Top 5 Bench Press Variations

Getting an awesome bench press max may be a big driving factor in inspiring people down the path of powerlifting programs for strength training. While throwing multiple sewer caps on a bar and knocking out heavy reps really gets the juices going for some of us, you may find yourself in a situation where you want to do something OTHER than bench press.

For starters, you are running a powerlifting program, but you aren’t actually a powerlifter. That is fine, I actually fall into this boat too. I personally feel that a lot of the 4 day structures of many basic powerlifting programs can be the backbone to some of the best functional sports training methods. While I still do bench press, I don’t really NEED to bench press, I just like it. But it is important to remember that if you are using a 4 day split as the basis for a non-powerlifting sport strength training program, all you really need is a “horizontal push” motor pattern. Bench press is the easy answer. But not the only answer.

Other people may have ability or mobility issues. While bench press is one of the most effective tools for building upper body strength and mass, some folks simply can not perform the movement safely. And it would be absolutely irresponsible to recommend someone just “suck it up” and make it work. Strength training should be a method to get stronger and improve yourself, not put yourself on the path to injury. If a flat barbell bench causes joint pain, then an alternative horizontal push is in order. And if you are just getting started with strength training and you can not perform a weighted bench press, another horizontal push is needed.

And finally, those of you who ARE interested in powerlifting (if you’re still reading, I didnt forget) then assistance work is always needed. Variations of the main movements will only help develop strength and motor unit recruitment to eke those numbers up a bit.

If you fit these categories (which is everyone), the 5 BEST Bench Press Variations:

    1. Incline Bench Press – Especially helpful to incorporate a shoulders more into your push, and strong shoulders will boost your bench more than you expect.
      How To: Barbell Incline Chest Press (from ScottHermanFitness)
    1. Decline Bench Press – I won’t lie, I am personally not a fan. But its great for the ego, as a shortened range of motion will help load big weights and prepare your body to lock out with heavier weights than your regular bench might allow.
      Instructional Fitness – Decline Bench Press (from Instructionalfitness)
    1. Dumbbell Bench – This is a 3-in-1 answer, (but “5 Best…” sounds a lot better than “7 Best…”) as you can utilize dumbbells for flat, incline or decline. Dumbbells are ideal if there is shoulder or wrist mobility issues, and also ideal as assistance to address imbalances.
      Dumbbell Bench Press (BETTER CHEST ACTIVATION!) (from Athlean-X)
    1. Floor Press – An effective tool if 1) you have shoulder mobility issues that limit range of motion, or 2) need to develop lockout strength, or 3) are in such an unfortunate position in life that you do not have access to a bench.
      Strength Camp eCoach: Floor Press (from Elliott Hulse’s Strength Camp)
    1. Push Up (with or without band resistance) – Its the most basic method for you to work on the horizontal push motor pattern. If you are JUST getting started with strength training and you can’t get effective work sets with a bar, start with pushups (same goes for if you are using it as assistance movement). Use bands for extra resistance, or to help with generating speed.
      How to Setup Band-Resisted Push-ups (from Diesel Strength and Conditioning)

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