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The Best Bench Press Alternative Exercises for a Chiseled Chest

Farah Rarugal
Published by Farah Rarugal
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 10, 2021

The weight you can bench has become a widely accepted standard strength measure and manhood proof.

But what if you can’t bench press?

Try out these best bench press alternatives we’ve hand-picked to help you build enviable chest muscles.

Let’s dive in.

Bench Press Alternatives

1. Barbell Floor Press

woman doing Barbell Floor Press

Barbell floor press is one of the best bench press alternative exercises closest to classic bench pressing just performed on the ground.

It works the same muscles, helps you learn proper form, improve torque and stability.

Why

Floor press imposes less stress on your shoulders with significant pec activation without generating energy from momentum.

How

  1. Lie with your back and feet flat on the floor, legs bent, and arms fully extended. Hold a barbell directly over your shoulders with the palms facing out.
  2. Slowly lower the weight touching the floor.
  3. Then, explosively push the bar back up.

Recommendation

3-4 sets, 8-12 reps

For maximum chest muscle activation, ensure your elbows are stacked underneath your wrists at 90 degrees, and your arms form a 45-degree angle with the torso at the bottom position.

2. Push-Ups

man doing push ups

This safe and challenging bodyweight exercise is a fantastic substitute for barbell bench press.

You can do it anywhere without equipment, experimenting with plenty of beginner to advanced push-up variations - incline, diamond, weighted, one-handed, shoulder-tap, knee push-ups, etc.

You can also make this exercises harder on your chest by adding resistance bands.

Why

Push-up simultaneously targets many muscles in the whole body.

How

  1. Push-up simultaneously targets many muscles in the whole body.
  2. Plus, different hand positions help isolate a single muscle group (narrow for activating biceps or triceps more, and wider for shoulders and pectorals). [1]
  3. Push-ups can help regain your chest and shoulder strength while recovering from injuries.

3. Dips

man doing Dips

Dips are fantastic for progressive overload as they can be done using your body weight, weighted vest, or dip belt when you’ve perfected the technique.

Why

Dips strengthen your chest, triceps, and shoulders. [2]

They’re easy to modify by altering your body position to target different muscles. (Lean forward to hit the pecs rather than the triceps.)

Plus, they’re convenient to do with minimal equipment like a sturdy chair or box if you don’t have access to the dip machine, bench, or parallel bars.

How

  1. Place your hands on a bench or sturdy chair behind you so that your arms are straight but not locked out.
  2. Slowly lower yourself as much as possible while supporting your weight with both arms, keeping your legs straight and parallel to the floor.
  3. Pause and push yourself back to the starting position.

Recommendation

3-4 sets, 8-12 reps

To make the most of this exercise, do it at the beginning of the workout.

Related: Dips Vs. Bench Press - Which One Is Better?

4. Dumbbell Fly

man doing Dumbbell Fly

This exercise can isolate your chest muscle groups more than most other popular bench press alternative exercises.

Why

It helps reduce upper back tightness and pain, increase range of motion, improve posture, and strengthen your chest and shoulders. [3]

How

  1. Lie on your back on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other and arms extended to the side.
  2. Pull the dumbbells up over your chest center.
  3. Then, take your hands apart and lower the dumbbells to each side at your shoulder level.

Recommendation

3 sets, 10-15 reps

Using an incline bench instead of a flat will hit your upper pecs, whereas a decline bench targets your lower pecs. [4]

To make the exercise more challenging, perform it on an exercise ball or a cable pull machine.

5. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

man doing Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell bench presses come in different variations, each focusing more on different muscles.

Done on a 45-degree bench, incline bench presses emphasize your upper pecs and shoulders.

Why

The incline bench press variation targets the same muscles as the standard bench press.

Allowing a much greater motion range than the barbell bench press for harder pec work.

It decreases the risk of injury/pain by letting you adjust the hand placement (neutral grip) and movement path, which is excellent for those with a shoulder mobility problem.

How

  1. Lie on a bench set at 45 degrees with your back flat and feet on the ground, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your chest height with palms pointed out.
  2. Extend your arms, pushing the dumbbells up overhead.
  3. Lower the weight back.

Recommendation

3 sets, 12 reps

To fully benefit from this upper chest exercise version, rotate your shoulders externally, keep your elbows close to your body, and the core stabilized.

Related: Wrist Pain While Bench Pressing? Here's Why

6. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

man doing Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

This variation is done on a decline bench at 15-30 degrees to target the lower pec muscles.

