Isolation workouts help you train specific muscles without fatiguing others a lot. What are some isolation exercises that focus on chest muscles?
Isolation exercises are movements that mainly focus on one muscle or muscle group at the same time. Inevitably you will engage other muscles to some extent but there is still a big difference with compound exercises. Most of these exercises can be done with a wide variety of free weights and gym machines.
The best weights for isolation exercises vary from exercise to exercise and individual to individual. If you are not sure how much weight would be right for you, you can start with light weights and slowly build up from there.
Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. Isolation exercises can also lead to muscle imbalances more easily. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
1. Chest fly
You can do the chest fly with a variety of one-handed free weights, the cable machine, and even in machine form. One benefit of the cable machine is that you have constant tension throughout the exercise. Free weights do not offer a lot of tension at the top of the movement.
To do a chest fly with dumbbells on a weight bench take the following steps:
- Lie down with your back on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Keep your arms with the dumbbells slightly less than stretched and pointing up. Your hand palms should face each other and your hands should be as close together as possible.
- While keeping your arms slightly less than stretched slowly lower the dumbbells down sideways until your arms are about horizontally to the ground.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
The chest fly is a typical chest isolation exercise. If you have a FID weight bench (flat, incline, decline) you can also do this movement at either an incline or decline angle.
Doing the chest fly at an incline angle will target your upper chest more and the decline variation will target your lower chest more.
You can even do this exercise standing up with the cable machine or quality resistance bands. However, this way it becomes easier to use the rest of your body to move the weights which makes it less of an isolation exercise.
2. Pec deck machine
The pec deck is a chest gym machine where you sit up straight with your arms folded and your upper arms behind pads. To do the exercise you then push these pads toward each other by using your chest muscles.
The motion of this machine is similar to the chest fly machine but they are not exactly the same. Your arms start stretched out to the side with the chest fly machine instead of folded like with the pec deck machine.
A benefit of the pec deck machine is that it becomes a lot easier to really isolate your chest muscles since you are seated with back support.
3. Cable crossover
For the cable crossover exercise, you will need a two-pulley cable machine and two single-hand grip attachments. After that to do a cable crossover take the following steps:
- Put the cable pulleys at about hip height and attach the D-grip handles. You can also use other handles.
- Grab 1 handle, walk towards the other handle and grab it with the other hand. Stand in the middle between the two cables.
- Put one foot a small distance backward and the other foot forward for balance. Slightly tilt your upper body forward while keeping your back straight. Keep your arms slightly less than extended throughout the exercise.
- Slowly bring your hands to the center and downward. Instead of stopping when right before your hands touch each other, you let one arm go above the other to go a little further.
- Slowly go back to starting position.
- When doing multiple repetitions switch between which arm goes above.
The cable fly exercise looks and is very similar to the cable crossover. The difference is that a cable fly stops in the middle while the crossover continues farther than that.
In general for the most muscle growth you want to go for the bigger range of motion and choose the cable crossover.
One of the benefits of the cable machine compared to other chest workout equipment is that you can implement this bigger range of motion.
For the dumbbell pullover you preferably want a dumbbell and a flat weight bench. Similar weights and a similar surface to lie on can work too. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a dumbbell pullover:
- Lie on a weight bench with your head on the end of the bench. Hold a dumbbell on your chest.
- Grab one end of the dumbbell with both of your hands with your hand palms pointing upward. Extend your arms upward until they are slightly less than stretched and point them up.
- Slowly move back your arms as far as comfortable. Keep your elbows close to the center, not pointing outward. Your arms stay slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
If you feel your latissimus dorsi working a lot harder than your lower chest muscles your technique may be off. In that case, you likely want to pay extra attention to keeping your elbows close to the center.
Something else to note is that you don’t want to be too optimistic about your strength level in the dumbbell pullover exercise due to the position of the weight. Start light and build up from there.
5. Isometric chest squeeze
A benefit of the next chest isolation exercise is that you need no equipment. To do an isometric chest squeeze take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet apart. Stretch your arms in front of you horizontally and place your hand palms against each other.
- Push your hand palms against each other for as long as you can.
Chest squeezes are a type of isometric exercise. In simpler words, this means that you engage your muscles in a more static way, without moving a lot. On the other hand, you have isotonic exercises where you engage your muscles in a dynamic way, by moving.
Isotonic exercises are generally more useful for building muscle. That means that the other isotonic exercises on this list are likely better chest isolation exercises for building a lot of muscle.