Do you have to vary your exercises regularly? Not really, especially not as long as you make progress. But to keep making progress,you sometimes need to do more volume and thus add new exercises. In addition, you sometimes want to accentuate a certain part of a muscle. Finally, injuries can force you to do other exercises. That is why we regularly present you less well-known exercises that are nevertheless very effective. This time we do it for the chest.
1. BENT-OVER SINGLE-ARM CHEST PRESS
The biggest flaw of the barbell bench press is that you only activate one function of the chest muscles, namely moving your arms forward. With the dumbbell chest press you also use the other function of the chest: bringing the arms together. That is why this exercise is preferable to the barbell bench press, if you specifically want to train your chest.
However, the dumbbell chest press also has its limitations: it is not possible to cross the arms. After all, you bring two dumbbells together and that actually forms a limitation in the range of motion, the range of motion (ROM). In fact, the heavier the weight you use, the bigger the dumbbells, the smaller the ROM. You could overcome this by doing the exercise unilaterally, side by side, but especially with heavy weights you will be in an unstable, risky position. The bent-over single-arm chest press is a safer and more effective alternative.
You perform this exercise leaning forward using a cable machine. You make the same movement as with the dumbbell chest press, namely moving the weight forward (in this case downwards) and at the same time turning inwards. But now you have the opportunity to extend the movement a bit further, past the center of your chest. These extra centimeters make a big difference in the activation of your pecs. Plus, this exercise allows you to go heavy without having to worry about coordinating and balancing the weights, like the lying dumbbell variation.
2. ONE-ARMED FLY
You can also perform flyes, lying or standing, with one arm, which has the advantage that you can increase the ROM even further, by moving well past the center of your chest. In principle, you can also achieve this with two arms by having your arms cross each other (this is how some interpret the name cable crossovers), but this creates the undesirable situation that you do not perform the exercise completely symmetrically. In addition, your chest muscles are squeezed together. As a result, you still do not reach the maximum achievable ROM or the maximum achievable contraction of your chest muscles.
The solution lies in a one-armed version, which allows you to extend the movement further:
Grab even more chest? The role of the shoulders and triceps can be minimized by keeping your elbow in the starting position at an angle of roughly 90 degrees:
3. DUAL CABLE UCV RAISE
The UCV raise comes from bodybuilding coach Jeff Cavaliere. The move is specifically designed to work the top of the pectoralis major.
With the UCV raise you move in the direction in which the muscle fibers are located (which are different than in the bottom of the chest) and as far as possible, for maximum contraction of the muscle. So you also enjoy the benefit of the previous exercise, moving past the center of the chest.
4. FLOOR PRESS
The floor press is in fact the archetype of the bench press, dating from the time when there were no training benches yet. But it still makes sense to do this exercise, despite the ROM being limited by the floor.
The exercise has a number of specific advantages. Lying on the floor, you cannot use a leg drive. You can’t let the bar bounce off your chest either. The biggest and most important advantage, however, is that the limited ROM allows you to specifically practice the lockout phase of the bench press, which is mainly a triceps affair. For example, the floor press is an important auxiliary exercise for the bench press and also a great exercise in itself for larger triceps. Finally, for people with shoulder problems, the floor press is a way to relieve the shoulders and in this sense a good alternative to the bench press.
It is safest and easiest to do the floor press in or outside a power rack, where you can lift the bar from the J-hooks.
5. DUMBBELL PULLOVER
We assume that most advanced bodybuilders are familiar with this old school exercise. On the other hand, we rarely see it performed in our gym. That’s why we include dumbbell pullover, an Arnold Schwarzenegger favorite, on this list as well. With the pullover you stimulate your chest muscles in a completely different way than with presses and flyes. That is precisely what makes the exercise such a valuable addition to your chest training. Because you can still push and butterfly so much, the basic movements are always the same. With the pullover you appeal to a function of the chest that is not affected by presses and flyes, namely stretching the upper arms.
Yes, pullovers also involve your ‘lats’ (the broad back muscle), but only as an auxiliary muscle. Moreover, you can ‘tweak’ the performance in such a way that you either make it a real lats exercise or a real chest exercise.
To put minimum strain on the lats and maximum strain on the chest, do the following:
1. Grab the dumbbell and turn your elbows out as demonstrated in the video below. This ensures internal rotation of the shoulders, which mainly activates your chest muscles. Keeping your elbows in (see below) causes external rotation of your shoulders, which activates especially your lats.
2. Limit the range of motion from the back of your head to above your chest. Do not stretch further back, but also do not move the dumbbell further forward than the point where it is above your chest. See the gif below (full video here).
3. Make sure you have optimal tension on your chest as you bring the dumbbell back up. You can do this by pressing your hands together hard, as if you were about to squeeze the dumbbell – a tip from YouTube coach Jeff Cavaliere; see the video below. Or by trying to hit the ceiling with the dumbbell. That’s a tip from another contemporary pullover preacher, Christian Thibaudeau.
6. ECCENTRIC MACHINE PRESS
The chest press machine is less ‘compound’ than, for example, the barbell bench press: you use fewer (different) muscles and the hormone production as a result of the exercise (including growth hormone and testosterone) is less. Still, as far as we’re concerned, devices definitely deserve a place in hypertrophy training. They make it easier to isolate your target muscle, in this case the chest. In addition, you can more easily perform tricks with machines to stimulate muscle growth. Doing drop sets, for example, which is faster with devices because you only have to insert a pin.
Another ‘trick’ is enhanced training according to the principle of 2:1 accentuated eccentrics (the 2/1 technique). Here you enter the eccentric (or negative) phase of an exercise is heavier than the concentric one, because you do the concentric phase bilaterally (as usual), while you do the eccentric unilaterally, so with only one arm or leg. The method is based on the fact that you are stronger in the eccentric phase than in the concentric phase: 1.75 times stronger on average.
