It’s 6:00pm, you’ve just taken two scoops of Jack3d micro and you’re ready to crush some bench. Unfortunately for you, every bench is taken by a “Chest and Bi day alumni” ready to smoke a few half reps of ‘ a buck thirty five’ and you’ve got 52 minutes before heading home to see Starla and the kids. We feel your pain, so now when the bench is taken the weights shall be shaken.
Top 5 Bench Press Alternatives
1. Decline Bench Press
(Free-weight or plate loaded alternative)
Not only is this movement similar to the flat bench regarding the area of the pecs it emphasizes (lower and mid region), but if you take a look at a well-developed bodybuilder from the side, the overall shape of the chest is that of a downward slope. This shows that due to the fact the chest has the most mass in the lower region; you will be biomechanically stronger in the decline press than any other chest movement and can achieve the overload necessary for growth a lot easier. I actually prefer decline to flat bench press after having to substitute it so many times, plus when I switch back to flat after a while, I’m way stronger! So don’t be afraid to pile the plates on and show those high school goofballs how the bench is really done!
[If this alternative is not possible, move on to #2]
2. Incline Bench Press
(Free-weight, Smith machine or plate loaded alternative)
If your mid and lower chest is well developed why would you want to flat bench anyway? Chances are if you’ve always lead off chest-day with flat or decline, your upper pecs will be lagging behind. Try starting with the incline press to bring better overall balance to your chest. In fact, referring to the slope of the chest again, this is the area of the chest most often neglected due to being biomechanically weaker than other chest press angles. So you may have to stash the ego when doing this exercise. If you have a balanced chest, alternate this with flat or decline week to week to maintain proportion.
[If this alternative is also no good, try #3]
Before the chicken came the egg, and before the bench press came the push-up. The bench press was created to mimic an effective push-up all while maximally overloading the chest. Therefore if you cannot do more than 15 pushups of your own bodyweight, you should not be even considering doing the bench press. The functionality of the push-up is unprecedented hence why it’s used in so many physical fitness tests in the military. Plus, once you’re able to properly do 15+ pushups of your own body weight, you’ll notice improved endurance when returning to the bench press.
[No excuse for this one, just drop and give me 15…or 50]
4. Smith Machine
You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it… ‘The Smith machine is crap when it comes to benching, squatting, etc. and should never be used!’ Although it will never be superior to its free-weight alternative, the Smith is actually a phenomenal substitute due to its ability to keep the weight in a straight up and down plane. Why does that matter? Because it will stress the fibers of the target muscles with laser-like precision without the need to balance or stabilize the weight due to the gliding bar rails. For bench press, this means you can more effectively target your chest. Also, you won’t have to ask that guy in the corner on his ‘celly’ for a spot.
[I know, if this alternative was also not possible I’d be angry too, but let’s give it one more try with #5]
(D-bell, cable or pec-deck machine alternatives)
Never started a chest workout with flyes before huh? Well you should try it out sometime. By doing an isolation movement such as the flye before a compound movement like the bench press, you are essentially using the ‘Pre-Exhaust’ technique. By doing a pre-exhaust, you fatigue the pecs directly so that when you start benching; you won’t be as fresh and won’t have to go as heavy to effectively overload the chest for growth.
[Can’t find a single free bench, cable station or pec-deck machine on top of the occupied benches…well then, my friend, it’s time to find a new gym!]
Unless you’ve got enough iron in your basement to create your own ‘swole factory’ you may have to get use to the idea of changing up your routine. However, keeping an open mind can lead to challenging your muscles in new ways which can lead to growth. Therefore, my recommendation to you would be that for every workout you have planned out, have a backup of 2 (…or 5) substitute exercises ready to swap in when those poor benches are being used as a curl rack or conversation piece.
Prepared by Victor Egonu
The information provided in this article, as well as this web-site blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice for any condition. Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. By reading this disclaimer, you hereby agree and understand that the information provided in this column is not medical advice and relying upon it shall be done at your sole risk.