Building A Solid Chest With Crossfit: Essential Exercises & Technique

crossfit chest workouts
Chasing that pump?

Who doesn’t love hitting a good chest workout? I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss a good chest and back day and chasing the pump.

Just because you train Crossfit doesn’t mean you can’t still get a massive pump and get the aesthetics you want. In today’s post I’m going to show you how to get at epic pump along with:

Ready to redefine your fitness and have a little functional body building in your life? Join our K2 Fitness program that blends body building with serious fitness for the ultimate transformation.

bench press
Do we program Bench Press in our app? Yes we do. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Importance Of Having A Strong Chest In Crossfit

Listen, have a strong chest in Crossfit will benefit you in other areas of the sport. For example there was a period of time where I was really trying to improve my handstand push ups.

I experimented with:

  • negative handstand push ups
  • pike push ups
  • banded handstand push up
  • etc

Needless to say I was doing all the exercises that you are “supposed” to do to get better. But the truth is, I needed to get overall stronger.

What happens when you get stronger? What happens if you improve your overall pressing strength?

Will that carrier over to things like handstand push ups, dips, handstand walks and more?

handstand push up
It helped me

Throughout a calendar year in our training cycles we do focus on different elements of pressing work.

But if you are asking yourself man… I just miss the pump and want to work my chest more. Let’s dive into that a bit.

ring muscle up
Nothing will crush your chest like ring dips will

Essential Chest Exercises For Building Strength & Size

When someone ask me what are the best chest exercises a few things come to mind. You have compound pressing exercises like:

  • bench press
  • shoulder press

Compound exercises work BIG muscle groups and recruit a lot of other muscles that “support” the larger muscles.

But…

…you probably won’t get a pump (where you really feel your chest working) UNLESS you do lighter weight for a ton of reps.

zone 2 cardio
Don’t be afraid of cardio. It won’t kill your gains

When a coach like myself looks at how to get someone really strong or to “look good” it all starts with building muscular endurance first.

Meaning doing a ton of reps with a very short amount of rest.

So what are some of the essential exercises? Here are a few:

Bench Press

Sadly a ton of people bench press with poor form and it can really wreck your shoulders. Check out the video below to see how to get your shoulders in a safe position, how to use your legs and whether or not you should arch your back.

Do yourself a favor and clean up your technique

Ring Dips

Ring dips are extremely challenging and if you don’t have the adequate pressing strength you don’t stand a chance of being able to support yourself on the rings.

However, in this video I lay out 7 different progressions to help you get stronger and more confident on the rings.

Any type of work on the rings is extremely challenging. The rings challenge your strength, stability and obviously your pressing strength.

For those that want to master exercises like the ring muscle up. I do believe you need to be great at both strict dips and strict ring pull ups.

If you want to progress to muscle ups, get really strong at pulling and pushing on the rings and check out this article I did on all things gymnastics for crossfit athletes.

SeeSaw Dumbbell Chest Press

This variation of chest press is awesome because of the unilateral work (one arm) which we are huge fans of. Also the dumbbell doesn’t allow you to compensate and often times feels a little better on your shoulder. Added bonus because you are just pressing one at a time, you can do a little more weight than you normally might.

Love this variation to get added time under tension

Remember this:

When you want to build strength it first starts with months of building up muscular endurance first.

  • Think 3-4 sets of 15 reps with just 45 seconds of rest
  • Then a few weeks/month ish of 3-4 reps of 8-12 reps with heavier loads resting 60 secodns
  • As you get into more strength work you can begin to turn that muscular endurance (and size) you built and get really strong by working 4-6 reps.

It’s very common within our training programs to take you through some mobility drills, a warm up, get into a strength piece that challenges your CNS (central nervous system) and recruits a lot of muscle fibers but THEN drop back down to lighter reps and “grease the groove”.

I’m going to talk more about how to incorporate this method into your routine down below. But hey, if you want to just join our proven program…then click the image below to join us!

Incorporating Chest Exercises Into Your Crossfit Programming

Above we talked about a few chest exercises that you should be a part of your programming, but here I actually want to paint a larger picture.

And you might not like this…

…not every day, week, or month do you need to be doing bench press to work your chest. In fact remember, the more things are varied the more your body has to continue to adapt.

But let’s take a look at how a training cycle works. When we are peaking for take for example the clean and jerk, you don’t just work on clean and jerks.

You work backwards.

crossfit program
To PR it takes understanding how to peak.

Cycle 1 – strict press and bench press

Cycle 2 – push press

Cycle 3 – push jerk cycling

Cycle 4 – split jerk technique

Cycle 5 – clean and jerk

If I lost you, stick with me because the better you can understand this process the more you will be bought into the process.

A “cycle” is a training block. A training block is a 7 week period where we focus on a specific set of skills, progressions, and we train progressive overload to:

  • get stronger
  • improve profiency
  • chip away at the big picture

And what did we start with back in cycle 1? We started with strict press and bench press.

shoulder-mobility
Just remember as you prioritize more chest…you’ll need to prioritize more shoulder mobility

Now that you have the big picture how to incorporate a little more chest into your current programming.

This is out an outline of what our current program looks like with our training programs.

Warm Up

Depending on what the strength and conditioning piece is for the day you always want your warm up to begin to get some blood flow to the exercises/movements that will be seen later in your workout.