With the chest press, the 2/1 technique looks like this: you press with both arms (the concentric phase), but leave one out when you let the weight go back (the eccentric phase). This allows you to use twice as much weight eccentrically as normal! However, do not run too fast from (weight) pile and slowly build up the eccentric training stress.
7. DUMBBELL SQUEEZE PRESS
With this variation on the dumbbell press, you make full use of two functions of the chest muscles, namely both moving the shoulders forward (press) and turning them inward (squeezing).
The set-up of the squeeze press is like that of a regular dumbbell press. But now, hold and press the dumbbells together, palms facing each other. You do this by squeezing your chest muscles together as hard as possible. You hold that squeeze throughout the entire movement, which should be relatively slow, especially in the eccentric (downward) phase. This way you increase the time under tension, keeping the muscles under tension.
Disadvantage: you can really only perform the exercise well with a hexagon dumbbell, such a hexagonal case, as in the video. That’s why the exercise is also called ‘hex press’. Another possibility is power blocks. If you are forced to do the exercise with regular dumbbells, ideally place a foam rubber cushion between the dumbbells.
8. REVERSE GRIP BENCH PRESS
Those who often, heavily and often bench press, often suffer from shoulder, elbow and wrist complaints. Weights of one and a half times your body weight or more are simply very taxing on your joints. The reverse-grip bench press has a preventive and healing effect on these types of complaints. By using an underhand grip, the shoulders turn outward instead of inward, which is much less taxing for this muscle group.
At the same time, the emphasis shifts to the upper chest. The reverse-grip bench press is said to be up to six times more effective for the upper chest than the underhand incline bench press! Highly recommended if you want to emphasize this part of the chest and at the same time spare your shoulders.
9. UNDERHAND CABLE CHEST PRESS
This is actually a variation of the reverse-grip bench press, because you press underhand, largely sidelining the shoulders and emphasizing the top of your chest. You start the exercise with your elbows directly at your sides, so with an underhand grip. From there, move up and in at the same time, until your hands are level with your chin.
Besides the fact that this exercise may be easier and safer to perform than the reverse-grip bench press, you also enjoy the advantage that you move the arms towards each other and thereby put extra tension on the chest muscles.
10. LANDMINE CHEST PRESS
The landmine chest press is a less common, but no less effective exercise for the upper chest. We feel the ‘upper pecs’ work more with this exercise than with the incline bench press. The difference between the two exercises is in the grip and grip width.
For the landmine press you need a landmine – also called a ‘core trainer’ – and a barbell bar with weight plates. But you can also ‘just’ place the bar in a corner.
You perform the exercise by sitting on your knees and grasping the thick end of the bar, the so-called sleeves, with folded hands. Your upper body leans slightly forward. Now push the bar up and away from you, extending your arms fully. Then lower the weight in a controlled manner by bending your arms.
Practical tip: rest the weight on an elevation such as a training bench. This makes it easier to get into the starting position.
As a pressure exercise for your upper chest, the landmine press is an alternative to the incline bench press.
11. SWISS BALL SQUEEZE
Flyes are the best-known chest isolation exercise. Unlike bench press, your elbow joint and triceps are sidelined, leaving your pecs doing all the work. In addition, you use your chest muscles according to their primary function, which is the horizontal adduction of the shoulder joint. In other words, moving your elbows together in front of your chest. Therein lies the power of flyes. Plus, the ROM is greater, allowing your pecs to stretch and contract to the max.
The disadvantage of flyes, especially if you do them often, is that you may put too much strain on your shoulder joints in the long run. The Swiss Ball Squeeze protects your shoulder joints, which is beneficial for people with shoulder problems. All you do is squeeze your pecs and you can feel it! In addition, you train your chest muscles statically in this way. As a result, there is an isometric muscle contraction in which the muscle neither lengthens nor shortens. The key word in this exercise is ‘TUT’, or time under tension, the total time that a muscle is under tension during a set.
The implementation is simple. You stand up straight with a swiss ball between your elbows. Your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Pretend to make a pecdeck move and squeeze the ball as hard as you can. Hold this position for a while. Use a large ball: Your elbows should be wider than shoulder-width when you’re squeezing the ball hardest. Start with 20 seconds of squeezing and add five seconds to each workout. Take a 60 second break. After a few weeks, you can hold the squeeze position for a minute. After that you can go for the 100 seconds and/or for shorter rests.
You can do this exercise as a finisher, after your regular chest workout. But also in between other chest exercises or even as a stand-alone mini session.
The swiss ball squeeze is by the way of the American top coach and author Chad Waterbury.
12. GIRONDA DIPS
Gironda dips are named after coach Vince ‘The Iron Guru’ Gironda, who was known for his unorthodox, often controversial ideas about training. He did his barbell bicep curls with a twist and also gave a twist to conventional dips. His way of dipping, ‘Gironda dips’, focuses emphatically on the chest and tries to eliminate the role of the triceps as much as possible.
Gironda dips are not performed between parallel dip bars, but V-shaped bars that run from narrow to wide. Tip: If you can’t find these dip bars in your gym, you can place two barbells on the safety bars of a power rack. You perform the dips at the end of the bars, where the distance between the bars is greatest and you can handle the widest grip possible. You lean forward, your legs point forward, so your head is directly above your feet and your elbows point out as far as possible. You can also turn your back to the narrower part of the V and adjust your grip with your palms facing out. This feels a bit more comfortable on your wrists.
If the exercise is too stressful for your shoulder joint, we recommend a slightly narrower grip and also not to dip past parallel. In short, don’t let your shoulders extend past your elbows.