Getting Away From the Bench Press

The most overrated chest exercise may well be the bench press. Here’s why this pro doesn’t think you need the bench to build bigger pecs.

December 24, 2012

By Craig Richardson, IFBB Pro

[Q] Craig, you have one of the stronger chests in the pros but is it true that you don’t bench press anymore? Why’s that?

[A] The answer is no, I don’t bench press anymore — I haven’t in about a decade. There are various reasons for that. First, in my opinion it’s just one of those ego exercises, and I don’t think you should do a movement just to show how much you can lift. People are always curious about how much I bench. They ask me how much I bench and I tell them I don’t bench press and they don’t believe me; in fact, it’s one of the most common questions that I get. But the reality is that for me, it can be an unsafe movement. I’ve seen a lot of guys tear up their shoulders and pecs doing the barbell bench press. So I just don’t like to bench because of the risk. People will say “Craig, you can get this unbelievably massive chest by benching!” Personally, I’ve never noticed a difference between using the barbell, a machine or dumbbells when it comes to development but the machines and dumbbells are safer. So there’s no need to put myself at risk if I don’t have to.

[Q] I’m not a fan of the barbell bench press. Couldn’t I just build a mass routine going heavy on all flye movements like pec-deck, dumbbell flyes and cable crossovers?

[A] No, definitely not. Unless you’re one of those rare genetic freaks who can grow from doing anything, you want to have some kind of compound (multijoint) movement as the foundation of your mass program. I think that applies to any bodypart — do at least one big heavy move before your isolation work. Even if it’s just one. I don’t think you can put on much mass just by doing strictly single-joint exercises. To put on thick, dense muscle, you have to go heavy, and that means including some kind of press. I usually start with dumbbell incline presses or incline presses on a Smith.


[Q] I don’t always get sore in my upper pecs after doing incline presses but my front delts are thoroughly pumped. I must be doing something wrong.

[A] Not surprisingly, you’re using your front delts a little too much. Even some pros have this problem. You’re probably extending all the way up at the top of the movement and you’re letting your chest “cave in” a bit. Get your position in the seat first, your back slightly arched and chest up. Stop the bar about an inch from the top of your chest and press about three-quarters of the way up — but not all the way. That way, your upper pecs are the main mover and remain engaged the entire time. To reduce my front delts’ contribution, I just limit the range of motion a bit. You might also try a slightly less inclined bench.

[Q] What are your thoughts about bodyweight moves like dips and push-ups for building chest detail?

[A] I definitely believe they work but I always think they should be done at the end of your workout. I don’t think you benefit from them so much at the beginning because you won’t fatigue in a lower rep range. Once your pecs are fully exhausted, moves like push-ups and dips are great for getting the rest of those fibers spent. I like the machine dip, but I do them at the end of my chest session so that I can use a little less weight and focus on my pecs instead of doing it earlier with bigger weight, which would require more support from muscles like my delts and triceps.


Craig's Top Moves for Chest

No flat bench barbells are on this list

Smith-Machine Incline Press: “This offers a safer, smoother range of motion than the traditional barbell.”
Incline Dumbbell Press: “These give me a good stretch and each side has to work on its own.”
Decline Dumbbell Press: “I’ll do these with a barbell, too, but I prefer dumbbells.”
Smith-Machine Decline Press: “It’s tougher to set this one up but it’s worth it.”
Smith-Machine High-Neck Press: “I go a little lighter on these but you really feel these in the top portion of your upper pecs.”
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press: “I like to do these occasionally to get my flat-bench work.”