Building A Male Chest for Trans Men

transman chest workout

With the price of top surgery going higher every year, there have been a lot of questions surrounding this topic.

How do you build a masculine chest before undergoing top surgery?

Now, let me just put out a disclaimer out there.

Each chest is unique, and we all have different responses to different types of training.

While one exercise may work for somebody does not mean it may work for you too.

The key here is to explore and experiment which technique works best with you.


The Anatomy of the Male Chest

I have discussed before in my article the parts of the typical human chest. If you have forgotten or too lazy to read again, here’s the simpler version.


trans man male chest


From the bodybuilding perspective, of course we want to focus on building the entire chest.

However, for trans men, I normally suggest prioritizing the upper chest.


Building the upper chest offsets the girth of the existing chest pre-surgery. If you are particularly gifted in the area, having a built upper chest shifts the attention to that area rather than the middle part.

This guy is pre-op. Yes, believe it. But look at his upper chest development.


trans lifter ajhay holbrok

I’m pretty sure you didn’t notice he was pre-op because his chest is absolutely well-built. This is the reason why focusing on the upper chest is a good idea for those who are pre-top surgery.


Chest Workouts and Shoulder Health

Yes, I think this is a pretty important topic to cover before we proceed to the actual exercises.

Look at this photo. You can see that the chest muscle kind of insert under the deltoids aka shoulders.

trans lifter shoulder chest workout


Thus, it’s easy to deduce from this photo that whenever we work the chest, stress is also placed on the shoulders, particularly the front delts.

Therefore a lot of people have over-developed front shoulders but have subpar chest mass.

When people do chest exercises, they don’t really focus on contracting the chest. Instead, they let the shoulder do 50% of the work.

You can see it all the time in gyms. One perfect example is this photo.

Untitled-1_ copy 4

You can see the shoulders coming off the bench. What this feels like is when you raise the bar, you kinda let your chest curve forward. In Filipino, parang humuhukot ka habang nakahiga. Gets niyo ba?

Another error would be this: elbow position.

translifter elbow position

When your elbows are all over the place, you are placing your shoulders in a very tricky position. Remember that the shoulder is a joint and it has a ball-and-socket mechanism. Always keep the ball in the socket unless you are fine with a dislocation under heavy weight. OUCH.

There are so many nuances with regards to proper form on chest exercises and while I cannot enumerate all of them on this blog post, it would be wise to watch YouTube videos on proper form.

My recommendations would be videos from Allan Thrall and John Meadows.

The Best Chest Exercises To Build Your Chest

Yes, here you go. Notice that I am putting emphasis on simple work. None of those crazy or novel exercises that bros have discovered. These are old school, tried and tested methods to build that upper chest. If you need a full workout plan complete with nutrition guides, check out this article.


1. Low Incline Dumbbell Press

Ah, this is my personal favorite and the exercise that I never remove from my routines because aside from the fact that my upper chest sucks, this is the only exercise where I feel that I truly connect with the clavicular head.

translifter db incline press

Keep your shoulders back. Press yourself into that bench when you press the dumbbells up. Look at the green arrows. That’s how you should direct the force. Feet pressing to the ground (but make sure your butt does not go off the seat) and again, dig yourself into the bench. Trust me, you’ll feel stronger. And keep that chest out.


2. Incline Bench Press

I personally have a love-hate relationship with this exercise because in my experience, it works better with taller people. Might have something to do with how the incline benches are made. I can’t position myself properly without sitting on top of another dumbbell or a stack of plates.

Unlike the low incline dumbbell press, you have no choice with the incline here. Incline bench press setups are usually fixed at 45 degrees. I feel my shoulders doing the brunt of the work whenever I do this.

translifter incline bench press

But don’t let me stop you. This is a tried and tested method for many years to give it a go and see how it feels.


3. Low Incline Dumbbell Fly

I only recently started to do these, and they are awesome. Very tricky and somewhat dangerous too if you do not know how to focus on your form.

Start with light weights first. Your body recognizes the tension you place, not the weight you are lifting. If you put enough tension in the muscle, it will respond positively.

translifter incline db fly


On this exercise, do not go so low to the point of injury. Go only as low as you can while feeling a stretch on the chest muscle. This exercise is more for pump and volume work and not for strength. Do these after you have done your main strength move (incline dumbbell press or incline bench press).


4. Incline Cable Fly

This one can be a little tricky to do because you must set it up before execution. You must get an adjustable bench and then you have to make sure the cable machine is unoccupied, which happens only once in a blue moon.

But if you can do this, kudos! I want to enroll at your gym!

translifter incline cable fly

The incline cable fly is like the low incline dumbbell fly. The good thing about this is the constant tension.

See, with dumbbells, there isn’t much force bringing the dumbbells apart at the top of the movement. That’s when you kind of relax and breathe before you grind it out.

With cables, it’s constant pulling tension from the bottom of the movement up to the top. This is the reason why cable machines are always occupied. People use cables for a massive pump.

Again, do these after your strength move which is mainly the pressing stuff.


5. Low-to-High Cable Fly

This is in my current arsenal during this bulking period. Why? Because low to high cable flys isolate the upper chest.

Isolation exercises do just that, they zero-in on the muscle that you are trying to develop. Since I want to focus on building my upper chest during my bulking, this is on there.

translifter low to high cable

If you are a complete beginner, I would not recommend isolation exercises just yet because you may not have a good mind-to-muscle connection yet. If you can’t feel the muscle, then why are you trying to isolate it?

Build a foundation with the strength moves in pushing first before you proceed with isolation.


6. Decline Push ups

To tell you honestly, there isn’t much body weight options for the upper chest. Calisthenics mostly deals with full body strength and capacity especially for the chest.

But of course, if you need a move, the decline push up focuses on the upper chest. The positioning with the feet higher than the head shifts the weight to the upper portion of the body.

translifter decline pushups

Same rules apply with elbow positioning. Make sure that when viewed from the top, your elbows resemble an arrow head instead of the letter “T”.

Keep your core stable and do not let your hips drop when in position.

If you want a more challenging version, increase the height of your feet or add weights in the form of a backpack or resistance bands.



There you have it, the tried and tested exercises to build your upper chest.

Remember, growth happens not only in the gym. It happens more outside. This simply means that sleep and recovery are of utmost importance in any fitness goal. More than that, nutrition is key. If you need the whole deal, check out this article. It’s exactly what I used to build my physique now.

You can’t expect results when your foundation is weak. Motivation up!


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