12 Bench Press Alternatives (Substitutes For Reduced Pain)

Bench presses are the iconic chest exercise. However, sometimes life gets in the way. Injuries and pain can complicate things, queues at the gym are often too long, spotters might not turn up, or your home gym might lack a bench.  

Over reliance on equipment shouldn’t impact your chest regime. That’s why we’re here with the best bench press alternative exercises.

The following 12 exercises address those situations where a traditional bench press just won't cut it.

We've included routines for when you can't access a bench or when there are no barbells around. We’ve also included low-pain alternatives and exercises requiring no kit that you can do anywhere. 

1. Dumbbell Chest Press 

Performing a bench press alternative with dumbbells instead of a barbell is one of the best traditional bench press substitutes. 

This is because having a weight in each arm prevents your stronger side from doing uneven work, leading to a more balanced and symmetrical workout of the exact same muscles.

Allowing each arm to move independently is also kinder on your joints, which is great for those suffering from pain. Additionally, beginners often find dumbbells easier to handle than barbells. 

  • Lie flat and face up on a bench, with a dumbbell in each hand at chest level and palms facing your feet. Keep both feet flat on the ground. 
  • Extend your arms, pushing your dumbbells upward over the chest. Your arms should remain directly in line with your shoulders. 
  • Once the arms are fully extended, pause, then bring the dumbbells back to shoulder level with a controlled movement. 
dumbbell chest press

2. Dumbbell Fly 

This bench press substitute focuses on both parts of the pectorals, the major and the minor. It is prized by lifters seeking a chiseled chest separation look. The additional stabilization required also works your arms, shoulders, and back. 

  • Lie flat and face up on a bench, with a dumbbell in each hand and feet flat on the ground. 
  • While holding the dumbbells, extend your arms directly upward over your chest. 
  • With a slightly bent elbow, slowly drop your arms to the side until they reach shoulder level. 
  • Pull your dumbbells back to the position of step 2 using the muscles in your chest. 

Heavy weights are not key to this exercise. All the power should come from your chest, not your arms. If you find yourself relying on arm muscles, lower the weight of your dumbbells.

More Training - Best Chest Fly Alternatives

Dumbbell Fly

3. Cable Crossover 

Cables are used in this barbell bench press alternative to work both pectorals while also activating the core, back, and shoulders.

In terms of muscle fibers activated, it is the third-most effective chest exercise, beaten only by the fly and the bench press.

  • Locate a cable machine or equivalent and position a pair of cables on the top rung. 
  • Face yourself away from the machine and grip the handles overhanded, with palms facing toward you.  
  • Put one foot in front of the other, lean forward, and pull the cables together with a slightly bent elbow until they touch. 
  • With a controlled movement, release your pull until your arms pass your shoulders. 

Keeping your core engaged is key to maximizing your benefits and stability. If you find yourself struggling, you can make this exercise easier (but less stable and beneficial) by keeping both feet together. 

Required Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

Cable Crossover

4. Push-Ups 

Often overlooked as an at-home substitute for bench press routines, push-ups are demanding and always available. 

A standard push-up targets your pectorals, deltoids, triceps, core, and the serratus anterior. That’s why many claim it’s the best alternative to bench press exercises, as it works all the same muscles and more.

  • Get into a high plank position. Your hands should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart. 
  • Ensure your whole body forms a straight line. Your head should be facing slightly forward. 
  • Bend your elbows until they reach a 45-degree angle, then lower your chest until it touches the floor. 
  • Push upward to resume the position from step 2.  

Modifying push-ups is simple too. If they’re too difficult, start on your knees. If they’re too easy, elevate your feet with a bench to increase upper chest focus or try one of many other variations.

push ups

5. Incline Dumbbell Press 

This incline bench press alternative works your upper pecs and shoulder muscles more than a traditional bench press. It’s also great for your triceps. 

As with standard dumbbell chest presses, allowing each arm to move independently means this substitute for incline bench press routines outshines the original barbell.

You will be unable to rely unconsciously on your stronger half, encouraging balanced and symmetrical muscle growth. Plus, the greater range of movement prevents unnecessary joint strain. 

  • Set your bench at a 45-degree angle. 
  • With your back completely flat against your bench, hold one dumbbell in each hand. Keep your feet flat against the ground. 
  • Position your dumbbells at shoulder level, with your palms pointed outward. 
  • Push both dumbbells up overhead by extending your elbows. 
  • Bring your dumbbells back to either side of your chest with control. 

Work up to heavier weights to avoid risking injury! 

