Top 7 Effective Upper Chest Cable Exercises For Bigger Pecs

Do you look small and weak because your upper chest and shoulders are small?

They’re key silhouette muscles, and you’ll look scrawny without them.

We’ve got the solution: upper chest cable exercises that will get your upper chest popping over your clavicle. This is an easy way to look better in a t-shirt and fill out the flaccid areas of your physique.

Let’s get started with the essentials.

Understand Upper Chest Training

Your chest muscles split into an upper head (clavicular) and lower head (sternal). 

The upper chest is the ‘border’ of the chest and is there to provide shape and separation from the delts and collarbone.

By building your upper chest, you’ll look better and improve your chest strength. 

The exercises on this list can be used at any time in a workout but typically work better after your “neutral” chest exercises that hit both heads equally.

Remember: targeting a pectoral head should be secondary to building overall chest size and strength.

Pushing Upwards: Angles For Upper Chest Growth

The best cable exercises for the upper chest all focus on pushing at a positive angle. You’re pushing upwards of the shoulder joints, towards your face, but not so high that it’s a shoulder press.

Exercises like the incline bench press are good examples. With the cable machine, you can adjust the angle of every exercise, offering the best results.

You need to keep your core and hips neutral and make sure you don’t lean back. Extending the spine will easily ruin some of these upper chest exercises.

Best Cable Exercises For Upper Chest

1. Cable Incline Chest Fly

The incline cable chest fly is an excellent exercise for isolating the upper pecs; and incredibly versatile. 

You can use the fly to activate the clavicular head of the chest, or you can use it as a finisher for your chest workout.

It’s easy to adjust, easy to load and combines long-range chest stretching with low fatigue. Unlike the chest press, it won’t fatigue the triceps or delts, which means it won’t ruin your week’s workout routine. 

How To

  1. Take a spur handle in either hand, with the cable machine set up at around the hip height.
  2. Step forward until there’s tension throughout the movement
  3. Keeping a slight bend in the arms and your arms long, begin the movement by bringing the hands forwards
  4. Squeeze your hands together at an upward angle of roughly 45 degrees
  5. Hold your hands together at the end position and actively squeeze with the upper chest
  6. Slowly reverse the movement, focusing on finding a stretch in the ‘start’ position

Training Tips

You train the cable incline chest fly slowly as the end position is at full stretch. 

This can put stress on the muscle, but it also produces the best gains when loaded patiently. High-rep, low-weight cable flys are always a great choice.

Remember that this is an exercise for building muscle mass and not pure strength – more reps and more control are the best way to progress. 

2. Cable Incline Chest Press

The cable incline chest press lets you develop your upper chest with heavier loads, focusing on a deep starting position to stretch the chest. 

This is a better alternative to normal bench pressing for isolating the chest and building mass. 

This is a great choice for stretch-mediated hypertrophy – exactly what you need to build a better chest.

How To

  1. Take a spur handle in either hand, with the cable machine set around hip height
  2. Step forward until there’s tension throughout the movement
  3. As you step forward, bring your hands in line with your body – with the upper arm around 45 degrees to the body
  4. Keeping your elbows directly behind your wrists, press your hands forwards and together
  5. Continue pressing, avoiding rolling your shoulders forwards, until your hands come together and your arms are fully extended
  6. Hold the end position for a 2-count and actively squeeze the upper chest
  7. Slowly reverse the movement until you feel a stretch at the start of the pressing position (3)

Training Tips

Focus on building end-range strength with the cable fly, and patiently load up your incline chest press with more reps and sets. 

Add weight when you can perform 8-12 reps, and drop the reps down to around 6-8, so you can build back up as you progress.

This lets you build strength and size together and ensures you’re not overloading your shoulders in that deep stretch position. However, you should add weight or reps regularly, or you may stagnate.

3. Single Arm Cable Chest Press

The one-arm variation of the incline cable chest press is a perfect way to develop the upper chest and the pec minor together.

By using one arm at a time, you can develop better control of the shoulder. This is one of the key roles of the pec minor, which offers more development and shape in the upper body.

How To 

  1. Take a spur handle in one or both hands, with the cable machine set around hip height.
  2. Step forward until there’s tension throughout the movement
  3. As you step forward, bring your hands in line with your body – with the upper arm around 45 degrees to the body
  4. Keep your shoulder back and down, press the weight forwards and slightly across the body
  5. Continue pressing until your arm is fully extended and the handle is directly in front of your sternum
  6. Hold the end position briefly, actively squeezing your upper chest
  7. Slowly reverse the movement until you reach the start of the pressing position (3)

Training Tips

One of the best ways to perform this exercise is with two handles, alternating one arm at a time.

This is a great way to build more time under tension, as your chest muscles will remain (lightly) active in isometric holds.

The best way to load this up is with sets and reps because it’s a difficult exercise to add weight to. The single-arm position is better suited to building stability and mass rather than maximum loading.

FURTHER READING: 8 Best Cable Exercises For Chest (Workout Included)

4. Cable Underarm Raise

The cable underarm raise is all about holding the end position and moving the hands to the center of your body. This is one of the best ways to build muscle mass in the upper pec, developing your chest and shoulders together.

This is a staple cable chest exercise for full upper body development. It’s also a great choice for a finisher and can be used with moderate or light weights.

