Try this dynamic warmup to get the most out of chest day and improve your bench press.
For lifters who practice a traditional body-part split, chest day is often the best day. Along with the aesthetic benefits of building your pecs, a strong chest is essential for everyday movements such as pushing open a heavy door or getting up off the ground. But you can’t expect to hit a bench press PR without a proper warmup. To set yourself up for success, you need to perform the right stretches before a chest workout.
Why You Should Stretch Before a Chest Workout
Whether you’re lifting first thing in the morning or after a long day of work, you need to prep your body for the demands of your workout.
“If you’re just sitting around, your body can get out of alignment and certain muscles can be tight,” says Tonal coach and certified personal trainer Joe Rodonis. “That can lead to restriction in the range of motion for your lifts.”
Along with increasing your range of motion so you can get the most out of your workout, warming up also reduces your injury risk, according to Jenna Moore, a certified strength and conditioning coach and Programming Specialist at Tonal. “Whenever you have any level of restriction or tightness in your body, your body is going to be working harder to fight against those inefficiencies during your workout,” she says.
For a chest workout specifically, Moore explains that your warmup should have three main goals: Improving shoulder health, mobilizing the thoracic spine (the upper-middle back), and stabilizing the scapulothoracic joint (shoulder blade).
While you might be surprised to see so much focus on the back and shoulders, Moore says preparing these joints is necessary for a strong chest day. “If you try to bench press on a shaky foundation, you’re not going to be able to be as effective,” she says. “Your scapula and middle-upper back are your foundation for pushing in chest workouts.”
How to Warm Up Before a Chest Workout
To address all three areas and maximize your results, try these mobility exercises and stretches before a chest workout.
1. Foam Rolling
Why it Works: Moore recommends starting your warmup by gently foam rolling the chest and upper back. Foam rolling increases blood flow to the muscles, which improves range of motion and flexibility.
How to Do it: Spend around 30 seconds foam rolling the major muscle groups of your chest and back, including your pecs and lats. Move only 1 to 2 inches at a time, up and down and side to side.
2. Foam Roller T-Spine Extension
Why it Works: Next, use the foam roller to take your back into extension (bending backward) to build thoracic spine mobility. “Your spine is meant to flex and extend,” says Moore, but since most of us spend more time in flexion (bending forward over our computers, phones, or steering wheels), our extension mobility is often limited.
How to Do it: Position the foam roller horizontally beneath your shoulder blades. With your hands behind your head and elbows out to the sides, gently lower your head toward the floor. Lift back up slowly and repeat.
3. 90-90 Arm Sweep
Why it Works: Keep your foam roller handy for the 90-90 arm sweep, another one of Moore’s favorite stretches to do before a chest workout. “That spinal twist is going to help with shoulder health,” she says. “Because of the large range of motion, it’s also going to open up the chest back, and you’re getting thoracic rotation because of that middle-upper back [movement].”
How to Do it: Lie on one side of your body with your bottom leg extended on the floor and your upper leg bent at 90 degrees resting on the foam roller. Placing your bottom arm on the floor, extend it out in front of you. Start with your top arm resting on your bottom arm, then sweep it across the floor and over your head to the other side of your body, rotating at the torso. Sweep the arm back over the head and repeat
4. Foam Roller Pec Stretch
Why it Works: For your final foam roller move in your series of stretches before your chest workout, Rodonis recommends this dynamic stretch. “You’re stretching out the pecs and getting the spine loose at the same time,” he says.
How to Do it: Lie down on your back with the foam roller positioned vertically beneath your shoulder blades. Hold your barbell straight up, above your chest, and then, with arms straight, raise your arms overhead, trying to get the barbell as close to the ground as possible.
5. Bench Lat Stretch
Why it Works: Restrictions in shoulder mobility are often due to tight lats, Rodonis explains. He says adding this move to your chest day warmup will loosen up the lats to prevent pain in the shoulder and front delts while bench pressing.
How to Do it: Hold your barbell with an underhand grip, kneel on both knees facing your bench, and place your elbows on the bench. Sit your hips back toward your feet as you lower your head toward the bench, in between your arms. Hold the position for three seconds, then repeat.
6. Reach and Rotate Opener
Why it Works: When you bench press, you’re moving in the transverse (or horizontal) plane of motion because your arms are held perpendicular to your body and they move towards and away from your center. Horizontal abduction, adduction, and rotation in the shoulder joint make this action possible, but we don’t often practice this movement pattern.
