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While the bench press trains the chest, shoulders, and triceps, many lifters also include other exercises to isolate the chest even further.
However, if you didn’t have time to do other chest exercises or couldn’t access additional equipment outside benching, would your chest development begin to fade?
Here’s my quick answer:
Is the bench press good enough for the chest? The bench press is good enough for your chest if you're an advanced lifter, a lifter with time restrictions, or someone who struggles with recovery. But, lifters who are weak at the bottom of the bench press, have physique goals, or are just starting out, should include additional chest training.
If you have decided to only bench press for chest, then you will want to incorporate days with a wider grip, increased range of motion, or a reduced arch as these will help increase the loading of your chest. We’ll discuss these tips further below.
Bench Press For Chest: Pros and Cons
- Training Is Quicker: By only benching for chest, you will get through your training quicker. Performing 2-3 extra exercises for your chest will add to the length of your sessions, which may take away from other aspects of your schedule.
- Recovery Will Be Better: Higher training frequencies can lead to muscle soreness carrying over between sessions, by only benching for chest you will improve your overall recovery compared to doing 2-3 extra exercises. This can be especially important for powerlifters that may be benching 3 or more times per week as you are less likely to come into the next bench session under recovered.
- You Chest May Be Weaker: The bottom range of the bench press is heavily dependent on the chest, a weak chest could cause you to fail during the bottom range of motion. This is especially prominent in beginners and those with shorter training history that will have less developed musculature.
- You Are Neglecting The Clavicular Head: The Clavicular head is the muscle at the top of your chest, originating at the clavicle (your collar bone). It creates that big upper chest appearance, for those with physique goals this can be important. Only bench pressing for chest can leave this part of the chest underdeveloped and a weak point in your physique.
Is Bench Press Good Enough For Triceps? Check out our other article.
Want to improve your bench press technique?
Who Should Only Bench Press For Chest?
There are several cases where you should only bench press for chest:
- Those With Less Time To Train
- Lifters That Don’t Have Access To Varied Equipment
- Lifters That Feel Under-Recovered
- Advanced Lifters
Those With Less Time To Train
Busy schedules, work or study and social lives can reduce the time we have to spend in the gym.
When external demands are higher, reducing your chest training to only bench press may be optimal as it will save you time to invest elsewhere.
Saving time during the holidays and other social events, exam seasons for students, or end of year work deadlines can be crucial for many individuals.
In these cases, the bench press is good enough for chest.
Maintaining muscle and strength is far easier than building them up initially so periods of only benching for chest will be more than sufficient.
Lifters That Don’t Have Access To Varied Equipment
Home and garage gyms are becoming a more frequent option for many lifters.
As are more specialist gyms, often focusing on kit that benefits their target demographic most. Powerlifting gyms investing in more combo-racks before a cable machine, or CrossFit boxes that are exclusively rigs and barbell set ups.
This can reduce the options you have for training your chest.
However, there are several exercises you can do with a barbell and bench set up or no equipment at all:
- Push Ups – Bodyweight push ups can be progressed by placing a plate on your back.
- Plate Flys – You will be limited to the heaviest plate you have available (20-25kg for most) so performing these with higher repetitions (15-20) may be ideal.
- Incline Press – Even with a standard flat bench, you can elevate one end using a box or equivalent.
Lifters That Feel Under-Recovered
Starting your bench session with soreness or aching is never great but can also be a sign you are doing too much in the session prior.
If you are commonly coming into your next bench or upper body session with a sore chest, it’s likely you are doing too much additional chest work.
In this case the bench press is enough for training the chest.
Powerlifters benching with a higher frequency, 3-5 times a week, may also find that only bench pressing is enough for chest as the time between sessions is shorter and therefore so is the recovery period.
Advanced lifters often do not need more than the bench press for chest.
Longer training history tends to lead to a stronger bench press and more developed musculature.
As advanced lifters will have a better understanding of their own weaknesses, they can make more educated decisions as to where they may need more training.
If the chest is not one of their weaknesses physically or within the bench press, they may choose to prioritise their development elsewhere.
Who Should Do More Than Bench Press For Chest?
There are several cases where you should do more than bench press for chest:
- Lifters That Fail The Bench Press Just Off The Chest
- Those That Want To Develop Their Physique
- Beginner Lifters
- Powerlifters With Big Arches
Check out my other article discussing Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back?
Lifters That Fail The Bench Press Just Off The Chest
If you are failing the bench press just off, or even on the chest, this is likely due to having weak pectorals.
