Enter any weight room and you'll notice that the Bench Press is generally the go-to exercise for building powerful pecs.
However, when all benches and chest machines are occupied and workout time is limited between practices and games, you have a convenient alternative to—and also a refreshing change from—doing primarily Bench Presses: performing challenging Swiss ball and medicine ball chest exercises for strength and size gains.
- These movements complement traditional free weight, machine, and cable chest exercises (e.g., Bench Presses, Incline and Decline Presses, Machine Chest Presses, and Dumbbell and Cable Flies)—so include them when training your chest muscles!
- Besides targeting chest muscles, some of the ball exercises are also ideally sports-functional, enhancing core stabilizer muscles for better balance and mimicking sports skills (e.g., tackling and blocking football opponents or holding and bringing down wrestling opponents).
- Medium or large Swiss ball (ensure the ball is properly inflated)
- Moderately heavy med ball (70-80% RM)
- Exercise mat (optional)
- Water bottle
- Timer (optional)
- Hydrate before, during and after workouts.
- Perform a dynamic upper- and lower-body warm-up (e.g., Frankenstein Walks/Arm Circles).
- Finish with cooldown upper- and lower-body static stretches for greater flexibility and range of motion.
- Sets/Reps: 3x10 (for most exercises) except for isometric holding exercises where indicated; no full range reps are performed.
- Hold 10 seconds on the last rep of each set for higher intensity and growth stimulation.
- Rest between sets: 15-30 seconds.
- Rest between exercises: 30-60 seconds.
- Choose two or three Swiss ball chest exercises or two or three med ball chest exercises per workout and change the exercise selections each training session for variety.
- Be creative: superset a Swiss ball exercise with a med ball exercise (e.g., Swiss Ball Squeezes with med ball Push-Ups or Swiss Ball Squeezes with Swiss Ball Feet-Elevated Push-Ups).
- Incorporate the ball chest exercises with other muscle group exercises for a full-body workout.
- Do workouts on non-consecutive days for adequate recovery.
Swiss Ball Chest Exercises
- Assume an athletic stance with your forearms and hands holding the sides of the ball at chest level.
- Squeeze hard for 10-15 seconds.
- Breathe naturally, inhaling and exhaling while tightly contracting your abdominal muscles while squeezing the ball (don't hold your breath). Feel the tension in your inner pecs while squeezing.
- Rest 30 seconds and do two more sets.
Excellent sports-functional exercise (e.g., wrapping your arms around and tackling a football opponent or bringing a wrestling opponent down to the mat).
- Assume a Push-Up position with your hands atop the ball, arms slightly bent and chest directly over the center of the ball.
- Raise your heels off the floor (stay on your toes for the duration of the exercise) and keep your back straight while contracting your abdominal muscles.
- Descend slowly in two seconds until your chest touches the ball; pause one second.
- Slowly return to start position in two seconds.
- Perform nine more reps, rest and hydrate, and repeat for two more sets.
- Advanced version: Simultaneously engage your core and chest muscles by doing the exercise with one foot airborne to help improve your balance.
Wall Push-Ups with the Ball
- Place the ball at the bottom of a wall and assume a Push-Up position with your hands atop the ball.
- Do one Push-Up, then raise the ball a few inches against the wall and do another Push-Up.
- Continue raising the ball and doing reps until the ball is just above chest level (you should be at 5 reps at this level on the wall).
- For the last five reps, reverse the ball height against the wall—performing the reps until the ball is back on the floor.
This exercise effectively works the chest muscles from different angles. It's also another sports-functional movement—as if blocking an opponent on the gridiron who is either your height or taller.
Further intensify the exercise by performing it with one foot off the floor—as in the advanced version of the previous exercise.
Assume a Push-Up position with your feet and toes atop the center of the ball. Keep your back straight and prevent your hips and lower back from sagging. This Push-Up variation targets the chest muscles from another angle while also strengthening core muscles. Further test your balance and core strength by doing this Push-Up exercise with one foot airborne off the ball.
Med Ball Chest Exercises
Side Lunges & Press-Outs
Another sports-functional and chest-building movement that also works lower- and additional upper-body muscles.
- Begin by holding the ball close to your chest and spread your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Lunge laterally right while simultaneously explosively pressing the ball outward.
- Drag your foot back to start position and continue with nine more right Side Lunges/Press-Outs.
- Rest 10 seconds and do 10 left Side Lunges/Press-Outs.
- Hydrate, rest, and do two more sets.
Ball Rolls Superset with Ball Push-Ups
- Assume a Push-Up position with one hand on the side of the ball (your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart).
- Roll the ball from hand to hand 10 times.
- Immediately place both hands atop the ball and do 10 Push-Ups.
- Rest and do two more supersets.
- Rolling the ball from hand to hand is similar to doing chest flies while also engaging core muscles.
Supersetting Ball Push-Ups also pumps up the pecs.
Seated Wall Throws
- Sit with your knees slightly bent facing a wall about 2 feet away.
- Hold the ball close to your chest and explosively throw it against the wall, catch it, and immediately throw it again 10 times.
Great exercise for building chest, shoulder, and arm strength, size and explosive power used in quick passing motions—e.g., on the basketball or volleyball court.
Supine Ball Throws
- Lie on your back on the floor or on a mat (softer surface) with your legs extended a few inches in the air and hold the ball close to your chest.
- Explosively toss the ball over your chest, catch it, and immediately throw it high again for 10 reps.
A variation of the prior seated exercise targeting the chest and other muscle groups, but also testing core strength with the legs airborne during the Ball Throws.
Perform this exercise as described earlier on a Swiss ball with your feet/toes atop the med ball. And likewise, the advanced version would be doing Push-Ups with one foot airborne off the ball to strengthen your chest and core muscles.
Photo Credit: yacobchuk/iStock/Thinkstock
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