't yet complete a regular pushup, you can keep your knees on the ground for support.

Perform Decline Pushups

Decline pushups elevate the legs above the hips, which puts more of the resistance on the clavicular head of the pec major. Get into pushup position with your toes up on a step or workout bench. Your hands should be a little wider than shoulder width, but not too wide, which will compromise range of motion. The higher the elevation for your feet, the more difficult the pushup but the more the upper pecs are targeted. You can wear a weight vest or ask a training partner to put weight on your back to make this exercise even more challenging.

Add Variety to Your Decline Pushups

Keeping your workout routine fresh will help stimulate muscle growth. Once you've mastered the decline pushup, swap it out for other varieties, including medicine ball pushups and clap pushups, both performed at a declined angled on a stability ball. Start by kneeling with your waist or your chest on the medicine ball. Round your body over the ball so you can put your palms on the floor in front of the ball. Walk your hands out as you roll the ball down your body until it's under your thighs. Place your hands a little wider than shoulder width. Perform a regular decline pushup from this position or perform a clap pushup by lowering down and then pressing through your palms to explode off the ground. Clap your hands in mid air and then land softly on your hands. Lower down again for another repetition.

Perform Pike Pushups

The pike pushup elevates the hips above the shoulders and increases range of motion for better access to the upper pecs. To do it, place two weight benches side by side with a little room in between them. Kneel on the benches with one knee on each bench, then place your hands on the ends of the benches. Lift your hips up as you straighten your legs coming on to the balls of your feet. From this pike position, lower your head down between the ends of the two benches by bending your arms out to the side. Push back up to the start, then repeat. You can make this easier by just using one bench and keeping your feet on the floor.

Sets, Reps and Schedule

How many sets and reps you do and how many days a week you perform the workout depends on your goals. To build serious strength, you need to plan a program that is consistent, varied and progressive. Depending on your current strength level, choose a variation of each exercise that's challenging but not so challenging that you can't perform your sets and reps with proper form. You can do a traditional set and rep scheme, such as three sets of 10 to 12 pushups, or you can try a less traditional approach. For those training for the physical fitness test, certified strength and conditioning specialist and former Navy SEAL Stew Smith suggests a 10-day odd/even routine to build pushup strength fast. Do 200 pushups in as few sets as possible on odd days and 200 pushups throughout the day on even days, breaking them up however you want. Include all the different variants of pushups as you desire. Repeat for 10 days taking the next three days off. On the 14th day, test yourself to see how you've improved.