While the bench press is a fine exercise, it cannot be the sole movement used by the lifter who is chasing aesthetics. Here's why:
- As a strength movement, the lifter can utilize body positions and increase leverages to shorten the range of motion in order to move more weight.
- Secondly, when the goal is a maximum bench press, the triceps are heavily recruited due to the position of the shoulders.
- Lastly, the bench press stimulates only one angle of the chest, the middle portion, and neglects the two areas that are most often in need of the most attention, the upper and lower regions of the chest.
But I don't see gyms worldwide ditching the Monday chest day anytime soon. Everyone will continue to circle around the bench press on these days. If you don't find another way to train your chest, you'll begrudgingly have to wait in line every Monday for the rest of your life.
One way to separate yourself from the crowds is to adopt some movements that nobody else is doing on chest day. By doing so, you'll not only skip the waiting on the bench, but you'll also be hitting all regions of the chest, ensuring that the development is balanced.
Here are 5 variations that you can do on chest day that may be altogether new for you. Finally, you can avoid the masses, while you pack on the mass. Here's how.
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How to Get a Big Chest
1. Low Incline Smith Machine PressThe fixed range of motion on the incline smith machine is particularly beneficial for increasing the tension on the muscle. To target the upper chest, incorporating incline pressing movements is a timeless piece of advice. However, the issue with most incline benches is that the angle is fixed somewhere between 35-45 degrees.
This where the low incline smith machine press comes into play.
By dropping the incline to 15-20 degrees, you'll also be placing more stress on the upper pecs instead of the shoulders.
Set up: You'll roll an adjustable bench underneath the smith machine, setting the incline to about 15-20 degrees. Be sure that the bench is centered below the bar.
Execution: Unhook the bar from the pins with a grip about 4 inches out from your shoulders. At the top of the press, be sure to tighten your back.
As you initiate the movement and the bar travels down, be disciplined to keep your forearms and elbows perpendicular to the floor. There should be no external or internal rotation of the shoulders.
To get the maximum stretch in your upper chest, retract your shoulders and expand your chest as the bar approaches the bottom position.
Don't go all the way down. When you bring the bar down to your chest, it can put unnecessary stress on the shoulders. And, it can also decrease the amount of tension on your pecs. Instead, stop short of touching your chest at the bottom, recover by pressing up and then stopping short of lock out at the top to keep constant tension thought the movement.
In your workout: Place the low incline smith machine press as a second movement or finisher in your training session.
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2. Three Angle Dumbbell Bench PressA primary benefit to training with dumbbells is that they allow stabilizer muscles to activate more effectively than training with a machine, and in some cases a barbell.
Since the weight being moved isn't fixed, stabilizers must act in all directions with dumbbells, whereas a machine or barbell connects your two hands together yielding greater stability.
The three angle dumbbell bench press is executed in this order:
- High incline dumbbell press
- Low incline dumbbell press
- Flat dumbbell press
A drop set is when you perform a set of a movement until you reach fatigue, and then change a variable in a way that permits you to bang out more reps. The variable in a traditional drop set is the weight itself; your strip, or "drop" the weight once you can't do any more reps. This method can work, and should be utilized but not exclusively for one reason:
More weight equals more muscle recruited which can result in more muscle being built.
Traditional drop sets suffer from the inevitable issue of using lighter weight. With each drop you decrease the load. While muscle failure is being achieved, you miss the boat on utilizing heavy weight.
So how do we get around this issue? The obvious answer is to use heavier weight, but the obstacle is executing reps at heavy weight when you're fatigued or at failure.
This is where the mechanical drop set comes in. And that's exactly what you'll be using in the three angle dumbbell bench press. Even though you'll be fatigued in each transition, the angle will allow you to move the most possible weight, stimulating more muscle growth.
Set up: In the sequence you'll have three set ups for each angle. For set one, you'll perform your reps at 40 degrees. For the second set, you'll perform your reps at 20 degrees. For the third set, drop the bench to a flat angle to bang out the last reps.