“A lot of people only warm up in the sagittal and frontal planes (forward, backward, and side-to-side motions) but it’s equally as important to warm up in our transverse or rotational plane as well because that’s where the majority of back injuries occur,” says Moore. To add rotation to your warmup, she likes this dynamic stretch to mobilize the shoulders and thoracic spine.
How to Do it: Get into a tall kneeling position on your mat and then sit back on your heels. Bring one hand out in front of you on the floor and the other just behind your ear, bending at the elbow. Rotate at the torso like you’re wringing out a towel, opening your body to the same side as your raised arm. Come back to face the floor and repeat on the same side.
7. Floor Slide
Why it Works: Floor slides look simple, but they’re deceptively challenging and very effective at opening up your shoulders. “This one’s going to be for the scapula, getting that range of motion for your shoulders and opening up that thoracic spine,” says Moore. “The upward rotation of your scapula on the back of the ribcage is really important.”
How to Do it: Lie face up on your mat with your feet planted and knees toward the ceiling. Rest your arms on the floor in a goalpost position. With palms facing up, extend the elbows to straighten the arms overhead like you’re reaching to touch something above your head. Once the arms are straight, bring them back to a goalpost position.
8. Prone Floor Angel
Why it Works: Like the floor slides, this move helps with shoulder mobility. Rodonis especially likes the prone position because it strengthens the back in a way we don’t often get to do in our regular forward-leaning positions. “It counteracts us leaning forward so much and having that internal rotation,” he says. “We get back to a balanced shoulder movement.”
How to Do it: Start lying on your stomach with your hands on the ground on either side of your head. Lift your head, shoulders, and hands off the ground. With your palms facing down, extend your arms overhead, bringing your biceps alongside your ears. Once your arms are fully extended, lift your arms up slightly, hold, lower, and then return to the starting position.
9. Scapular Pushup
Why it Works: To activate the scapula before you start lifting, Moore recommends this pushup variation that isolates the shoulder blades. This helps create that strong foundation for your bench presses.
How to Do it: With arms straight, slowly drop your chest toward the floor, bringing the shoulder blades together like there are magnets attached to them. Push the floor away from you and use your chest to pull the shoulder blades apart.
10. Plyo Pushup
Why it Works: When Rodonis wants to focus on power output in his bench press, he’ll add a set of five plyo pushups to his stretches before a chest workout. . “You’re just generating a bit more force without getting overly tired,” he says. If you’re newer to lifting or not training for power, do a set of regular or incline pushups instead to warm up your chest muscles using just your body weight.
How to Do it: Bending the elbows about 45 degrees from the torso, drop your chest toward the floor aiming for your fingertips. Once at the bottom, push the floor away from you with enough force that you can lift your hands off the ground. Land your hands back on the ground softly and repeat.
11. Tall Kneeling Single-Arm Chest Press
Why it Works: Before jumping into your workout with heavy resistance, Moore suggests doing a set of unilateral chest exercises at a reduced recovery or warmup weight to warm up each arm individually. Try a few easy reps of this chest press variation or a single-arm bench press.
How to Do it: Facing away from Tonal and slightly to the side of Tonal’s arm, get into a tall kneeling position with toes tucked on the floor. Take the handle with your inside hand and start with your arm extended in front of your chest. Bend at the elbow to bring the handle toward you, right under your chest. Using your chest, press the handle forward, straightening your arm to try and punch the wall in front of you.
Guided Chest Warmups on Tonal
Let an expert Tonal coach lead you through a guided warmup with one of these short sessions. You’ll zero in on the muscles and joints that you’ll use on chest day.
Back and Shoulder Mobility – Coach Joe Rodonis
This mobility workout with Rodonis includes many of the moves above. You’ll increase your range of motion and relieve tightness in the lats and shoulders.
Quick Fit: Chest Press Warmup – Coach Tim Landicho
Designed to prepare your muscles for a high-volume chest day, this workout incorporates the tall kneeling single-arm chest press and incline pushups. You’ll finish feeling ready to rack up some new PRs.
Gentle Chest Opener – Coach Kristina Centenari
In this workout, you’ll use gentle movement to loosen up your upper body and stabilize your shoulders. This is also a good one to do after chest day if you’re sore from lifting heavy.