One thing that should be made clear immediately, the bench press is a fantastic exercise for chest, shoulder, and tricep developments. If you have access to one then by all means use the bench press as often as you need to.
The purpose of this article is to shine a light on some of the lesser used chest exercises out there.
So for that reason, let’s pretend that you have just signed up to a gym that has banned the bench press. If banning random exercises doesn’t sound like something that a gym would do, then do yourself a favour and google “planet fitness, deadlift”.
Here are 4 exercises that will explode your chest, and none of them involve bench pressing.
Exercise #1. The Push Up
The push up is the go-to test of strength for men across the planet.
When you’re at school you’ll do them in most gym classes, when you participate in sport they’re always added to your training sessions, and if you attend bootcamp you’ll probably perform about 15 different variations of them. But for some reason when it comes to your own training, push ups are strangely absent.
Maybe this is because push ups bring back bad memories, or because the fact that you did them at school makes them seem less legit as an exercise.
Well whatever reason you have for ignoring them please stop, because push ups are one of the most versatile chest exercises there are!
You can perform regular push ups to improve endurance and hypertrophy, you can perform weighted push ups to increase strength, or you can try explosive push ups for power.
Then there are close grip push ups that prioritise triceps, hindu push ups that place the emphasis on the shoulders, or wide grip push ups to target the chest more. You can also perform push ups as part of HIIT and improve your cardio.
There are so many different ways that you can train the chest, and hardly any of them require equipment or a lot of space. Also, push ups are invariably harder than you remember them to be. Whatever number you guess you can hit, subtract 20% because push ups will surprise you.
Exercise #2. The Dip
The dip is a great exercise for strengthening the chest and triceps, in fact a lot of experts believe that the dip is a better exercise than the bench press for pectoral stimulation
The dip is not as popular with lifters though because it is a less accessible exercise.
For one thing you need a dip machine to perform them, and these aren’t always available, either because your gym is garbage or because there’s a line of 9 guys waiting for their turn around the single dip bar station.
Another reason that dips are not accessible is that they are difficult!
Just like pull ups you need to be strong enough to lift your own bodyweight, meaning that some bodybuilders or powerlifters would struggle. Even a strong guy who has a good muscle to bodyweight ratio might struggle to hit the high rep range needed for hypertrophy.
Luckily there are ways around this, a lot of gyms now have assisted dip machines. Which are great for beginners or for experienced lifters who are looking to perform a high rep set after 4 sets of proper dips.
You can also create your own version by attaching a resistance band around the handles before placing your knees on them.
Exercise #3. Chest Press Machine
The chest press machine is not a bench press, though of all the exercises here this one feels the most like cheating.
Chest press machines differ from bench presses in two ways. Firstly, they are set up so that you are upright and sitting down rather than lying down. Secondly they are a fixed-resistance machine whilst bench presses are free-weight.
Other than that they are very similar in design, however the chest press does have some advantages over the bench. For starters, it is a lot easier to change weights. This makes chest presses ideal for drop sets, or back off sets where the weight needs to be lowered quite fast (and often) between sets.
The second advantage they have is that they don’t require the same level of balance or technique. In many ways these are disadvantages, because it means that less muscle fibres will be activated and the hormonal response will be lessened.
However if you’re already fatigued or if you are new to the gym having a simple movement to perform means that you will get a better quality of workout with less chance of injury.
Exercise #4. The Chest Fly
The chest fly is a great chest exercise because it exclusively works the pectoral muscles, meaning that there is no real stimulation of the shoulders or triceps. This makes flys an excellent choice post-bench press (or post any of the 3 previous exercises).
The chest fly is unique in its movement pattern, stretching the pecs further than any other exercise meaning more muscle fibres are recruited.
This will lead to increased muscle protein synthesis, which means more strength and hypertrophy.