Build the Chest You Want Without the Bench Press
If you think you’ll get pecs that put Hercules to shame just by pressing a barbell again and again on repeat, you’re going to be lying on that bench for a very long time. While the barbell chest press has its merit — it can target multiple muscles in the chest, arm, and shoulders in just one exercise — “when targeting the chest, pushing movements aren’t everything,” says Blake Holman, C.P.T., fitness nutrition specialist, and sports performance specialist.
You want to set up the right balance between pushing and pulling movements specifically. “A good rule of thumb is for every push movement in your routine there should be two pull exercises,” Holman. “This will help ensure proper posture and prevent injuries.”
In fact, Holman says his holy grail chest exercise would be the cable chest fly, as it’s the most effective for overall chest development. This move, which utilizes a dual-cable machine, maintains constant tension in the active muscles, allows for full range of motion, and can be leveled up or down as needed, explains Holman. (See how to perform a cable chest fly below.)
But just as with any fitness goal, variety matters. “If you are constantly working the same types of movements and aren’t changing intensity or volume, you are setting yourself up for failure,” says Holman. “Your body adapts to the demands you place on it, so if you aren’t introducing the body to a new stimulus — intensity, volume, or type — then you aren’t going to maximize your potential.”
With all the above in mind, Holman shared five of his go-to chest exercises that will get you out of your bench press rut.
5 Chest Exercises to Add to Your Workout
Dumbbell Chest Press
Using dumbbells instead of a barbell allows for greater range of motion, which puts more emphasis on working chest muscles.
- Lie back on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders. Elbows will be pointing down at a 45-degree angle and weights up, palms facing toward your toes.
- Press the weights above your chest by extending your elbows until your arms are straight, then bring the weights back down slowly. To take advantage of the range of movement offered by using dumbbells rather than a barbell, take the weights down past your shoulders and drive them closer together at the top of the movement.
Do 4 sets of 6-12 reps.
Incline Dumbbell Chest Flys
- Lie back on a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand just to the sides of your shoulders. Elbows will be pointing down at a 45-degree angle and weights up, palms facing each other.
- Slightly retract your shoulder blades, and slowly lower the dumbbells laterally while maintaining a slight bend at your elbow.
- Once the dumbbells nearly reach each other at about chest height, reverse the movement by driving your shoulder blades back and down and returning weights out wide to starting position.
Do 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
Forward Leaning Chest Dips
- Using dip bars, grab each and lift your body so your arms are straight, but not locked. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, and raise your legs so thighs are parallel to the floor (almost as if you’re sitting in a chair). Maintain this position with your lower-body throughout the entire exercise.
- Keeping your elbows tucked close to your body, slowly lower down by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Allow your torso to lean forward. Pause, then push back up to the starting position.
Do 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
Cable Chest Flys
- Set up a dual cable machine so the pulleys on either side are at roughly shoulder-to-chest height.
- Grab either handle in each hand, then step forward slightly so that your arms are outstretched to the sides at approximately a 45-degree angle.
- With your elbows slightly bent, slowly bring both hands together in front of the body, remaining at roughly chest-height. When the hands are together, pause for one second before slowly returning the arms to the starting position.
Do 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
- Hold a pair of lighter weight plates together between your palms right in front of your chest.
- Squeeze the plates together, engaging and focusing on your chest muscles, and press weight directly out in front of you until your arms are extended.
- Engage your lats to pull the weights back to your chest.
Do 4 sets of 12-15 reps.
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