How To

  1. Take 2 spurs in the underhand position from a very low angle on the cable machine.
  2. Step forward until you can feel the tension near the ‘bottom’ of the exercise.
  3. Begin raising your hands up and together, keeping the shoulder blades and rib cage down.
  4. Raise your arms until your hands are together and in front of your face.
  5. Hold this top position and squeeze your hands together, actively squeezing with the pecs.
  6. Slowly reverse the movement, keeping your posture static until you return to the starting position.

Training Tips

This exercise also benefits from high reps to build muscle mass but is very low risk, unlike the fly and press. This makes it a great place to practice lots of heavy reps.

Focus on high rep sets with moderate weights. As you fatigue, drop the weight and continue to focus on high reps. This will tire your chest and shoulders, but you’ll see excellent growth from these high-volume workouts.

5. Cable Narrow Incline Press

This is an exercise you won’t see in most gyms, but it’s a fantastic way to build your upper chest with lots of time under tension. 

While the focus is on pressing, the whole exercise takes place at or above shoulder height, perfect for developing the clavicular head of the pec.

This is a great choice for standing, sitting, or kneeling. It’s an excellent choice for building both isometric and concentric strength. This means more strength, easier progression, and healthier joints. 

How To

  1. Take a pair of handles and sit facing away from the stacks, with the cables at a low angle position
  2. Bring your hands together, just above your sternum, with your elbows tucked
  3. Keeping the hands together, press the cables until your arms are at full extension
  4. Maintain pressure and hold the end position briefly, flexing your chest
  5. Slowly reverse the movement, still keeping your hands together, until you reach the starting position (2)

Training Tips

This classic bodybuilding cable chest exercise should be used for high reps. 

It offers great results, but the time under tension can be difficult with heavier weights. This makes it a great finisher, as you’re going to burn your chest out no matter what.

Focus on adding more sets and reps – especially drop sets.

6. Diagonal press 

The diagonal press is usually a lower chest exercise. Still, it can easily be used for the upper chest if you begin pressing upwards.

This is an excellent exercise because it lets you cross your arm over your body, a great position for maximum pec recruitment. When you’re crossing upwards, this can help you feel the upper chest.

The ability to add rotation also means you can build core strength or use momentum to move big weights. This versatility lets you customize the movement to your needs.

How To

  1. Take a single spur handle in hand, with the cable machine set up around hip height
  2. Take the handle in close to your body, with your shoulder neutral and the elbow at 90 degrees
  3. Keeping your elbow close to your body, rotate your torso away from the cable machine
  4. Keeping the elbow and wrist in line, press the handle up and across yourself – towards the opposite shoulder.
  5. Drive until your elbow is locked out, with your arm across your body, actively squeezing the pec to keep your hand in position
  6. Slowly reverse the movement, bringing your elbow back to your side and rotating back to the start of the press (3)

Training Tips

Most people should use light weight, stricter versions of this exercise for maximum growth. However, the heavy, momentum—dependent version can help you overload the top position and build more strength.

You can use the diagonal press to build muscle mass with high-rep training, or you can use the momentum from the rotation to move bigger weights. These both have their place in a training program.

Add reps and sets before weight, especially if you’re not experienced with single-arm chest exercises.

7. Incline Pallof Press/Hold

This is a variation on the Pallof Press that you can use to build stability and strength in the upper chest. 

It’s an isometric hold, making it easy to activate your upper chest, such as before an incline press.

How To

  1. Take a single spur handle in two hands, with the cable machine set up around hip height (initially)
  2. Step sideways (90 degrees to the cable machine) until you feel tension in starting position
  3. Place both hands against your sternum, with your elbows tucked close to your body
  4. From this starting position, press the handle out as far as possible without twisting back toward the cable machine
  5. Try to extend the arms to lockout, but focus on posture first
  6. Slowly return the hands to the sternum to complete the rep (3)

Training Tips

Your top priority is adding more stability and extending the arms more over time. This increases the lever arm, challenging both your chest and core.

Then you can add more reps to the movement, improving your strength and control. After that, you can reset your rep count as you add weight before repeating the process.

Be patient, and don’t expect this to develop too quickly. It’s hard to build up over time, and your core strength will develop, too!

FURTHER READING: Top 7 Effective Lower Chest Cable Exercises

Upper Chest Cable Exercise FAQs

How can you isolate the upper chest?

You can isolate the upper chest by aiming upwards, pressing, and flying at angles above your shoulders. 

This means you need to keep your ribcage down and your hands up. Many trainees miss the upper chest by arching their back to set their chest flat relative to the weight.

Remember: it’s not about the angle of the press. It’s about the angle of the shoulders relative to the chest itself. Pressing up means the ribcage stays down, or you’re going to miss the benefit.

Do cable flys build the upper chest?

Yes – all kinds of cable flys build the upper chest, but incline chest flys are the most effective.

Cable flys are primarily a finisher, so don’t skip your heavy compound chest exercises – like the incline cable chest press!

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Chris Thompson
Hi, I'm Chris. I'm a personal trainer, writer & co-founder of OxygenFitnessCT. I've been writing hundreds of articles on strength training & muscle building for several fitness websites & apps since 2017. Our goal with OxygenFitnessCT is to help you pick the most effective, suitable exercises to improve your workout & achieve your fitness goals.

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