Today’s post comes courtesy of Simon and Joe at SJ Fitness …
Ah the chest.
The holy grail of lifting weights.
We all know that we want a huge impressive chest, that gets heads turning and may even ruin a couple of shirts if we are lucky.
But what if due to certain circumstances we can’t flat barbell bench for whatever reason?
Speaking from personal experience I have suffered two rotary cuff injuries, these injuries happened during the peak of my “bro” days when I was ego lifting every day, but we will come onto that.
But these injuries made it extremely hard to flat bench and sometimes it was out the question.
But I could not miss out on precious chest gains.
More importantly what would I do on a Monday in the gym?
So I had to come up with other ways to make sure my chest was still filling out them small t shirts I was buying at the time.
This blog will give you some awesome alternatives that you can do in the gym to make sure that you are still making impressive chest gains!
But first some boring science.
I hope we all know where the chest is right.
The chest is made up of 3 main muscle groups.
This makes up the majority of your chest muscles, it is a fan shaped muscle that spans across the chest. It has two heads the clavicular and the sternocostal head.
This is a much smaller muscle group and lays behind the pectoralis major.
These muscle are found more laterally in the chest and deeper. This muscle was popularized by Arnie with the classic dumbbell pullover.
Those are the 3 muscles in the chest that you must work and stimulate, to build an impressive chest.
Obviously the flat bench will work the majority of these muscle groups. But there is more than one way to skin a cat and that is what we are going to get into now.
Bring on the chest gains!
If flat barbell benching is out of the question for whatever reason, your next best bet is to take advantage of dumbbells.
This could be on a flat bench, a small incline, a high incline, or even a decline bench depending on how healthy your shoulders are. One of the greatest advantages to dumbbells are that they’re great for actually activating the chest muscle.
I’ve found with flat barbell benching people are just too obsessed with throwing the weight up and moving it from point a to point b.
Now of course if you’re a powerlifter then this will be your main focus. But in this blog we are not talking about powerlifting, we are talking about building a huge muscular looking chest and people who don’t perform the flat barbell press correctly will never achieve that huge chest that they are after.
Dumbbells are awesome because, they will get you to really focus on working the chest muscles instead of just throwing the weight around. You can focus on squeezing the chest muscles together and lowering the dumbbells under control getting a good stretch at the bottom of the move.
Take your ego out of the equation for a minute, you will never achieve that huge, ripped, muscular chest if you’re always bouncing the weight off your chest and never controlling the movement. Focus on a full range of motion and really get that chest working!
Yes I know some of the purist will raise their eyebrows at this one. But machines can be a great alternative to working the chest out if you’re not flat benching. Machines offer far more stability, so if you’re coming off an injury these are great to use.
Using machines is a far safer way to introduce the chest to high amount of training volume.
For example it’s a lot safer and easier to take your sets to failure on the chest machine than it is on the flat bench. Plus by using machines you can introduce some supersets and drop sets that will expose the chest to high amounts of metabolic stress. In this study by Brad Schoenfeld in 2010 he identified metabolic stress as one of the 3 main drivers of muscle hypertrophy.
What do I mean by metabolic stress?
I basically mean getting a pump, doing high amount of reps to increase the amount of blood flow going to that muscle. You can easily achieve this on a machine chest press or a pec deck and still grow a decent amount of muscle!
I think sometimes we forget, that all day every day we are carrying around a great resistance tool.
Bodyweight exercises are great and they are especially helpful for working out the chest muscles.
Your body does not know the difference between a barbell, a dumbbell, a kettlebell or a resistance machine. It only knows the stress it is being place on it, and it will then adapt to this stress. That is how we build muscle and get big and strong!
Now for the chest we can get extremely creative with our own bodyweight and create a good amount of stress that will allow the chest to grow.
Now you have got the classic exercises that really target the chest muscle. Press ups and dips are incredibly effective exercises to work the chest out. But once again make sure that you are going through a full range of motion.