Alternative Options - Best Incline Dumbbell Press Substitutes

Incline Dumbbell Press

6. Decline Dumbbell Press 

This barbell bench press substitute focuses on the slightly more elusive pectoralis minor by setting the bench at a slight decline. This workout also hits the biceps, often neglected by bench press alternatives, as well as your triceps. 

As mentioned above, using two dumbbells over a barbell helps you build muscle symmetrically and in a balanced fashion, as well as protecting your joints from undue strain. The declined position also places less stress on your back and shoulders, making this a great solution as an alternative to bench press shoulder pain concerns.

  • Set your bench to a slight decline. 
  • Lie face up with a dumbbell in each hand just above your shoulders, with both feet flat on the ground. 
  • Push the dumbbells upward using your elbows until your arms reach full extension. 
  • Bring both dumbbells back to the position of step 2 in a controlled manner. 
Decline Dumbbell Press

7. Dumbbell Pullover 

This bench press home alternative focuses on more than just building chest strength. Like bench presses, it works the pectoralis major, triceps, and serratus anterior to build strength and muscle mass. 

However, it also works the core intensely, engages the latissimus dorsi, and is excellent for focusing on your stabilizer muscles. 

  • Lie flat and face up on a bench or exercise ball, ensure your upper back is supported. Keep both feet flat on the ground and knees bent at 90-degree angles. 
  • Hold a single dumbbell with both hands and fully extend your arms backward over your head until they’re parallel to the ground. 
  • Pull your dumbbell upward and over your head while engaging your core and maintaining arm extension. 
  • Once your arms make a perpendicular angle with the ground, return them with control to the position of step 2. 
Dumbbell Pullovers

8. Offset Push-Ups 

Earlier, we mentioned alternative push-up techniques as a great substitute for bench press at home.  

Offset push-ups are particularly useful. The one-hand elevation makes your chest, core, and shoulders work differently to properly stabilize your body. It also increases your range of motion and, thus, your mobility, stability, and flexibility.   

  • Get in a high plank position, with your body completely in a straight line, head facing forward slightly, and one hand slightly elevated using a mat, dumbbell, or another surface. 
  • Bend your elbows until they reach 45-degree angles, then lower your chest until it touches the floor. 
  • Push yourself upward, back to the initial position. 
  • Swap your elevated hand every few reps. 

If you’re struggling to find a surface to elevate one hand, you can achieve a similar effect by placing one hand at shoulder level and the other a fair distance behind it.

Related Article - Push Ups Vs Dips

Offset Push-Ups

9. Floor Press 

A floor press may be the best substitute for bench press routines if you have your own barbell but not much else, as it doesn’t require a bench at all. 

Floor presses work exactly the same muscles as traditional bench presses, with the added bonuses of a bit of added shoulder protection, which is great news for lifters worried about undue stress or pain. 

  • Lie down with your back flat against the floor. Your legs should be extended straight upward.  
  • Hold your barbell across your chest, with your palms facing outward. 
  • Fully extend your arms to push the barbell up. 
  • Once you reach the top of the movement, pause, then lower the barbell back to your chest with a controlled movement until your arms are touching the ground.  

Floor presses make it harder to lift as much weight, so start small to avoid injuring yourself.

Read Also - Bench Press Vs Floor Press

dumbbell floor press

10. Standing Cable Chest Press 

An excellent bench press alternative machine, cable machines allow you to perform the standing cable chest press, which is more challenging than traditional bench presses.

As well as the essential pectorals, deltoids, serratus anterior, and triceps, this routine is also great for your biceps, making it a great all-around upper-body exercise. However, the added difficulty of maintaining stability while standing makes it more difficult. 

  • Find a cable machine and position two cables, so they are just below chest level. 
  • Facing away from the machine, grab both handles overhanded with bent elbows. 
  • Put one foot in front of the other, lean forward, and push the handles forward by extending your arms. The cables should end up in front of the middle of your chest. 
  • Pause at full extension, then bring the cables back to chest level with a controlled movement. 
Standing Cable Chest Press

11. Chest Press Machine 

Chest press machines allow you to work the exact same set of muscles and achieve the same benefits as a regular bench press. 

The key difference is that the machine provides more stability. This decreases the chances of anything going wrong, protecting you from unnecessary strain or injury. The machine also provides greater stability than regular free weights, making them great if you’re a beginner or lack confidence. 

