BY JUSTIN GRINNELL, CSCS
It’s safe to say the bench press is where the average guy begins his journey to a more muscular build. Initially, it served every need of a growing boy. – not only did you want to have the biggest bench on your football team in high school, but you also wanted a barrel chest to fill out your extra large t-shirt and look good at the beach. And as time goes on, the traditional bench press, incline press, and cable crossovers make up the majority of physique athletes chest training. They ditch body-weight exercises and uni-lateral presses in favor of the heavier counterparts. There is a good reason for this. Heavy weights build muscle and strength
But lifting heavy for years and years can also beat up your shoulder area, leaving you in pain and maybe even on the sidelines. So, to keep you injury-free and building tons of muscle, try mixing it up a bit.
Below, I have provided five new exercises that you should be implementing in your current chest-training routine These exercises are great for shoulder health, they increase time under tension to build more muscle, and help prevent muscular imbalances But don’t get lulled into a false sense of comfort – just because you won’t be loading a bar full of iron doesn’t mean these moves won’t be challenging.
1. RING CHEST FLYE
The Benefits: Ring flyes offer many benefits that heavy presses do not. For one, because you’re not lying back on a bench, they allow the scapulae to move through a natural, unencumbered range of motion. The bench press locks your shoulder blades into place, causing a potential imbalance and injury in the shoulders, overtime. You can also modify the intensity of the ring flye by altering the elevation and placement of your feet, leaving you a variety of options to stimulate the chest muscles.
As an added benefit, the intense contraction from your abdominals that is needed to stabilize your body helps increase core strength.
How To: If you don’t have Olympic rings, you can also use a set of TRX straps (www.trxtraining.com). Simply set up the rings accordingly to your strength level. The higher the strap is set, the easier it is. Get into a push-up position with your hands on the rings. Perform a chest flye in the prone position. Make sure to keep continuous tension on the muscles at all times and keep your core tight.
2. VALSLIDE CHEST FLYE
The Benefits: This exercise has very similar benefits to the ring flye. If you’ve never seen or used them before, the Valslide (www.valslide.com) consists of small “slides” that you place beneath your hands to help you smoothly move across a flat surface.
The biggest difference between the Valslide flye and the ring flye is the amount of tension that will be placed on the chest muscles. In order to bring the Valslides together and apart in the flye motion, you are forced to have continuous tension on the chest in order to perform the full range of motion.
Think this is for girly men? Think again. I have witnessed some 400-pound bench pressers struggle with these for three sets of 8-12 reps. This exercise is sure to humble you, while providing you that growth-inducing soreness the next day.
How To: If you don’t have a pair of Valslides, a pair of simple furniture movers will suffice. Both modalities work the best on a carpet-like surface. You can go down on your knees if they are too hard on your feet, or place your feet up on a bench for an increase in intensity. Start by getting into a push-up position and place each hand on one Valslide. Try to envision pushing your body away from the ground while giving someone a big hug. Repeat for reps.
3. ONE-ARM DUMBBELL PRESS
The Benefits: This may be the most underused pressing exercise in existence. Most people are used to grabbing a pair of dumbbells. By only using one dumbbell, you have no counterbalance of weight. This forces the “free” side of the body to work extra hard to stabilize your torso on the bench without falling off. The side with the bell also has to work harder, and places a great stress on the chest muscles. More stress on the muscle, the more time under tension, the more muscle growth.
Studies show that you generate approximately 20 percent more force with your working side when training unilaterally.
How To: This is done just like a traditional dumbbell bench press. Instead of grabbing two dumbbells, just grab one. Avoid using your “free” hand to grab onto the bench in order to stabilize. Instead, use a weight where you can perform 6-12 reps without falling off. Make sure to tuck your feet back, squeeze your glutes and opposite side core. Use slower, more controlled reps initially – the elimination of momentum will help you to be more balanced while also increasing total time under tension.
4. YOGA PUSH-UP
The Benefits: We all know how hard heavy pressing can be on our shoulders but that doesn’t stop us from lying down on the bench again. There is just something about the bench press that makes a man feel like a man in the weight room. Instead of ditching the bench like many experts recommend, take care of your shoulders by taking a break from the bench, seeking massage therapy and by doing complimentary exercises to the bench press, such as the yoga push-up.
This exercise doesn’t build a ton of strength and muscle, but it does help your shoulders and scapula move in the opposite direction of the bench press. The scapula moves much more free by emphasizing scapular upward rotation and protraction. This exercise is a great complementary movement to help balance out your pressing movements and keeping you injury free.
5. ONE-ARM PUSH-UP
The Benefits: I like seeing people press big weight. I am a meathead at heart. But nothing impresses me more than someone banging out a clean set of one-arm push-ups. The amount of upper-body and core strength that is needed to perform multiple reps of this exercise is amazing.
By practicing the one-arm push-up, you help your upper-body and core muscles become stronger and much more symmetrical. It will also show you which side of the body needs a little more attention, so you can improve the overall symmetry of your pecs.
How To: This exercise can be quite demanding, so jumping on the ground in the standard push-up position and performing a one-arm push-up may not be feasible right away. Below I have outlined a sample progression chart for you to follow for one-arm push-ups.
Once you can perform 5-10 reps of a progression, move onto the next one.
- Progression 1: Smith-machine bar or a wall at the height of your chest
- Progression 2: Smith-machine bar or bench at the height of your waist
- Progression 3: Smith-machine bar or bench at the height of your knees
- Progression 4: Bench or box the height of your shins
- Progression 5: On the floor with your feet wider than shoulder width apart
- Progression 6: On the floor with your feet inside shoulder width apart
- Progression 7: On the floor with your feet together