Why

Besides developing a better-defined chest, the decline bench press can improve your upper body strength.

Due to engaging many small stabilizer muscles it also improves muscle imbalances, and performance in other exercises.

How

  1. The decline dumbbell press involves the same movement pattern as the incline dumbbell press, just performed lying in a decline position.

Recommendation

3 sets, 12 reps

“When lifting weights, nothing feels better than achieving a high point on the bench press with no help from your spotter.” - Robert Cheeke, Bodybuilder

A pronated grip and elbows at 90 degrees from your body when the dumbbells are on your chest level ensure that your pecs get more activated.

7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

man doing Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

Another variation of the same exercise type done with a single dumbbell is excellent for adding variety and activating more stabilizing muscles than regular barbell movements would.

Why

This single-arm option is a great bench press alternative for fixing strength imbalances between your left and right side.

It also makes you engage your core to balance so that you work the abs.

How

  1. Do it lying on a flat bench in the same way as the previous two exercises, just with one hand at a time.

Recommendation

3 sets, 12 reps

Make sure you lift a moderate weight and don't go too deep when doing the press.

8. Hammer Strength Chest Press

man doing Hammer Strength Chest Press

This machine chest press exercise combined with plate-based free weight doesn’t differ much from the previous three variations.

Why

Performed on the machine, it lets you isolate your muscles more precisely, offers more stability, and better movement control.

How

  1. Sit on the inclined seat with your back straight and both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grip the machine handles, squeezing them tightly for greater shoulder stability.
  3. With your elbows tucked, perform the same moves as with the dumbbell chest press.

Recommendation

6 sets, 10 reps

Don’t use a thumbless grip.

9. Standing Cable Chest Press

woman doing Standing Cable Chest Press

Besides this two-handed standing exercise version, there are variations like kneeling, lying, one-handed, etc.

Why

It’s super-simple, safe, pumps your chest muscles, and engages the whole body, including abs and obliques, to keep the spine stable and straight.

How

  1. Stand with one foot in front of the other face away from the machine.
  2. Lean forward and hold the cables in an overhand grip roughly at your chest height.
  3. Push them out in front of you, hold, and bring them back.

Recommendation

3 sets, 12 reps

Lower the weight if you feel shaky while pressing the cables.

10. Cable Crossover

woman doing Cable Crossover

It’s another standing exercise with similar results, strength and stability requirements as the previous one that hits the lower pec part.

Why

Cable crossovers stretch your chest muscles, engaging them from a different angle to promote greater growth.

How

  1. Leaning forward, stand in the middle of the cable machine face away from it with one foot in front of the other and the cables and weights positioned at the top level.
  2. Holding the handles in an overhand grip, pull your hands together.
  3. Pause when they touch. Then, release the weight bringing your arms back.

Recommendation

3 sets, 10-12 reps

11. Dumbbell Pullover

man doing Dumbbell Pullover

Although it targets the chest a bit differently from the bench press, this is an excellent alternative exercise you can also do using a plate, kettlebell, or barbell.

Why

Besides stretching and strengthening your chest, pullovers activate your triceps, core, back, and other stabilizer muscles.

How

  1. Lie on a bench with your back flat, feet on the floor, and knees bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Hold the dumbbell with both hands, extending your arms fully above the chest.
  3. Bring the weight down overhead to your head level. Then, pull it back up over your head.

Recommendation

3 sets, 12 reps

12. Barbell Overhead Press

man doing Barbell Overhead Press

This compound vertical movement is common in powerlifting workouts.

Why

The overhead press provides significant chest and shoulder activation, targeting major muscles such as pectorals and front delts even better than the bench press.

How

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and grab the barbell with a firm shoulder-width grip.
  2. Keeping your core and upper back muscles engaged and elbows in line with the barbell, straighten your arms over your head.
  3. Slowly lower the bar back below your chin.

Recommendation

3 sets, 12 reps

Ensure a full range of motion by locking out your elbows fully at the top to hit your triceps better.

Related Articles:

Wrap-up On Bench Press Alternatives

Armed with bench press substitute exercises, you can now make the same gains - a bigger and stronger, perfectly sculpted chest.

These bench press alternative exercises can effectively help you build size and strength because they engage the same chest muscle groups and mimic movement patterns as when bench pressing.

What’s your favorite and most challenging alternative? And Why?


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16095407/
  2. https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1562/ace-sponsored-research-best-triceps-exercises/
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200939080-00004
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504579/

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