Try These Options to Invigorate Your Bench Press Workouts

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A U.S. Marine Corps corporal performs a bench press during the human health and performance initiative on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Justin Marsh, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, performs a bench press during the human health and performance initiative on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Oct. 16, 2023. (Lance Cpl. Kylie Lake/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Everyone loves the bench press. Most people start their fitness journey on a bench-press device and find the benefits of a bigger chest, shoulders and arms exactly what they were looking for.

Universally, bench press wins the competition, hands down, as to people's most-used or favorite exercise. In fact, Mondays are often called International Bench Press Day in many gyms, as you cannot find a bench anywhere on crowded gym days. There are convenient ways around this issue and ways to add to your bench press/chest day to make them even more useful.

Can't Find a Bench in Your Weight Room?

Try changing your split routines so you do not bench on Mondays like everyone else. Do legs. Have you ever noticed the squat racks are wide open on bench day?

If all the bench press racks are busy, go to the dumbbell section and do chest presses on both flat and incline benches. You can even do them on the floor. But if you need to work the chest and the gym is busy, try the dumbbell option.

Then there is the Suspension Trainer (TRX) Chest Day. If you have not used the TRX for exercises like chest presses, atomic push-ups, triceps extensions, rows and biceps curls, you should give it a try, as it is also my personal favorite to replace the bench press. One year, I replaced all bench press days with TRX push-ups for a 12-week cycle and had improvements in bodyweight bench press max reps tests.

Try These Combinations with Bench Press Workouts for Added Variety (Active Rests)

Many who are serious about lifting heavy will not want to do these types of bench press circuits, as the goal of heavy bench pressing requires more rest between sets. However, if you are working toward strength with a mix of muscle stamina, as most tactical athletes need, these push-pull combinations may be helpful to produce gains in muscle mass, strength and muscle stamina:

Bench + pull-ups: If you can move from the bench press to pull-up bars, try this. One way we achieve this is to slide a bench to the squat racks with pull-up bars. Doing a set of 5-10 reps on the bench press, followed by max pull-ups, is a classic push-pull combo that will pump you up quickly. Five sets of this two-exercise workout are a great addition to any push-pull goals.

Bench + dumbbell rows: If you find moving away from the bench risks someone else taking it from you, try adding dumbbell rows to the side of the bench press rack. Do a set of bench presses with dumbbells or barbells, and then turn around and kneel on the bench to do a bent-over row with the dumbbell placed under the bench.

Bench + abs: For years, I would "rest with ab exercises" between bench presses after I no longer was doing powerlifting as a sport. This not only helped with military fitness tests (sit-ups, crunches, plank pose) but was a nice active rest between sets of bench presses.

Bench press 5 x 5: A classic bench press workout is the 5 x 5 at 75%-80% of your maximum effort lift. This time-tested workout will do the trick if you aim to gain strength or add size to your muscles. Sure, other rep/set schemes are more advanced, but if you want a solid foundation of strength (in any lift), the five sets of five reps at 75%-80% 1RM (1 rep max) is the key. The rest periods on these are up to you, but most people serious about lifting for pure strength will rest for 3-5 minutes between sets. That is a lot of time "resting," but it is needed to recover from the heavier max rep lifting.

The one thing to remember is that even though the bench press can be a favorite way to entice you into the gym, you cannot skip leg days. If you want to see real growth, working the bigger muscles of the legs, butt and back will help you much more than just doing the bench press alone.

As you journey into daily fitness, consider doing two upper-body days, two lower-body days and two cardio and mobility work days for a nice balanced routine.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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