4 Exercises That Beat the Bench Press
Impossible you say? Skip this article at your own risk, but if you want to build a bigger and stronger chest, here are four moves you’d be crazy to overlook.
By Steven Stiefel
Have you ever seen an optical illusion? A sketch of a young woman is actually the face of an old lady; or the outline of a bird, an old man. Look at them long enough, and all of a sudden you see the image in a new light, bringing new depth and meaning to the artwork. Well, it’s time to take a good, long look around the gym for some of the best chest exercises that you’ve looked at but never really seen. Look hard because they’re there. In fact, they’re closer than you think.
That’s right. We’re pointing to the bench press. Long claimed to be the single-best chest exercise to which nothing else could compare. We dare you to take another look at the bench press. We found four, that’s right, four chest exercises* that are better than the standard bench press. But rather than have you run to other areas of the gym in search of that holy grail of chest equipment, we have to clarify the asterisk we placed on that previous remark. What we’re really trying to tell you is that there are some pretty incredible techniques that can make the all-powerful bench press even mightier than it already is. Techniques and methods that, when done properly, can add pounds to your bench and inches to your chest all at the same time.
We stand by our statement that each of the four techniques is superior to the standard bench press. All that’s required is for you to take the time to look, learn, perfect and perform them. If you do, your chest will never be the same; if you don’t, it probably will.
Partial to Benching
Whether you’re talking about chest or any other bodypart, partials are all about overloading a particular portion of the range of motion (ROM) without doing a full-range rep. By bench pressing with partials, you break the lift into smaller components within the range of motion, allowing you to handle a weight that’s much heavier than you’d normally use if you were working through a full ROM.
Let’s start by taking a close look at the standard bench press. We’ve all met the dreaded ‘sticking point’ before, and if it weren’t for a trusted training partner, many of us would likely still be underneath the bar somewhere halfway up. But just above that sticking point, wherever that might be for you individually, is the portion of the range motion in which you’re actually a lot stronger, an area you don’t typically spend much time specializing in. In other words, once you hit the sticking point in the lift and fail (typically about halfway up), you’re forced to rack the weights and the set is terminated. But the truth is, you’re still able to handle that same weight (or even more) in the upper portion of the range of motion; you only failed at one point along the strength curve, that area where you’re weakest (because of biomechanics). So the key is to learn to overload that portion of the ROM, not where you’ll hit your sticking point, but above it, where your strength is actually enhanced, and then go heavy and really attack it. That’s where the genius of partial rep training comes in.
To put it simply, partials help you isolate a particular portion of the lift and allow you to work only at that angle. But you can’t do partials at your standard bench-press station, so head over to the power rack. The power rack is obviously an ideal place to train with partials because you can set the safety bars in place. Then with the safeties at the halfway point, for example, you can load the bar up with more weight than you’d typically lift and train over the shortened ROM. You can even start that shorter bench press with a ROM of just a few inches. That gives you a chance to experience how a very heavy weight feels in your hands as you try and move the bar just 4–6 inches. That’s fine. My suggestion is to start with about 15% more weight than you can lift for your 10RM (a weight you can lift for 10 and only 10 reps); if that’s too light, bump it up.
From week to week or within the same workout, you can lower the safety bars to the next setting (usually a couple of inches) and expand the ROM. If you choose to lower the weight a couple of inches in the same workout, you’ll obviously have to reduce the weight somewhat with each change in angle, but you should still be lifting more than you could handle through a complete ROM at each level. In other words, if you’re training with partial reps using the same weight you’d use during normal bench pressing, you’re not getting the most out of the technique. That’s not to say you’re not gaining some benefits, but the idea is to go heavier than normal.