Question: I have heard that the bench press is a crappy chest exercise. Is this true? If it sucks, what’s better?
Answer: The bench press is a great exercise. If you bench properly, there will be minimal pectoral involvement, however. The triceps and front delts will do most of the work. This is individual and is based on your strengths and weaknesses, but for the most part, your chest will not be doing the majority of the work when you bench press.
Trying to make the bench press target the pecs more by bringing your elbows out wide and lowering the bar up higher on your chest (the way that bodybuilding magazines typically show you how to do it) is a shoulder injury waiting to happen, so that’s not an option to even consider. I did these many years ago for a few months before I knew any better and my shoulder has never been the same since. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
Even though the pecs do not do the majority of work during the bench press I still think it’s is a tremendous, if somewhat overused, mass builder for the whole upper body. If you have shoulder issues, however, it should be avoided at all costs, but for everyone else it is one of the great upper-body exercises.
Equally as effective, if not more so, is the dumbbell bench press. The dumbbells allow a more natural range of motion and are much safer. These can be done on a flat bench or an incline bench. The dumbbells also give you the option of pressing with your palms facing down toward your feet (pronated) as they do when you press with a bar or with your palms facing each other, in toward your body. The latter variety places less stress on your shoulders but if you are healthy you could probably use both varieties.
Finally, pushups of all varieties will always remain among my top chest builders. My favorites are weighted blast-strap (blast straps are available at EliteFTS.com pushups with the straps set about five feet apart from each other. The function of the pecs is to draw the arms across the midline of the body. By setting the straps far apart from each other, you make the pecs function in this way as you press/pull yourself back up from the bottom position. You have to do it and feel it to appreciate what I’m talking about, but I don’t think you will find a better chest exercise than this. If, like Frank Rizzo of the Jerky Boys, you have a chest like a wet blanket, then I highly recommend you give this exercise a try.
By Jason Ferruggia