  • burpees
  • push ups
  • ring support holds

Are a few exercises you can add into your warm up that will both get your muscles ready to fire and coupled with some form of cardio will get your heart rate up which is important for a warm up.

hybrid program

Prep

We use our prep section to work on building muscular hypertrophy which is the where you experience the “pump” and we intentionally choose exercises that are;

  • higher rep range
  • shorter rest breaks (to get more blood into the muscles)
  • unilateral strength

It’s a great time to focus on what a lot of hybrid/crossfit athletes quite honestly don’t do enough of. Most people JUST focus on compound movements and we don’t’ believe in that. We believe that these exercises will support and promote your overall strength. Here are some examples of how to incorporate these chest exercises into this section of your workout.

  • high rep push ups
  • push ups with a :03-05 pause in the bottom
  • weighted push ups
This is a great exercise that lights up your chest and arms too
  • high rep barbell bench press or db bench press
  • tempo ring dips
  • seesaw db chest press and single arm db chest press

Those are a few chest exercises you can put into your program. We often program something along the lines of 3 x 15 reps, 4 x 20 or 5 x 20 reps and do intentionally progressions throughout our program to continue to challenge physical adaptation.

Strength

We took you through a warm up, did some muscle supporting exercises like above now it’s time to slow things down and focus on strength and power output.

This is often where people want to jump to and without the proper warm up and hypertrophy work you can’t expect to grow here.

That being said…

this is a fun part of training and you get to lift heavy. Here are some ways to work your chest in a strength format:

  • bench press
  • bench press with chains or bands

Conditioning

The conditioning comment of training is great for metabolic health and also where in most cases we get a lot more reps.

More reps = hypertrophy…aka muscle gain.

Some examples of crossfit workouts that are extremely demanding on pushing and or chest exercises.

Amanda

For time:

9,7,5

  • muscle ups
  • squat snatches
snatch
Tell me how you really feel about this workout ๐Ÿ˜›

Elizabeth

For time:

21,15,9

  • cleans
  • ring dips

There are obviously tons of variations you could do to challenge your chest in a conditioning format.

Gymnastics

We use this block of our training to really work on:

  • volume accumulation
  • learn or develop new skills

This is where we intentionally have crafted our strength progressions on all the crossfit gymnastics movements.

I’ve learned over the years in order to get better you have to first have the strength and second you have to spend the time actually working on the skill. Check out our courses if you want to improve at strict handstand push ups, butterfly pull ups, handstand walking, double unders, etc.

Proper Form & Technique

This shouldn’t have to be said but I’m going to go ahead and say it.

Never.

Never compromise form.

We believe this is the process you should have:

  1. Have adequate mobility to move through the range of motion needed (work on joint mobility
  2. Master the technique first
  3. Slowly progress and slowly work on getting stronger.

If you rush the process and or accumulate too much volume (too much too soon) you will likely break down. One of the most common injuries I see is with rotator cuffs, if that’s you, check this out.

Nothing beats community

Super Sets & Variations

I left the traditional split training style of training in 2010 ish before I came to the dark side of crossfit/hyrbrid training.

But let me tell ya…I still know how to get an epic pump.

Some simple ways to get a pump:

  • Go for high reps with light to moderate weight and very little rest time
  • Work a large muscle group and super set with a supporting muscle group, for example:

DB Chest Press super set with tricep pushdown

Since I’m not into body building and I’m not doing a full blown chest and tricep day some ways to get a little extra chest pump is to add in some finishers.

Finisher examples

  1. 100 push ups for time and every time you break you do 10 tricep pushdowns
  2. 4 minute tabata (:20 on :10 seconds off) of any push and pull combo
  3. Set a clock for 10 minutes and work for :30 seconds, rest for :30 seconds of your favorite exercises

They key is to keep it simple, keep the rest short and the weight light enough to where you can get 15 ish reps.

crossfit chest exercises

Chest Mobility Exercises For Injury Prevention

The reason why chest exercises aren’t the main emphasis in crossfit or olympic weightlifting is because what happens when you work a muscle?

That area can get tight and restrict range of motion.

And in order to get into a good receiving position with the snatch, have a good overhead position with jerks, handstands, etc what do you need to have?

Good overhead mobility.

Well tight pecs pull your shoulders forward and make it difficult to get into an externally rotated position which overtime makes it difficult to put your arms over your head because of:

  • tight pecs
  • tight triceps
  • tight lats

How do you prevent this?

  1. Move through full range of motion with all movements.
  2. Have balance in your training program, pull 2x as much as you push (nobody does this in crossfit) which is why shoulder injuries are so common
  3. Prioritize mobility daily.
  4. I’ll say it again, prioritize mobility more.
  5. Control the amount of volume you do.
  6. Progress slowly and start with strict movements first before you start kipping.
shoulder extension
Shoulder extension is almost non existent In most athletes training

If you simply just work on improving your shoulder extension and did nothing else (which I don’t recommend) you would be ahead of the curve.

What’s my point?

Do more mobility, and especially these shoulder extension exercises.

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Conclusion

We get it, crossfit and hyrbrid style training doesn't have chest day 2x a week and you miss that epic feeling in your arms.

Today we talked about why actually having a strong chest isn't a bad thing and can help you with:

  • handstand push ups
  • ring dips
  • look great in tank tops

So take away some of the things we talked about on how to incorporate chest exercises into your routine like:

  1. Spend more time on the rings (isometric holds, tempo ring dips, ring dips, eventually muscle ups)
  2. If you want to chase a pump just throw on some of the finishers. Key take aways are, high reps, low rest, work large muscle groups super set with supporting muscle groups.

Ready to redefine your fitness and have a little functional body building in your life? Join our K2 Fitness program that blends body building with serious fitness for the ultimate transformation.