The Bench Press is probably the most over-emphasized exercise in athletes' workouts. Although it's important to an extent, too many young athletes fall into the "how much can you bench?" mindset, forgetting what it means to train as an athlete.
If you work too much on your Bench Press, your muscles will adapt to the exercise and eventually settle into a progress-sapping plateau. Also, the Bench Press only hits your chest from one angle. In sports, you rarely press only straight ahead, so it's critical to incorporate exercises that engage different areas of the pecs and shoulders.
Sure, it's advantageous to perform the Bench Press, but don't forget to perform other chest exercises that will help you get an overall stronger upper body. Remember to perform at least one back exercise for every chest exercise.
Dumbbell Incline Press
Start/Finish Position: Sit down on seat pad of bench, lie back against back pad and place feet flat on floor or footrest.
Description: Lower dumbbells under control to upper part of chest. Without bouncing weight off chest, push dumbbells up to start position with arms nearly straight. Experiment with various incline angles, and notice how each angle has a different feel.
Suggested Routine: Perform 10-12 reps at a 65-degree angle (nearly upright). Immediately lower the angle to 45 degrees and perform 10 reps. Again, lower the angle to 35 degrees and perform 10 repetitions. Finish with 10 reps with the bench completely flat. Use the same dumbbells for each set.
Watch BMX Pro Rider Kevin Robinson demonstrate the Dumbbell Incline Press.
Start/Finish Position: Lie prone on floor, straighten legs and curl toes under feet. Place palms on floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
Description: Push body up until arms are almost completely straight. Pause briefly, then lower body under control to start/finish position (chest near floor).
Suggested Routine: Perform each repetition on a 10-second cadence: 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down. For added intensity, try to "squeeze the floor" by pushing your hands together. Of course your hands will not move, but this increases chest muscle recruitment. Perform as many repetitions as you can.
Learn more about the muscle-building benefits of slower sets.
Start/Finish Position: Grasp dip handles with palms facing each other. Bend arms so that upper arms are roughly parallel to floor. Lift feet off floor, bend knees and cross ankles.
Description: Push body up until arms are almost completely straight. Pause briefly, then lower body under control to start/finish position.
Suggested Routine: Perform as many consecutive Dips as you can with proper form. Continue completing maximum number of sets until you complete 50 total Dips. Although you will be performing high reps, do not rush the exercise. Each repetition must be performed under control.
Use Weighted Dips for more of a challenge.
Vertical Chest Press Machine
Start/Finish Position: Sit with back on pad and feet flat on floor. Grasp handles with hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
Description: Lower handles to chest under control until hands almost touch chest. Without bouncing, push handles away to start/finish position with arms nearly straight.
Suggested Routine: Choose a weight with which you can perform 12 reps on your first set (should cause fatigue). Rest 30 seconds, then perform a second set of 6 reps. Rest another 30 seconds, and perform a third set of 3 reps. If you are able to exceed these rep goals, increase the weight.
Do not perform these exercises during a single workout. These are very challenging and can lead to overtraining if you perform them too frequently. Instead, perform one of the exercises during each upper-body workout. You will notice large increases in your strength.
Check out STACK's Chest Exercise Library for more creative chest exercises.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock