The bench press is probably the most popular exercise in the world. It’s also one of the most abused, overused and, potentially, overrated!


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The bench press is often lauded as an excellent chest exercise but, for some exercisers, it’s not actually that good. If you have very long arms, narrow shoulders, or poor shoulder mechanics, you may find that the bench press never feels right for you. Alternatively, if you have a barrel chest and short arms, you may well be able to lift a lot of weight, but you might not feel it in your pecs at all.

Some people not only love the bench press, but they also get a lot from it. However, if after years of trying, you are beginning to wonder if the bench press is not all it’s cracked up to be, there are several alternative exercises you can use that may be better than the bench press.

1. Parallel bar dip

This bodyweight classic is an excellent chest exercise although, for some, it can be a little hard on the shoulders. Maximize chest recruitment by leaning forward and descending until your forearms and biceps meet - if you have shoulder problems or get pain from this exercise, only descend to 90-degrees. A wider hand placement can also add to the effectiveness of this exercise. If you can do ten reps or more, consider adding weight in the form of a weighted vest or chin/dip belt. Start with 5-10% of bodyweight.

2. Hex dumbbell squeeze press

If you have access to hexagonal-shaped dumbbells, this exercise is a certified chest killer! You CAN do it with round dumbbells, but it’s not as effective. Lie on a flat, incline, or decline exercise bench with a hex dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms and press the dumbbells together. While maintaining inward pressure, bend your arms and lower the dumbbells to your chest. Push them back up and repeat. Remember, keep pushing inward the entire time to contract your pecs fully.

3. Floor press

For those individuals with long arms, bench pressing is a shoulder injury waiting to happen. The risk of injury increases significantly if you bounce out of the bottom of each rep. These problems disappear with the floor press.

As the name suggests, this exercise is performed lying on the floor. Using a barbell or dumbbells, lower the weight until your upper arms lightly touch the floor and then press up. Use a shoulder-width grip and tuck your elbows into your sides to take even more stress off your shoulders.

4. Push-ups

The bench press might be the most popular exercise in the world, but the humble push-up is arguably the most commonly performed. Elite army units, professional athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and school kids all do push-ups, and you should do them too. With the push-up, your body is your bench, and your performance relies on your ability to keep your entire body tense. Also, the floor stops you from overextending your shoulders and, unlike bench based exercises, your scapulae or shoulder blades are free to move naturally which makes this exercise even more joint-friendly.

If you can do 20 or more reps, it’s time to up the ante with some more demanding push-up variations. For example:

  1. - Wear a weighted vest

  2. - Place your hands on a medicine ball or stability ball

  3. - Place a resistance band across your upper back and hold the ends in your hands

  4. - Elevate your feet

  5. - Use push-up handles or gymnastic rings

  6. - Do your push-ups while holding the tops of kettlebells

  7. - Place a weight place across your upper back

  8. - Do very slow push-ups i.e. lower in four, pause for four, and push up for four seconds

  9. - Do plyometric push-ups

  10. - Progress to one-arm push-ups

5. The dumbbell fly to press

This hybrid exercise combines two renowned chest builders into one torturous move that will stretch and pump your pecs in no time flat! It can be performed using a flat, incline, or decline bench as preferred.

With a dumbbell in each hand, lie on your bench with your arms straight, palms turned inward. Lower the dumbbells slowly out to your sides, as in the lowering part of a dumbbell fly. Next, bring your hands into your chest. Then, and with your hands still turned inward, explosively push the weights back up to the starting position. Lower the weights down and out to the side and repeat.

You do not have to be a slave to the bench press; if it doesn’t suit or work for you, you don’t have to keep on using it. If the bench press is not delivering the goods, stop wasting your time and try some alternatives. Who knows, after quitting the bench press, you might find an exercise that is so much better that you never bench again!

Now you've trained chest - Hit your shoulders!

Check out this shoulder workout with Max "The Body" Philisaire to get you started!