6 Best Horizontal Pushing/Pressing Exercises For Your Chest

Chest 8 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

Horizontal pressing is the technical term for something you’ve been doing your entire life.

Pushing stuff away from your chest.

Every time you do a push-up, shove your friend or move a heavy piece of furniture, you’re doing a horizontal push.

Every strength training program includes horizontal presses.

This article will tell you why you need to push horizontally and which exercises best develop strength.

Primary Movers

Primary movers are the muscle groups in an exercise that produce most of the force. They will also grow the most and build strength.

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Horizontal pushing activates three muscle groups well:

– pecs (major and minor)
– triceps (short, long, and medial heads)
– anterior delts (the front portion of the deltoid group)

If you’re after a well-rounded physique, horizontal pushing is a must. No other movements will hit your chest and cause growth quite the same.

If you want to bench the most weight possible you will need both large muscles and tons of shoulder stability.

The exercises on this list will give you both.

1. Bench Press

The bench press is the ultimate horizontal pushing exercise. If you’ve ever stepped foot in a gym, I guarantee you spent time on the bench press. It’s everyone’s favorite gym topic and the go-to lift for Mondays.

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked how much I could bench press, I wouldn’t have to write this article.

No other exercise will test your horizontal pushing strength like the bench press. It’s why the bench press is measured in powerlifting meets and why it’s a Seriously Strong Training choice for measuring progress.

Read The Serious Guide to the Bench Press to learn everything you need to know about this exercise to perfect your technique.

2. Push-Up

You’ve been doing push-ups since the presidential fitness test in elementary school. Remember that? Push-ups are the bodyweight version of bench presses and work all of the same muscles in just about the same way.

When you do a push-up well you will use the same technique as a good bench press. 

Ensure your shoulders are “set.” Place your hands so that your upper arms form a 45 degree angle from your body when at the bottom. Keep your shoulders locked throughout the entire lift.

You will get more chest/pec strength and growth if you do push-ups with wider hands. If your hands are narrow, you will get more tricep development than your chest.

It’s a great idea to vary your hand placement in push-ups to engage each muscle group differently. Using a variety of hand placements is also a good idea because it helps keep the exercise interesting.

3. Dumbbell Incline Bench

This is my favorite horizontal pushing exercise because it will hit your pecs better than any other compound exercise.

The dumbbell incline bench press is so effective at growing the pecs because it puts them through an enormous range of motion. You can bring the dumbbells lower than you would with a barbell, and this lower position stretches the pecs. Because the dumbbells are free-floating, your chest must work overtime to control them, and you can contract the pecs more as you press to the top.

If you want less chest work don’t bring the handles below your chest and press them straight up instead of bringing the weights together.

You can do dumbbell incline bench presses with one dumbbell at a time to make the exercise more challenging while strengthening your core.

4. Dips

Have you ever seen male gymnasts? Those guys are enormous. Every high-level male gymnast has bulging pecs, ripped shoulders, and monstrous arms.

Do you think they developed their upper bodies in the weight room? No. They do dips. A lot of dips.

Dips are fantastic if you have the strength to bodyweight ratio necessary. I recommend you can do at least 25 perfect push-ups before progressing to dips. If you have access to an assisted dip machine, you don’t need to worry about that requirement.

Like every exercise make sure to set your shoulders, work in a range of motion that feels good, and engage your core to minimize swing.

If you need more chest growth, you can hit your pecs harder by going lower in the exercise.

The top portion of the dip is incredible for maximizing tricep strength which will translate to a strong lockout in your bench press.

5. Earthquake Press

This is a specialty exercise using the earthquake bar. You probably won’t find one in commercial gyms, but every worthwhile strength & conditioning facility has one. Also, it’s easy to make one if you have a home gym.

It’s a light bar made to hang weights from bands. Hanging weights from a light bar causes the bar to shake tremendously and maximizes your shoulder stability engagement. You can see the setup in this video.

This exercise is great if you cannot control the bar during a bench press, or when recovering from a shoulder injury. You will benefit greatly from the earthquake bench press if you notice your bench press wiggles or you lose control when you are at max effort.

If you want to know more then check out this article.

6. Single-Arm Cable Chest Presses

Single-arm cable chest presses are my other go-to exercise after incline dumbbell presses.

Most people use the cable machine for chest flyes (pec isolation), but setting it up for presses is better.

Cable presses made the list because they are easy on the shoulders and are perfect for adding horizontal pushing volume without beating up your joints.

Mimic the same pressing technique you use on the other horizontal pushing lifts.

Don’t go heavy on this exercise. Instead, focus on an extensive range of motion with great contractions and moderate to high reps.

Want More?

Horizontal pressing is only one of many movement patterns that make up a well-rounded training program.

Check out the Seriously Strong Beginner Program (free) for a complete strength training routine.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.