In the bottom of the range of motion the loading demands are heavily reliant on the chest and therefore additional training to strengthen this can help improve your bench press.
If you fail your bench press just off the chest, then you will want to incorporate other exercises to target the chest.
Those That Want To Develop Their Physique
The bench press primarily trains the sternal head of your pectoralis major and can leave the clavicular head neglected.
The clavicular head is located at the top of your pectorals, originating at the clavicle and is what creates the large upper chest appearance.
Exercise selection can be useful in developing a well-rounded physique.
Beyond bench pressing, you will want to include exercises that help target the clavicular head more.
This can be done by performing exercises in an inclined position such as incline press with dumbbells or a barbell, or incline flys.
Check out my article on 16 exercises that help increase bench press strength.
Beginner lifters need a more varied approach to training, as they should be aiming to develop both overall strength and size.
Ensuring that you chest does not become a weak point with the bench press, or your physique is more achievable with higher volumes of training and more movement variation.
Powerlifters With Big Arches
Powerlifters with big arches should incorporate training that targets the chest more.
When arching you are reducing the range of motion, specifically the range of motion where the chest is most active.
This can lead to the chest becoming a weak point overall and may limit future bench press progress.
Below are my top 3 recommendations for additional chest training.
3 More Exercises For Chest
For those that should do more for chest, these are my 3 recommendations:
- Exercise 1 – Incline Dumbbell Press: My favourite lift outside of the squat, bench press and deadlift. If you have access to dumbbells, you should add these in. They target the clavicular head more than the bench press due to the incline and using dumbbells allows you more range of motion.
- Exercise 2 – Flys: These can be done with dumbbells, cables, a machine or even just plates if you train at home. Great at the end of a session performed with higher repetitions.
- Exercise 3 – Machine Press: Flat, incline or decline, if you have the machine available, see which feels most comfortable to you. I love machine pressing as it removes the need for you to stabilise the bar or dumbbells and allows you to focus on loading your chest as best you can.
Start with 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps (15-20 for the flys) and over the following weeks look to progress the load while reducing the repetitions down to 8-10 reps per set.
4 Considerations For Only Doing Bench Press For Chest
If you are only going to bench press for chest, then you need to consider these 4 variables:
- Grip Variation: A wider grip bench press, out towards the rings on the barbell, will target your chest more than a narrow grip press. If you bench multiple days a week, you can include a wider grip session than your traditional bench press grip to target the chest more.
Check out my article on the different types of bench press grips.
- Rep Ranges: Use a variety of rep ranges. Have a heavier day of 6-8 reps and a lighter day of 10-12 reps.
- Range Of Motion: The chest is most active at the bottom of the bench press. You will want to use exercises that increase the range of motion. This could be done through limiting the amount of arch you set up with, using a cambered bar or using extended pauses on the chest to work on strength in that position.
- Use Variations That Target The Chest: The chest is used most in the bottom range of the bench press so you can use variations that emphasise this.
3 Bench Press Variations That Target Your Chest More
1. Larsen Press
The Larsen Press is performed similar to the normal bench press, but with the feet off the floor and extended out in front of you.
This will reduce the size of the arch you can use and removes leg drive from helping with the press.
The increased range of motion will further target the chest in the bottom range of motion.
Removing the leg drive also means the chest has to work harder to press the bar off the chest without relying on the force from the leg drive.
2. Extended Pause Bench Press
Extended pause bench press is exactly that. Perform the bench press as usual with a 2-3 second pause on the chest.
This will help develop strength on the chest and in this bottom range of motion as you will be spending more time in these positions that target the chest.
Related Article: Can You Train Chest 2 Days In A Row? (Pros & Cons)
3. Longhorn Bar Bench Press
If you have access to a longhorn bar these are a great way to increase the range of motion of your pressing and train the chest more.
These are bars with a curve to them so that you can train through an increased range of motion.
The extra range of motion achieved helps to target the chest more and build strength in the bottom of the bench press.
4. Reduced Arch Bench Press
Lifters with a significant arch can train their chest better by incorporating pressing with a reduced arch.
Reducing the arch increases the range of motion, specifically where the chest is most active.
This can improve the strength in the bottom range and also lead to further hypertrophy of the chest too.
For advanced lifters, those with high external demands, training with limited equipment or that struggle with recovery, the bench press is good enough for chest.
However, they should consider manipulating grip width, rep ranges and ranges of motion across or within their sessions and look to include variations that target the chest more.
The bench press is likely not enough for beginner lifters, those that are weak off the chest in the bench press or those with physique goals.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.