No Bench, No Barbell, No Cables - No Problem! Building Huge Pecs in an Unconventional Way

Written by Tim Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT


We here at Fit Deals know how much you miss the gym at this time.  While it seemed to be just the other day when fitness facilities en masse would be allowed to re-open, the unfortunate reality is that many of them are still closed (or allowed extremely limited engagement).  Yes, it sucks, it’s been going on for far too long, and you need to recover lost gains and get moving ahead in your fitness regimen pronto, but without access to heavy barbells, benches and cables, how on earth can this be done?  We’re glad you’re with us today, because in fact, there are ways in which you can use limited, lighter pieces of equipment to stimulate pectoral muscle growth.  You just have to think outside the box a little, but the plan herein will work regardless if you’re a beginner or a pro.  The following is an unconventional solution for training your chest which you likely haven’t considered.

Okay, so you’re not able to work out in the gym, and oh, how you miss your beloved bench press.  Well, take our advice and dust off a pair of dumbbells – say anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds each – and hit the floor.  Yes, literally.  Lie with your body elongated, facing up from the floor, and hold the dumbbells using an overhand grip (in a similar way to how you would usually grasp a barbell), and initiate a 90-degree bend at your elbows.   

Since you’re on the floor, rather than a bench, obviously your forearms are going to hit the floor rather than sink lower than the plane of your chest, so your range of motion will be limited.  However, this is not to say you still can’t get muscular activation for roughly the top 67 percent of what you could in the bench press.  In the peak position, you simply need bring the weights closer together such that your wrists move into the plane of your shoulders – something you can’t do with a barbell.  In this way, the ultimate peak position is actually higher than that of the bench press.

Now then, we know immediately what you’re going to say: performing reps like this is way too easy.  We get that, but we’re not done yet.  For the purpose of muscle hypertrophy (growth), there are ways in which you can tax your fibres harder and set them up for the growth you seek.  The secret to this is slow negatives, bottom and top holds, and explosive positives.

What this means is that once you’ve established your desired number of reps (for growth, the most ideal range is between 8 and 12 reps), you can begin with a slow negative that brings the weight down to the bottom over the course of a full five seconds.  In the bottom position hovering just above the floor, hold the weights isometrically (without movement) for three seconds, then immediately press them as explosively as you can.  Lastly, when you’re in the top position, hold for another three seconds.     

What’s at work here is the principle of time under tension, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Notice as you progress through a set of such reps, how quickly you start to feel your arms quiver and tremble from the enormous stimulation.  Let’s be honest: although you may be substituting a 200-pound bench press for a set of 10 reps of 20-pound floor presses, you’re going to notice a great deal of similarity in your strength and growth results!

If you really want to build up your pecs and wish to perform a complementary exercise, then use dumbbell floor flyes immediately following the floor presses.  Simply hold out the weights at length to your sides and curl them in an inward, upward motion in the same manner you would on a bench.  Despite the slight reduction in range of motion, you’ll absolutely feel one serious burn!

So until such time as you’re able to get back to your normal routine, continue to think outside the box and remember that there are always methods to leveraging lighter, limited equipment for successful gains.

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