The Playbook For The Modern Man

Strength Coaches Reveal How You Can Get A Bigger Chest Without Bench Pressing

Experts weigh in.

You know how it is: you’re in decent shape, lift regularly and have your gym routine down to a tee. So why change it?

Because you’ve been stuck benching the same weight since Bob Hawke was in office, maybe?

Whether you are a perennial underachiever, or recently hit a plateau in your training, pay attention to the advice of these personal trainers, as they explain the best way to go about hitting your next PB. Before we jump in, however, it’s important to understand why your gains have flat-lined.

Lack of progress in your bench press is often comes down to your body’s protective mechanisms. As strong as your chest may be, your body intuitively knows it lacks the structural strength (stabilising muscles etc.) to lift a certain weight.

Charles Poliquin, a world renowned strength coach, says it’s all about overcoming these neural inhibitions.

“Would you feel confident driving a Lamborghini at 200 mph knowing it is equipped with the brake system of a Skoda? Probably not.”

According to him, this is exactly why your body places neural inhibitions into action. “It serves the purpose of preserving your joints. If your biceps are too weak to protect your elbow from the blunt force of throwing a powerful punch, then your elbow is in trouble. And the body simply won’t allow that to happen.”

So what’s a guy to do? We spoke to Ben Lucas, personal trainer at (and owner of) Flow Athletic, and he emphasised the importance of maintaining appropriate strength ratios between muscles. Once you fix this, you will see your strength levels lift, as if by magic.

Specifically, he recommends the overhead press: “Presses are a great accessory exercise to help you improve your bench press because they utilize a variety of external rotation and rotator cuff work to make sure your shoulders stay healthy and balances. Shoulder press (military style) and pull ups carry over the best in my opinion.”

Other tips that may help you improve your press include:

Posture & Technique

Ben says the most important part of bench pressing is your set up. “When you lay on the bench, make sure your eyes are directly under the bar as this will help you set up the proper position and it will also help prevent the bar from hitting the pins when you are in the middle of a set.”

Fix Your Grip

 “Place the bar in the heel of your hands,” Ben says, “So that you can maintain a straighter wrist position. Your forearm should also line up directly under the bar. This will give you more strength and stability.”

Find Your Perfect Spot

According to Ben, “The bar should follow the same path on both the down and up movements. Make sure you are lowering the bar to mid- chest or the nipple line for full range of motion presses.”

Work On Your Abs, Traps & Lower Back 

This one plays into what we were discussing earlier – having a well-proportioned body and strength ratios. “If you want to move bigger loads, you need to ensure that you are stabilised and strong in these areas as you will need to recruit them more as the load gets bigger. Make sure you have good exercises to target these areas as well to make you stronger for your bench press,” Ben advises. 

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