  • Load your desired weight and seat yourself on the machine with your back resting flat against the padding. 
  • Hold the handles with the palms of your hands facing outward. 
  • While keeping your feet flat against the floor, push the handles away from your body by extending your arms. 
  • Once your arms are fully extended and straight, pause, then return to the starting position with a controlled movement.  

Further Reading - Chest Press Vs Bench Press

Incline Chest Press Machine

12. Pec Deck Fly Machine 

Pec decks, unsurprisingly, are some of the best machines for focusing on your pectoralis major as a substitute for incline bench press routines. They also strengthen the muscles in your torso, serratus anterior, and the backs of your shoulders while also improving stabilization in your shoulder blades.  

  • Load your desired weight, then sit upon the platform with your back against the backrest and your feet flat on the ground. 
  • Grab a handle in each hand. If the machine has resting pads, place your forearms upon them. Bend both arms at 90-degrees and keep both elbows at chest level. 
  • While tensing your chest, pull the handles toward your body until they are just in front of your chest, then pause. 
  • Return to your starting position with a controlled movement. 

If you find body rocks or sways at any point, you have set the weight too high. 

Pec Deck Fly Machine

Benefits Of The Classic Bench Press & Similar Exercises

The bench press is a cornerstone of fitness, performed by most gym-goers.  

Its compound movements work the upper arms, deltoids, triceps, and the pectoralis major – as well as improving balance and posture. It is a favorite exercise for bodybuilders, focusing on building strength and encouraging muscle growth (also known as hypertrophy). Its ability to correct muscle imbalances also makes it great for swimmers, climbers, and other athletes who rely on their pulling muscles. 

However, the benefits of the bench press aren’t limited to professionals. As a functional strength movement, the strength, stability, and balance improvements carry over to most common movement patterns performed every day. Adjustable weights also mean people of all strength levels can take part.

Plus, you can choose between small numbers of heavy reps to build muscle mass and large numbers of lighter reps to tone existing muscles, depending on your desired outcome.

Suggested Equipment - Best Cheap Adjustable Dumbbells


What Muscles Do Bench Press Style Exercises Work?

Deltoids

Bench presses work the anterior deltoids, your front shoulder muscles, almost as hard as the pecs themselves. As well as increasing shoulder size, working the anterior deltoids improves shoulder and arm mobility. Other bench press variations work the lateral and posterior deltoids, but no one lift works all three.

Pectoralis Major

Traditionally the primary target of bench press style exercises, your pecs are the leading powerhouse of strength in your chest. In addition to being the prime site of chest bulk, they control arm movement and play a key role in deep inhalations of breath.

Rotator Cuff

This collection of stabilizer muscles in your shoulders may be small, but they are still powerful and crucial for bench pressing. They allow shoulder and arm movement, and neglecting them can lead to pain, plus a reduced range of motion. 

Serratus Anterior

This saw-shaped muscle is located to the side of the upper ribs. Alongside the rotator cuff muscles, it is crucial for stabilizing the shoulders during bench presses or similar exercises. 

Triceps

Your triceps are the muscles located at the back of each upper arm. They play a key role in bench press style exercises, although how hard they work depends on your grip. With a traditional bench press, the closer your gripping hands are together, the harder the triceps are worked.


Common Bench Press Questions Answered

Can you build your chest without bench presses? 

While many swear by bench presses for chest building, the answer is yes; you can easily build your chest without them. Any of the 12 exercises listed above will do wonders for your chest muscles, but they are far from the only options out there. 

Are push-ups better than bench presses? 

This study found that there are actually no significant differences between the speed of muscle development when comparing push-ups to bench presses. 

In fact, some would argue that push-ups are a better alternative, as they work more of the body than bench presses – plus you can do them anywhere. In reality, it all comes down to preference. 

Related Article - Push Ups Vs Bench Press

Will bench pressing help weight loss? 

As bench presses are focused on actually growing the upper body by increasing muscle mass, they are not ideal for focusing on weight loss. 

However, this should not prevent you from including them as part of a larger, balanced workout schedule for weight loss. 

How often should I do bench presses per week? 

When growing muscle, your body needs time to recover and repair if you want to see the most benefits from your exercise.  

Taking professional powerlifters as an example, most say the optimum number of bench press routines per week is two or three. This will prevent you from overworking your chest and allow you to focus on other valuable areas. 


Conclusion

There's a reason bench presses are so popular – they're great for building strength and chest mass.

However, there's a danger in relying on one workout. By diversifying your options, you'll never be stuck without a course of action, whether the gym is too busy, you've recently been injured, or plain old bench presses have simply grown stale.