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How to Build Your Chest Without Traditional Bench Press

October 9, 2019

traditional flat bench press

Like me, you’ve been taught that if you want to build a big chest, you have to do bench press.

But is the traditional bench press really the best way to build your chest?

The answer may surprise you. We’re going to dig into this together and go through the pros and cons of using bench press to build your chest.

I’m also going to give some 2 bodybuilding chest workouts. One will be without bench press, and the other with bench press.

Benching for a Bigger Chest

Do you remember when you first started training? Who was your bodybuilding hero? What muscle stood out?

Mine was Arnold Schwarzenegger. And he was known for having a huge chest.

Now think about the one muscle that you wanted to build more than any other. Chances are it was your chest. I mean, who doesn’t dream of having a huge chest like Arnold?

So what did we do? We started hitting the bench press really hard…some of us multiple times per week, chasing a big chest as if our lives depended on it!

Why Bench Press May Not Be the Best Chest Exercise for Bodybuilders

Here’s the problem with the bench press when it comes to bodybuilding. This exercise is actually more for gaining strength than it is for muscle mass gains.

Bench press is a compound exercise and is also one of the primary exercises in powerlifting. Why? Because bench press allows you to push the most amount of weight with your upper body.

Part of this is due to other muscles being involved in this lift. Martijn Koevoets explains how other muscles are used to perform the bench press in this article on Powerlifting University called How To Bench Press For Powerlifting.

Many think that bench press ins a chest exercise. But Martijn goes on to say that the bench press is a full-body exercise. This is similar to the squat and deadlift, which are also core powerlifting exercises. You’re using multiple muscles to assist in these lifts.

And this is why bench pressing may not be the best exercise for building the actual muscles in your chest. It’s awesome for strength gains, but with other muscles assisting with this lift, you’re not directly targeting your chest.

Should You Do Bench Press for Bodybuilding?

Jason Stallworth 405 bench

This doesn’t mean bench press is ‘bad’ by any means. And it doesn’t mean that you won’t build your chest muscles with it.

There are actually some benefits of the bench press that will help you build a bigger chest. But we’ll also talk about reasons why you may want to leave it out of your workout program, at least temporarily.

Bench Press Pros

  • Gaining strength on your bench will help you get stronger on other exercises.
  • Working the different muscles during bench press, not just your chest, may help you develop a more balanced physique.
  • Learning proper bench press techniques can be applied to other chest exercises (we’ll talk about that when we get to the workouts!).

Bench Press Cons

  • There are better chest exercises for targeting and building your chest muscles (yes, we’ll talk about those as well!).
  • Focusing too much on bench press, which can become an addiction, isn’t going to build a bodybuilder type of chest.
  • Moving maximum weight from point A to B robs you of the true muscle building process of the exercise.

Bodybuilder James Grage explains more on why bench press isn’t the best exercise for building your chest muscles in the video from his advanced training guides:

*Another point James brings up is you need to train your chest from different angles due to the different paths of the muscle fibers in your chest. I have another helpful post that explains how to target those different angles here: How To Build Your Chest From Every Angle

To Bench Or Not To Bench

The issue with bench press really isn’t the actual exercise. It has more to do with how the exercise is performed.

I assume by reading this that your ultimate goal is to build a bigger chest. You want to build mass and shape those muscles. Sure, also want to be strong with a ‘big bench.’ But that’s just a ‘side effect’ of bench pressing.

As a bodybuilder, your goal is building muscle tissue over strength gains. And if you’re serious about adding muscle mass, you’ll have to check your ego at the door, which is difficult to do when it comes to bench press.

That being said, you can incorporate traditional bench press into your bodybuilding workouts.

But you can also build a huge chest without bench press. I’m going to show you how to do both!

Bodybuilding Chest Workouts

chest exercises: cable flyes crossovers

You’ve probably noticed that your chest gets exhausted before other large muscle groups, such as your legs, back, and even shoulders.

This happens naturally because your chest really isn’t a large muscle. But we train it like it is. Again, that goes back to the fetish with being able to bench press a ton of weight.

These 2 workouts are bodybuilding workouts, meaning the primary goal is to build and shape your chest muscles. As I mentioned earlier, one includes the traditional flat bench press and the other does not.

Chest Workout Without Bench Press

No bench press? No problem! But this doesn’t mean you’re not going to do a pressing exercise.

Instead of traditional bench press, you’re going to focus more on incline chest exercises.

I actually have another article on why you should focus on upper chest here: Upper Chest Workout for Building a Bodybuilder Chest

Incline exercises allow you to better target your chest muscles than flat bench press. This is because incline exercises are more strict and eliminate some of the assisting muscles you would use for regular bench press.

You’ll also see some isolation movements like various types of flyes. These exercises can really help shape and define your chest muscles.

ExerciseSets x Reps
Pec Dec Flyes
(used to pre-exhaust your chest)
3 x 12
Incline Barbell Press4 x 8
Decline Dumbbell Press4 x 10
Incline Dumbbell Flyes4 x 12
Dumbbell Pullovers3 x 12

Chest Workout With Bench Press

This workout includes the bench press. And this is more along the lines of what many call a powerbuilding workout.

Powerbuilding is one of my personal favorite styles of training. You’re performing a major compound lift at the beginning of your workout, then you move on to doing more reps and a variety of exercises that focus more on the muscle being trained.

Similar to the workout above that excludes the bench press, you’ll be mixing in other exercises that really hone in on building your pecs.

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press4 x 5-6
Incline Dumbbell Press4 x 8
Cable Crossovers4 x 10
Hammer Strength Incline Press
(unilateral)
3 x 12
Dumbbell Flyes3 x 12

I also encourage you to throw in ways to make your workouts more intense like drop sets, supersets, and rest-pause sets. This will help you break down your chest muscles even more so that your chest can grow bigger.

You can read more about these types of techniques in my post: 7 Techniques That Increase Intensity

Final Verdict on Bench Press for Bodybuilding

I don’t want you to walk away from this thinking that bench press has no place in bodybuilding, or that it’s not a good exercise for building muscle.

Bench press will indeed help you pack on muscle, and in fact, it should an exercise used to build your foundation for both strength and mass.

However, if you’re a seasoned bodybuilder or weightlifter who already has built decent size, then you could leave bench press out for a while and still develop an awesome chest.

This is especially true if you have a lot of body fat to lose around your chest area (or between your chest and lats, which is where guys tend to hold fat…and that’s such an annoying place to have fat!).

If that’s you, you may want to focus more on the first type of workout I gave you without bench press. That’s going to help you tighten up those areas and really define your chest, assuming that you’re on top of your diet and cardio (yes I know…you didn’t want to hear that!).

But if you’re just starting out and still building a foundation of mass, then you should include bench press in your workout routines.

Because that along with squat and deadlifts play a crucial role in how much quality muscle you can gain, and the future of your physique. Build the mass first, then you can work on defining it later.

I hope this article sheds some light on how to build a big chest. And I hope it answered your questions about using bench press for bodybuilding.

**If you’re ready to start an intense 12-week program, check out my premium programs below:

Hardcore Muscle Building Program
Lean Muscle Building Program

Train with Passion,

Jason

About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!