Chest Workout - Bench Press

Doomed to mediocrity is the person always looking for the easy way to do things, lifting being no exception. Then there’s the guy forever in search of a better way to train. If that’s your style, this article’s for you. We took seven good old-fashioned exercises (one for each major muscle group) and tweaked them just enough to make each a little bit better . . . who are we kidding, we made them harder. But let’s face it: The harder the exercise, the more effective it usually is. In this case, you’ll be training your muscles in a different way than ever before. So bag the leg extensions and the pec-deck machine (just temporarily, mind you), and be a little hard on yourself for once.

1) Chest

The Standard Way: Barbell Bench Press
The Hard Way: Bench Press with limited range of motion

  1. Lie face up on a flat bench and grasp a barbell slightly wider than shoulder width. Lift the bar off the rack.
  2. Slowly lower the bar toward your lower chest, but stop 2-–3 inches short of touching. With-out pausing, press the bar upward and stop a few inches short of locking out your elbows. Repeat for reps in this limited range of motion without pausing.
  • Don’t let the bar touch your chest — stop 2-3 inches before touching.
  • Stop a few inches shy of locking out your elbows.

Why Harder is Better:

“Exercise execution through a full range of motion (ROM) is critical for full muscle development, especially with the bench press,” says M&F contributor Tim Fritz, CSCS. “However, a slight decrease in ROM promotes continuous muscle tension, resulting in enhanced pectoral and triceps development.”


2) Biceps

The Standard Way: Barbell Curl 
The Hard Way: Seated Rope Cable Curl

  1. Place a flat bench a few feet in front of a low cable pulley with a rope attachment.
  2. Facing the cable unit, sit on the edge of the bench and grasp the rope with both hands (palms facing in) so that your thumbs are at the ends of the rope.
  3. Start by sitting straight up with your arms fully extended in front of you.
  4. Keeping your elbows in, curl the rope toward your shoulders, twist your palms up and open your grip so that your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width at the top of the movement.
  5. Squeeze your biceps briefly, then slowly return your arms to full extension (the starting position), and repeat.
  • Sitting helps eliminate cheating and shoulder involvement.
  • Turn your palms out at this point to hit the outer head of the biceps.

Why Harder is Better:

“Cables put constant tension on your biceps, unlike most free-weight exercises,” says two-time Arnold Classic champion Jay Cutler. “With free weights, you lose some contraction at the top of a biceps curl, but the contraction on cable curls is consistent throughout. I think free weights are great for size and strength, but cables help improve muscle quality and detail, and are great as a finishing movement.”


3) Back

The Standard Way: Seated Cable Row
The Hard Way: Unilateral Seated Cable Row

  1. Sit on a seated cable row bench so that only your left leg is on the bench and your left foot is positioned on the left footplate or bar.
  2. Place your right foot flat on the floor and grasp a stirrup handle attachment with your left hand, your palm facing the floor and that arm extended out in front of you. Sit upright with your chest out and your shoulders back, and your free hand placed on your right knee or hip.
  3. Keeping your back perpendicular to the floor, pull the handle to your side while simultaneously turning your palm inward to a neutral position.
  4. Hold the handle briefly at your side, squeezing your back muscles, and return to the starting position. Repeat for reps, then switch to the other side.
  • Changing hand position during the movement varies muscle involvement.
  • The independent arm movement (1) permits a greater range of motion at the end of the exercise and (2) promotes more specific targeting of the involved muscle group.

Why Harder is Better:

“Although slightly awkward at first, this exercise is a cross between the traditional seated cable row and a one-arm dumbbell row,” says Fritz.

Lying Triceps Extension

4) Triceps

The Standard Way: Lying Triceps Extension
The Hard Way: Lying Triceps Extension with arms parallel to the floor

  1. Lie on a flat bench holding an EZ-bar as you would for regular lying triceps extensions. Start with your upper arms parallel to the floor and your elbows at 90 degrees.
  2. Keeping your upper arms fixed in that position and your elbows in, straighten your arms (elbows locked softly) by contracting your triceps. Hold the contraction at the top for a count, and return to the starting position.
  •  “The triceps (especially the long head) are in a pre-stretched position,” states Fritz. “This effectively increases the beginning ROM, permitting greater muscle-fiber involvement and activation.”
  • Keep your upper arms in a fixed position (parallel to the floor) and your elbows in.

Why Harder is Better:

“Compared to the typical ‘skull crusher,’ the arm position eliminates any possible help from the shoulders and places all the tension on the triceps,” says Fritz.

dumbbell lunge

5) Quads/Glutes

The Standard Way: Dumbbell Lunge
The Hard Way: Plyometric Lunge from Step

  1. Stand on a 6-–12-inch step and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides (optional). Make sure there’s plenty of room in front of you to step forward.
  2. Keeping one foot on the step, lunge forward with the other foot, stepping far enough out that your knee does not pass over your toes.
  3. Slowly lower yourself down until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Without pausing, press yourself back up forcefully and explosively with your front leg until you return to the standing position on top of the bench.
  4. Alternate legs and repeat for reps.
  • Use dumbbells instead of a barbell to avoid injury; you can always drop the dumbbells if necessary.
  • Remember, this is not a slow movement on the concentric portion — push yourself back to the starting position in a powerful, explosive motion.

Why Harder is Better:

“The plyometric lunge is a fantastic exercise for the lifter who cares about functionality outside the gym (i.e., speed for specific sports, vertical jump, etc.),” says Bob Lefavi, PhD, CSCS, CHES, associate professor of sports medicine at Armstrong Atlantic State University (Savannah, Georgia). “But to avoid injury, it should only be done after a good warm-up.”

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

6) Delts

The Standard Way: Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The Hard Way: Overhead Dumbbell Lateral Raise

  1. Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in. Use lighter dumbbells than you would for standard lateral raises.
  2. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lift the dumbbells out to your sides, past shoulder height, until they’re almost touching directly over your head.
  3. At the top, your palms will be facing forward, as this is the natural and most comfortable path of motion.
  4. Slowly lower your arms back to the start position. Repeat.
  • Make sure to use only as much weight as will allow you to perform the exercise correctly. Extra weight limits your range of motion, which creates less involvement of the shoulders, serratus anterior and trapezius muscles.
  • Keep your elbows in a fixed position (slightly bent) throughout the movement.

Why Harder is Better:

“Overhead lateral raises promote greater contraction of the deltoids because you’re moving through a longer range of motion than when stopping at shoulder level,” says M&F contributor Michael Yessis, PhD.

Smith Machine Squat

7) Calves

The Standard Way: Seated Calf Raise
The Hard Way: Squatting Calf Raise

  1. Position the bar of a Smith machine on your shoulders as you would for a squat. With a hip-width stance, stand on the balls of your feet on a block as you would for standing calf raises.
  2. Squat all the way down, with your glutes resting lightly on your calves — this is your starting position.
  3. Maintaining the squatting position, relax your ankles and drop your heels toward the floor for a full stretch.
  4. Without pausing — but not bouncing, either — press up onto the balls of your feet and hold the contraction briefly. Repeat for reps.
  • Be careful not to sit too far down, which can produce shearing forces on the knee. 
  • The movement should take place entirely at the ankles (plantar flexion of the soleus muscles); don’t extend your knees.

Why Harder is Better:

“This alternative exercise really isolates the soleus muscles of the calves,” says Lefavi. “The gastroc is almost entirely taken out of the picture, making the soleus the prime mover.