Can You Develop a Bigger and Stronger Chest Without The Bench Press?

Today, I decided to check my favorite site for fitness panties – S-Nation. In the newly featured article the author wrote that you cannot beat the bench press when it comes to building larger and stronger boobies. That’s not true, and is the equivalent of saying you can get from point A to point B by driving only one car model.

What many people fail to realize is that the bench press is nothing but a barbell exercise (tool) and it can actually be replaced, especially if you have no intentions of competing in benching competitions.

How can you replace it? By choosing another compound movement with similar characteristics.


What makes the bench press so special?

arnold-schwarzenegger-bench-press

Three things: history, compound nature and strong programmable nature.

During the so-called Golden Era of Bodybuilding, when the D-bol was actually D-bol, the bench press got extremely popular thanks to Arnold’s internationally recognized chest, which is still in the dreams of many people with questionable mental status.

Since the 70s crew did a ton of benching, many protein powder clowns continue to assume that this is the secret to incredible chest transformation, while completely ignoring the fact that genetics come first. Even if you are benching the whole universe, you cannot change your insertions, muscle bellies and frame.

Another quality of the bench press is that it works the main pushers (chest, triceps and front deltoids) truly. This is something that cannot be said about the overhead press, which misses the chest. As a result the bench press remains one of the lifts that work the most amount of muscle mass in your upper body. Even the back has to deliver.

However, that could also be said about other exercises such as dips and push-ups. Thus, the bench press does not offer a package that other movements cannot replicate. All cars have tyres. Sorry.

Finally, we arrive at the programmable side of the bench press, which is considered otherworldly by strength experts. I get it: the bench press is a barbell exercise and as such it allows you to perform precisely calculated routines. For example, if your routine calls for 80% of your 1RM (one repetition maximum), it’s easy to determine the exact number. Also, the bench press can be made harder until infinity without altering the motion pattern. You just add weight and that’s it. No need to do any fancy dancing such as planches, front levers…etc. While that’s great, this still does not make the bench press unique. You can easily treat weighted dips and push-ups the very same way. Sure, your bodyweight will also affect the equation, but unless you are one of those guys on never-ending bulks, you will not be gaining that much anyway.

Which exercises can replace the bench press?

During my glorious permabulking days, I was frequently passing by a busy playground with horizontal and parallel bars on my way to the barbell dungeon. Every single time I was thinking how stupid those morons are for wasting their time on dips while I was doing real work – benching. This continued throughout the autumn and winter, but when the summer came I understood I was wrong. During the hot months those same monkeys were training naked and had pretty decent chest development, while I ”the bencher” was still boobless. After a few more years, I completely switched to dips and never looked back.

I program the dip as a main lift – not an accessory. I have training cycles that I follow, just like you would do with the bench press. I personally feel my chest working a lot harder during dips than bench presses, although I don’t think this will be the case with everyone. Still, I believe the dip offers at least as much “chest activation” as the bench press.

Another option is to do weighted push-ups instead of dips. The only difference is that it’s a little harder to find a convenient way to add weight, but it’s still possible with the right equipment. One of the available methods is to do push-ups between two stable surfaces so that you can let the weights attached to you hang in-between. This may not be as straight forward as lying on a bench, but you can still develop some pretty decent strength. Not to mention that out of the big three pushing exercises that involve the chest (bench presses, dips, push-ups) push-ups are the healthiest choice  for your shoulders. With that said, you have to treat them as a main lift and try to progress using training cycles.

Note: You can reduce the required weight by doing push-ups on gymnastic rings or suspension systems. The instability of the rings will torture your chest even more. In fact, I learned where my chest is the day after my very first ring push-ups workout. For a week even walking down the stairs was killing most of my chest fibers. It’s a brutal exercise for the chest. I don’t think that even the dumbbell bench press can replicate it, although they are both pretty similar.

The Importance Of Programming and Progression

An exercise by itself will not make you stronger the very same way a guitar will not make you a better musician. We have to push ourselves to do hard/heavy stuff. Thus, even if you do socially accepted exercises such as the bench press, you are still not guaranteed access to the strength club. What will make you stronger is adding weight to the bar. If this condition is not met, nothing will happen. Exercises are just hardware by themselves. You need software (programming) to increase their value. Ironically, this is something that the gurus forget to mention when they present you the routines of Jay Cutler and friends. The result is a bunch of weaklings who think the only reason they are not stronger is because they are not doing the ”right” exercises.

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