More often than not, when we push something (or someone) away from us, we do it with one hand. Throwing and punching-type movements are likewise one-sided. Now the bench press is an iconic exercise, and often the only lying, pressing exercise many ever do.

If you are a guy, chances are that as soon as another guy knows you lift weights he’ll ask, how much can you bench? However, that doesn’t mean to say I think that the bench press is the start, middle and end of all pushing exercises. Here are some great alternatives for guys and girls – which are equally awesome exercises for your chest, shoulders and triceps.  

Press ups

Many (misinformed) exercisers look down on the lowly press-up and consider it an exercise that is best left to beginners. I disagree. Of all the pressing exercises, the press up is arguably the most natural and effective you can do. Firstly, press-ups are really a total body exercise. You have to keep your core tight, your joints properly aligned and even your legs get in on the act.

Your body moves through space, which really helps fire up your neural pathways and will enhance your coordination and proprioception and unlike the bench press, you can perform press-ups just about anywhere. Then there is the whole “press-ups are for beginners” thing.

Press-ups can be pretty easy if you perform standard versions or do them on your knees but try wearing a weighted vest, carefully resting weights across your shoulders, elevating your feet, using press up bars to increase shoulder range of movement, performing plyometric press, using resistance bands looped over your shoulders or doing one arm press ups, this will turn this so-called beginner exercise into a genuine giant killer.


Alternating dumbbell bench press

Performed on an incline, flat or decline bench, dumbbell bench presses require independent arm control – this will help develop more symmetrical strength and also improves coordination. The increased difficulty means that you can get a great training effect from lighter weights which results in less joint stress, that’s good news if you have beaten up shoulders like me.

Lie on your back on an exercise bench and press the weights to arms’ length over your chest. Keeping one arm straight, lower the opposite dumbbell down to lightly touch your shoulder. Drive it back up to full arm’s extension and then repeat the movement on your opposite arm. Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set. Follow the link for more dumbbell bench press exercises, specially targeted for womens’ chest.

Boxer press

Set yourself up as above, but this time place one foot on the bench. Your foot should be flat and your knee bent to 90-degrees. Hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand to the leg on the bench. Press the dumbbell from a position parallel to your shoulders through 90-degrees, so that it’s parallel to your shoulder. Lower under control and repeat.

Dumbbell squeeze press

Free weight exercises like the bench press must adhere to the laws of physics, specifically levers, gravity and force. Once your arms are fully extended, the weight being lifted is almost completely supported by your bones, which means your muscles get a brief but significant rest at the top of each rep.

The dumbbell squeeze press stops all that. Lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand and using a parallel grip, press the weights to arms’ length. Forcefully press the dumbbells together as hard as you can. This is your starting position.

Bend your arms and lower the dumbbells down to lightly touch the middle of your chest but keep pressing them together as hard as you can. Press the weights back up to arms’ length and repeat. Remember, keep pressing the dumbbells together as hard as you can throughout each rep of this exercise.

Don’t be surprised to find that a weight you normally press with ease presents a far greater challenge. Use a conservative load the first time you do the exercise to avoid getting into trouble and having to ask a stranger to help you extricate yourself from under the weights when you fail to complete your last rep! Try these dumbbell shoulder presses for another great dumbbell press workout.

Floor presses

Before the bench press became most exercisers go-to supine pressing exercise, there was the floor press. The floor press, as the name suggests, involves performing a pressing movement while lying on the floor.

Ok, this exercise does reduce the range of movement available at your shoulder. Normally, a reduced ROM is a bad thing but in this case it offers a couple of distinct advantages.

1. A reduced ROM takes the pressure off your shoulders. Overdeveloped pecs are often short, tight pecs, which means that more and more exercisers lack the prerequisite flexibility to perform regular bench presses properly and safely.

Bench pressing is a common cause of shoulder injuries. In addition, using a bench interferes with how your shoulder girdle retracts which significantly increases stress on your shoulder capsule. Floor pressing eliminates this problem.

2. The floor press prevents bouncing out of the bottom position, which is common in the bench press. Eliminating this elastic rebound means that each floor press rep is performed from a dead stop, which makes the exercise much harder than traditional bench pressing.

Floor presses also place an increased overload on your triceps as a result. Floor presses can be performed using a barbell, pairs or dumbbells or even a single kettlebell. For maximum benefit, strive to perform the same number of repetitions on each arm if you perform the single arm version. The floor press is one of 3 uncomplicated arm workouts for women you should check out if you enjoyed this exercise.

Single arm presses

More often than not, when we push something (or someone) away from us, we do it with one hand. Throwing and punching-type movements are likewise one-sided. Bench press and regular press ups train both arms simultaneously which means that if you are training for sport or even physically demanding everyday activities, one-limbed training makes sense.

This is where the single arm press comes in. The single arm press can be performed using a dumbbell or kettlebell and is performed much like a regular dumbbell bench press except you only use one arm at a time. The other arm should remain unloaded and uninvolved in the exercise except to provide balance.

Using only one limb at a time significantly increases rotational force through the spine. As you probably don’t want to roll sideways off the bench you are lying on, this means you have to brace your feet and more importantly, your core very hard to avoid unnecessary rotation. For all intents and purposes, this makes single arm presses very similar to one arm press ups.

If you try this exercise, don’t be surprised to find that you have to use significantly less than 50% or your normal training weight. While you should be able to simply use half of your normal weight, the anti-rotation element of this exercise adds a surprisingly demanding twist (pun intended!). I suggest starting with around 20% and built up from there.

For example, while I can bench press in excess of 100kg, 30kg is about all I can handle for five reps of single arm presses. As with the floor press, keep your elbow tucked into your ribs when performing the exercise. Letting your elbow drift away from your body will increase the rotational forces you have to deal with and further reduce the amount of weight you’ll be able to handle.

I really have nothing against the bench press, but variety is the spice of life and essential for continued improvements from your workouts.  For another fresh take on the bench press, try incline bench press exercises. These less common but still highly effective alternative exercises provide that variety and will allow you to challenge yourself in new ways.

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