Execution: For each incline set, you'll want to focus on your wrist and elbow positioning. Similar to the incline smith machine press, you'll want your wrists, forearms and elbows perpendicular to the floor.
As the dumbbells descend be sure to keep a tight back and expand your chest. There's no need to let the dumbbells travel past your shoulders at the bottom, this can cause some strain. Recover as the dumbbells are just above chest level. On the ascension, stop short of lockout to keep tension on the chest.
For the flat angle set, you'll perform the dumbbell bench press as standard. However, at the top of the movement I want you to turn your pinky fingers toward each other.
In other words, recover from the bottom position with a standard grip (hands are in a similar angle to a barbell bench press) and then when you get to the top turn transition your grip into a parallel grip (hands facing each other) all while squeezing the chest. This little tweak gives you an extra stimulus on the pecs.
In your workout: The three angle dumbbell bench press should be placed first in your training session.
3. Unilateral Decline Machine PressFrom vets in the iron game to newbies in the gym, the plate-loaded chess press machine is an easy-to-use tool with high return. Majority of lifters, regardless of level, have used a chess press machine. But to tweak things slightly and improve the angle of the targeted muscle group (lower and middle pec), using one arm, instead of two on the decline machine press is optimal.
Set up: By turning your body sideways you'll get an entirely different angle of stress on the lower region of the chest muscles. Use your off hand to grasp the seat to help you from sliding off the bench. Your active hand will be placed on the handle to move the weight.
Execution: With a tight mid-line and engaged back, you'll push the weight away from your body extending your active arm. Stop before your arm reaches full lockout to keep tension on the chest. Upon recovery, don't let the plates hit the rack at the starting position. Just before the plates hit, reverse the motion and repeat another rep.
In your workout: These should be done towards the end of your training or as a finisher.
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4. ValSlide FlyesArnold was a proponent of dumbbell flyes for chest development. And, with the type of chest he had, who could argue? A master of technique, Arnold perfected the flye movement as no one else ever had. He often described the motion of the flye as "hugging a tree."
While flat dumbbell flyes are a wonderful tool, I'm suggesting you take a classic movement and put a spin on it.
Welcome to the ValSlide flye.
This movement might be the most underrated chest building exercises on the planet. Largely because it's a bodyweight movement. The ValSlide flye apples resistance to the horizontal adduction of the chest muscles with constant quasi-isometic contraction through the exercise making it one hell of a movement that few utilize.
Set up: ValSlide flyes can be performed on a linoleum or wood floor with a set of ValSlides under your hands. You'll assume a traditional push-up position.
Execution: As you lower yourself keep your hand position fixed and then stop just before your chest hits the floor. Then, you'll recover by pushing up and simultaneously sliding your hands together. The ValSlides will be touching at the top. Once you're here, that's one rep.
In your workout: These should be done as a pre-exhaust method (followed by a pressing movement) or as a finishing moment.
5. Incline Dumbbell Pullover
The dumbbell pullover was a staple movement in the Golden Era. It was truly an old-school chest building movement. And it worked well as a finisher at the end of a chest workout as a second movement in a superset.
But it's probably the most forgotten movement in today's training scene. There is a debate that the pullover may be more of a lat building exercise instead of a chest developing movement.To move the stimulus to the chest rather than the lats, adjust the bench to an incline to about 30 degrees.
Set up: You'll hold the dumbbell with both hands above your face on an incline bench. Your arms should be slightly flexed at the elbow.
Execution: You'll lower the weight behind your head, keeping your arms at a fixed flexion. Once you reach the back of the movement, activate the chest to pull the weight back up to starting position and then repeat.
In your workout: These should be done as a second movement in a superset (after dips or a pressing movement) or as a finishing movement.
Wrapping UpBy no means am I influencing you to ditch the good ol' barbell bench press. But if you're sick of waiting around at the gym for a bench to open up, you now have options.
By incorporating these movements into your chest development approach, you'll be hitting muscles from different angles that emphasize areas that may have been neglected for far to long. #Chestday will no longer be a drag for you.
Move beyond the bench with these 5 movements and you'll be on your way to a barrel chest.