Aside from being used as a test for upper-body strength for most college athletes, the bench press can also be used to increase your chest and arm size. However, having a bench press set can be pricey for some people, and it takes up more space than using your body weight or dumbbells. You can still get the same strength and aesthetic benefits by doing alternate exercises that work your chest, shoulders and arms.
Pumping with Machines
Working with either a chest press machine or a chest fly machine allows you to lift more weight than a bench press, and you don't have to worry about balancing the weight. Most machines are designed with the pulley and weight-plate system in which you change the resistance by inserting the pin between the weight plates. Therefore, machines are more convenient and safer to change the resistance than changing the barbell's resistance. Because your body is fixed in a seated position, your chest muscles are isolated, which allows greater muscle growth than the bench press. However, machines require more maintenance than a bench press set and cannot be easily transported.
Dumbbells are much more portable and easier to carry than a heavy barbell. Like the bench press, training with dumbbells requires you to control and balance the weights in your hands as you exercise. Dumbbell training allows you to hold the weights in different positions, such as with your knuckles facing toward you or out to your sides. Create different ways to do the chest press, such as with your back and head on top of a stability ball, with one dumbbell or alternating your arms left and right like a piston.
No Props, No Problem
The pushup is similar to the bench press except you push your body away from the floor instead of pushing a barbell away from you. Not only do pushups work the same muscles as the bench press, but they also work your abdominal muscles, which provide spine stability to maintain your posture. You can change the difficulty by placing your hands in different positions, such as wider than your shoulder girdle or closer toward your body's center line, or doing pushups on one foot or with your hands on a stability ball. Always keep your spine in alignment with your head, hips and legs.
Get Faster and More Powerful
Because throwing is performed in a standing position, the pushing strength you get from the bench press doesn't carry over to throwing skills, which many sports and activities require. Power training with a medicine ball will get your chest, shoulders and arms to produce more power, which rely on your entire body to throw and push with better power output and control. Although you can feel your chest, shoulders and arms working, the source of your power stems from your legs and hips. This is why you need to bend your legs and hips slightly before you throw the ball in front of you. You can perform the medicine ball chest pass with a sturdy wall or with a partner.
- NSCA's Guide to Tests and Assessments; Todd Miller
- American Council on Exercise: Stability Ball Dumbbell Press
- Journal of Applied Biomechanics: Abdominal Muscles Dominate Contributions to Vertebral Joint Stiffness During the Push-Up
- ExRx.net: Medicine Ball Chest Throw (with Partner)
- ExRx.net: Cable Seated Fly