How to Build Your Chest Without Bench Pressing – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

Outside of the Box Training for Pecs

If your shoulders and joints are angry, or the traditional bench press has never given you great results, try these six effective chest builders.

Some lifters can build their chests just by looking at a bench press. For others,
standard presses and dips just lead to lackluster development and angry shoulders.

The smart lifter selects exercises that best suit his individual needs and give him a good return on investment. Does the lift give you a pump? Can you feel the muscle working? Does it fit your anthropometry? Are you getting stronger with it? If not, it’s time to reassess. You don’t have to be married to any specific exercise.

Here are six atypical methods to shake up your chest training.

1. Chaos Flye

Traditional flyes have never really jived for me. All they ever did was irritate my shoulders and pec tendons with minimal chest hypertrophy for the trouble. When an elbow problem limited my ability to do traditional horizontal push exercises, I gave flyes another chance. Chaos flyes were born.

Double loop a resistance band through a pair of kettlebells or weight plates. Lie on a low incline or flat bench. Keep a slight bend in the elbows and think about hugging a barrel as you raise your arms upwards. Finish by flexing your pecs hard at the top with straight arms. Reverse the movement, maintaining an elbow bend at the bottom while getting a good chest stretch.

The instability of the oscillating weights encourages you to stay diligent with your form. And with the load dangling below your hands rather than in your grasp, it’s a little friendlier to the shoulders in the bottom stretched position. Also, with the weights hanging outside the arms, the chest needs to actively contract at the top.

For a flye-press hybrid (as seen near the end of the set), increase the amount of elbow bend, which allows you to use more weight or extend a set as fatigue sets in. Do 8 to 20 reps.

2. Bear Hug Carry

The bear hug carry with a heavy sandbag or medicine ball builds work capacity and total body strength. In the traditional version, the hands are clasped, or one wrist is held by the other hand. For a potent chest stimulus, try the hands-free version.

Bring the bag or ball to chest or abdomen height and crush your arms together without locking your hands. This requires a strong isometric contraction from the chest to hold the weight in place. For an added challenge, do some hip hinges as well.

Do these for distance or time. Carries of 30 to 60 seconds or 20 to 80 meters work well, usually near the end of an upper-body workout.

3. Bridge Press to Floor Press Negatives

For anyone with decent mileage on their shoulders, the floor press is a great bench press alternative. While the floor press is favorable to joint health, the shortened range of motion may mean you’re leaving some muscular development on the table. Combine it with a floor bridge press to squeeze as much as you can from this exercise.

While lying on the ground, unrack a barbell and lower it under control until your triceps graze the floor. At the bottom, bridge your hips up and press the bar back to lockout. At the top, lower your hips back to the floor so that your back is flush with the floor again.

You’re essentially turning yourself into a human decline bench for the pressing portion of the lift. Since the decline angle is a stronger position to press from, use a heavier weight than you’d normally use for the floor press. This allows you to accentuate the eccentric portion, subjecting the chest to more stress.

This is also a great way to blast through a floor press plateau. Do 4 to 10 reps per set.

4. Upgraded Squeeze Press

The squeeze press develops a mind-muscle connection with the chest and stresses the horizontal adduction function of the pecs. Make it even better by using kettlebells instead of dumbbells.

With the offset nature of the kettlebell weight against your forearms, your hands want to pull apart as you press. You’ll need to consciously crush the kettlebells together throughout the entire rep to counteract this pull, creating an intense chest contraction.

Experiment with a flat, slight decline, and slightly inclined bench angles to see what feels best for you. For an additional challenge, try the kettlebell squeeze press to negative kettlebell flye. Do 12 or more reps for each set.

5. Around the World

This is a largely forgotten gem from bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl. Think of it as a loaded snow angel.

Lie down on a bench with a pair of light dumbbells. Initially, your palms should be facing each other, the weights at hip level, and the arms slightly bent. Move your arms out to the sides in a circular fashion. As you do, rotate your hands so that your palms face the ceiling and your arms end up overhead.

Reverse the motion to complete the rep, squeezing the pecs hard at the end. The pecs must actively resist through a unique range of motion. This exercise nicely stretches the shoulders as well. Keep the reps high and do them at the end of an upper-body session when you’re pumped and thoroughly warmed up.

6. Lumberjack Squat

Yes, squats for chest development. Hear me out! When you do a tough set of lumberjack squats with a landmine (on Amazon), you quickly realize the upper body plays an important part. Holding the barbell sleeve at collarbone height by crushing the hands together creates a unique demand on the chest. It requires a very strong isometric contraction and aids in developing a mind-muscle connection. Remember, if you can’t wire it, you can’t fire it.

These are great on their own as a heavy set of 8 to 20 reps, or superset them with another pressing movement with the same rep range. Try the pre-exhaust method by performing the squats first and immediately following up with a dumbbell bench press with the triceps fresh to assist. Or flip the sequence and do a post-exhaustion set, finishing with squats after the pressing movement.

While these may not be the deciding factor in growing your chest, it’s a lesson in being aware of how your overall exercise selection has secondary benefits for lagging muscles.




  1. Pearl, Bill (1982). Keys to the inner universe. L.R. Perry Jr. (Ed.). Bill Pearl Enterprises Incorporated.

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