What Is an Alternative Exercise for Incline Dumbbell Presses?

Both men and women look great with a developed upper chest.
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Inclined dumbbell presses work your clavicular, or upper, pecs as opposed to flat bench presses that emphasize your sternal pecs -- the two large muscles on either side of your breast bone. As the name implies, the clavicular pecs are two bands of muscle that start at your clavicle, or collar bone, and extend down diagonally to attach to your upper arm just under your shoulder. Since exercises that work your sternal pecs also work your clavicular pecs, targeting the clavicular pecs is largely cosmetic. And just like any other exercise, doing the inclined dumbbell presses over and over loses its effectiveness over time.

Inclined Flys

When it comes to working your chest muscles, it's the angle that makes the difference, not the arm movement. Consequently, any chest exercise done on a bench inclined at about 45 degrees will target the upper chest as opposed to the sternal pecs. Inclined flys, starting with your arms out to the sides and bringing them together in a hugging motion, make a good change because while both presses and flys are assisted by the front deltoids, flys use the biceps while presses use the triceps. So if strong triceps have been taking up some of the work on your presses, flys will cause your upper pecs to work harder. For variation, you can do incline flys with a cable machine, if your gym has one, or by looping exercise tubes over the back of a bench.

Declined Pushups

While standard pushups work all the pecs with an emphasis on the sternal pecs, adding a decline of about 30 degrees by propping your feet on a bench will put more emphasis on your upper chest while still working your sternal pecs. A steeper decline will work only your upper chest. For an added challenge, you can prop your feet on a stability ball, requiring more core work for balance. You can also incorporate other core work by alternating ball pushups with planks or jackknifes.

Standing Cable Flys

The angle makes the difference on standing pec exercises as well, but in the case of standing cable flys, it's the angle of your arm. Standard cable flys are done with the pulley set high, pulling your extended arms in toward you body while flexing slightly at the hips. To emphasize your upper chest, you'll set the pulleys at about hip height and stand up straight, lunging forward on one leg until you feel a tension in the cable when your arms are outstretched to your sides. Keeping your arms straight but your elbows soft, pull the cables up so that your arms are extended at about a 45-degree angle to your body when your hands come together. Make sure to control the return and don't let the cables snap back.


While a well-developed upper chest looks great, it's your sternal pecs that do most of the heavy lifting in everyday activities. So, when doing exercises that work only the clavicular pecs, it's important to also do exercises like flat bench presses, flat or declined bench flys or chest dips at least twice per week to also work the sternal pecs. You'll also need to work the opposing muscles in your upper back and the backs of your shoulders with exercises such as reverse flys or bent over rows with your elbows pointing outward.

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