5 Moves to Build up Your Upper Body W/O a Bench Press
If the thought of taking your shirt off this summer is making you want to run to the nearest bench press, you might be surprised to learn that you don’t actually need one.
“One of the best ways to build the chest muscles is through ‘hugging’ exercises, NOT pushing exercises like the bench press,” says Fyt NASM Certified Personal Trainer Andrew Laux. “You don’t need a bench press to properly train your chest. The only time you need a bench press setup is if you specifically want to get bigger and stronger in the bench press.”
So whether you don’t have access to a bench press setup or you’re simply bored with your current chest workout routine, you can absolutely switch things up while building muscle.
Importance of Developing Chest Muscles
The one thing you don’t want to do, however, is skip chest workouts altogether. While there are aesthetic reasons for developing your chest muscles, there are also functional ones.
“There are many benefits of having a strong chest. Functionally speaking, the chest muscles are really important for all of your favorite activities and sports – think running, throwing a baseball, or climbing a tree,” says Laux. “The chest is the engine behind pushing and grappling type movements. The stronger your chest, the easier it will be to complete your favorite activities.”
And yes, having a bigger chest might also feel good and boost your confidence when you look in the mirror.
“Aesthetically speaking, the chest is the muscle group that stands out on most men because it just so happens to be the muscle group closest to the face. Developing a bigger and stronger chest builds a stronger posture and presence. In short, a big chest makes you look strong!”
Best Chest Moves Without A Bench Press
Ready to incorporate a variety of chest moves that don’t require a bench press in your fitness regimen? Laux shared the five most effective, no-bench-press chest builders to help you do just that.
1. Dumbbell Chest Fly
“The chest muscles are designed to hug and that is what the chest fly mimics. If you complete a chest fly properly, you will feel all aspects of the chest fire,” says Laux.
- Start lying flat on your back on a bench while holding dumbbells.
- With a small elbow bend, open your arms as if you were flying.
- Once the weight gets to the end of your peripheral vision, hug the weight back up by squeezing your chest muscles together.
2. Wide-Base Push-up
According to Laux, not only is this bodyweight move great because you can do it anywhere, but few things are as functional and impactful as pushing your entire body off the ground. And this push-up variation allows for deeper chest engagement than your average go-to.
- Start in a push-up position, with your back straight and core engaged, except with a wider hand position.
- Make sure to lead the push up from your chest – not your shoulders – for proper muscle activation.
3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Chest Press
Single-arm movements are great for correcting imbalances while building strength and mass.
“Sometimes it’s too easy to cheat with your stronger side when bench pressing. This exercise is a great way to force your non-dominant arm and chest to work harder and get stronger without the help of your dominant side,” says Laux.
- Lay on your back on a bench with a dumbbell extending over your shoulder. Pull the weight down so that your elbow is 45 degrees from your side.
- Use your chest and arm to lift the weight back to the starting position, and don’t forget to use your core.
4. Cable Machine Low-to-High Chest Fly
If you have access to a cable machine and you’re not getting the most of it during your chest or upper body workout, try this move and never look back.
- “With the handles of the cable machine on the floor, simultaneously grab the left handle with your right hand and the right handle with your left hand to form a cross with your arms.
- Extend your arms outward into a Y shape. This exercise does a great job engaging all aspects of the chest,” says Laux.
A bonus with this one, according to Laux, there’s something about picking up heavy things that makes you feel primal. One of the side effects of this exercise is feeling like a total badass.
5. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Did you know that your chest should play a big role in a classic shoulder press if you’re doing it right?
- In a seated position, lift your chest and turn your gaze to the ceiling.
- Open both arms at a 90-degree angle with your palms facing forward.
- Use your chest and arms to extend the weights over your head, then bring the weights down and repeat.
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