So on the press up, make sure you go all the way down get a stretch in that bottom position and come back up. Don’t go doing these press ups where people are basically humping the floor.
Same with dips, don’t go rushing the movement. I see people performing dips where they look like a fish out of water, jumping all over the place. Focus on working the muscle! Don’t go performing 30 quarter dips, because there is someone you want to impress by the water fountain (I am talking from experience there)
The great thing about these bodyweight exercises for the chest, is that you can easily progress them, make them harder and more challenging to place more stress on those chest muscles.
For example you can take the press up to a narrow press up or even a clap press up. There are many different variations to the press up, to ensure chest gains. For dips once you get to pro status and your bodyweight becomes easy for you, then you can get your hands on a dipping belt and strap some extra weight to you waist and dip away!
Now this one is a bit off the cuff and it does not work the chest directly but hear me out.
For any pressing movement whether that be barbell pressing, dumbbell pressing, press ups or dips. The triceps are hugely involved in all of these movements. They are the biggest accessory muscle working here and can help us generate more force and move more weight on these pressing movements.
Think of the main chest movements as Captain America himself and the triceps as his dream shield. Now Captain America is pretty strong on his own, but add in his shield and he is awesome! Combine a strong chest with some strong triceps and you’re going to be looking pretty impressive on the chest front.
Speaking for a completely personal point of view, conventional flat barbell benching was out the question. But I could perform the narrow bench press and really focus on the triceps. So of course I did what I could and my tricep gains went through the roof. I also combined all this narrow benching, with Z bar skull crushers and tricep rope extension, so my triceps were getting a lot of work and getting a lot bigger.
When it was time to get back to pressing, I felt a lot stronger on these movements and I was shifting more weight. Unintentionally I had become stronger on these movements by really strengthen the triceps.
So although directly working your triceps out will not get your chest huge, it can have a knock on affect and help with your major chest exercises.
Make sure you train through a wide range of rep ranges.
Now people get far too attached to their prescribe rep ranges.
If you’re looking to become big and strong, people never go over 8 reps.
If you’re looking to get ripped and shredded, people never go below 8 reps.
We need to embrace all rep ranges and especially with the chest.
Now this study from Brad Schoenfeld shows that high rep training can result in similar muscle growth to your traditional bodybuilding, hypertrophy rep ranges. This study was also performed on well trained men, so newbie gains were out of the question.
Now I am not saying that you should go and do 30 rep sets of dumbbell chest press as you’re probably throw up! But press up could be performed at higher repetitions for example, when you are coming back from injury it is sometimes safer to use lighter loads and higher rep ranges and now there is some science that says we can still build muscle from it bonus!
So with your chest, train through a wide range of rep ranges.
Your best bet is to keep your pressing movement like dumbbell incline press to 6-8 reps.
Then like a plate loaded machine press to 12-15 reps, then throw in some press up with 25-30 reps.
With this type of set up you are activating a hell of a lot of muscle fibres, which can only mean one thing. Muscle growth which is what we want!
To reiterate flat barbell benching will always be the bread and butter of chest training and you can build a ton of muscle on your chest from this classic move.
If for whatever reason you cannot perform this move, all is not lost. You can still work your chest out and build a significant amount of muscle there and more importantly you can still take part in Chest Mondays!
Thanks for Reading
SJ Fitness believe in a No FAD, No GIMMICK, No BS approach to getting clients into great shape without all the “bro” advice. We have been there done that and bought the bro t-shirt and it got us nowhere. We are now dedicated to learning from the best in the industry and rely on science for results instead of gym gossip. If you want to find out more about us check out our brand new website
If you’re looking for THE way to pack serious pounds on your lifts (whether that’s the traditional flat barbell bench, dumbbell presses, dips, or anything else) …
Why not check out The DUP Method?
Learn the secrets of the former Soviet supermen to jack up your lifts training in a rather ‘unconventional’ way.
Tags: barbell bench alternatives, best chest exercises, chest exercises injured shoulders, sj fitness
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