Bench presses are the iconic chest exercise that can add a lot of mass to your upper body. 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. 

So what happens if you can't do the bench press? 

In this article you'll discover the best 12 bench press alternatives that you can do in your home gym, and how to perform each one. 

The following 12 exercises address situations where performing the traditional bench press isn't possible.

I've included routines for when you can't access a bench, when there are no barbells around, and low-pain alternatives. 

1. Dumbbell Chest Press (Barbell Bench Press Alternative)

man doing dumbbell chest press exercise

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. 


  • Easier on your joints.
  • Suitable for beginners.
  • Irons out muscular imbalances.

How to do it:

  1. 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. 
  2. Extend your arms, pushing your dumbbells upward over the chest. Your arms should remain directly in line with your shoulders. 
  3. Once the arms are fully extended, pause, then bring the dumbbells back to shoulder level with a controlled movement. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Focus on using full range of motion during this bench press replacement. You want to get the most chest activation from each rep.  

2. Dumbbell Chest Fly 

Man Doing Dumbbell Fly Exercise

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. 

I love the dumbbell chest fly as it works your chest through a wide range of motion and you can feel your chest muscles stretching throughout the negative phase. 

However, I must warn you; some gym goers might find that this bench press substitute places stress on the shoulder joints. If you have this issue, try performing another chest fly alternative.


  • Uses a wide range of motion.
  • Great for chest separation development.

How to do it:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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. 

3. Cable Crossover 

Man Doing Cable Crossover

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

My favorite aspect of this exercise is the fact that it places constant tension on my chest muscles throughout the entire movement. I can feel it stretching my pecs from the beginning to the end.

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


  • Provides constant tension on your chest. 
  • Uses a wide range of motion.

How to do it:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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.  

4. Push-Ups 

man doing push ups outdoors

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.

I always recommend this bench press substitute to anybody who's travelling, you can perform it pretty much anywhere.

Whether you're in an office, hotel, park, commercial gym, home gym, or elsewhere, you can do this movement with ease. 


  • You can do it anywhere.
  • No equipment required.
  • Works all the same muscles as the bench press.

How to do it:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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. 

5. Incline Dumbbell Press (Bench Press Alternative With Dumbbells)

Man Doing Incline Dumbbell Press Exercise

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 outshines the original barbell. With each arm working unilaterally, it helps you iron out muscular imbalances. 

I'm a big fan of this bench press replacement as I find the extra range of motion I get from using dumbbells has greatly enhanced my chest development. And I've experienced strength carry-over to the bench press.

Another positive for this bench press substitute is that using dumbbells places less strain on your joints such as your shoulders, elbows, and wrists. This is because they can move in a more natural position rather than being fixed to a barbell.


  • Less strain on your joints.
  • Increased range of motion.
  • Develops your upper pecs.

How to do it:

  1. Set your bench at a 30-45 degree angle. 
  2. With your back completely flat against your bench, hold one dumbbell in each hand. Keep your feet flat against the ground. 
  3. Position your dumbbells at shoulder level, with your palms pointed outward. 
  4. Push both dumbbells up overhead by extending your elbows. 
  5. Bring your dumbbells back to either side of your chest with control. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't set the bench incline too high. You want to be around 30-45 degrees, any higher and you'll be working more shoulders than chest.

6. Decline Dumbbell Press (Bench Press Alternative For Shoulder Pain)

Man Doing Decline Dumbbell Press Exercise

This barbell bench press substitute focuses on the slightly more elusive pectoralis minor (your lower pecs) 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. 

By 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. Dumbbells also allow you to achieve a greater range of motion compared to the barbell.

The declined position also places less stress on your back and shoulders, making this a great solution as an alternative to bench press for shoulder pain concerns.

When I began lifting (all those years ago) the decline bench press was a staple in my workout routine, and still is to this day. 


  • Trains your lower pecs.
  • Reduced shoulder strain.
  • Irons out muscular imbalances.

how to do it:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Perform one and a quarter reps for added intensity. You do this by lowering the weight fully, pushing up a quarter of the way, then lowering back to your chest. Immediately follow this up by pushing the dumbbells to the top of the movement and repeat. 

7. Dumbbell Pullover 

Man Doing Dumbbell Pullovers

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. 

As you lower the weight behind your head your chest muscles are placed in a stretched position and have to work incredibly hard to bring the dumbbell back to the starting position. I love this increased range of motion that this bench press substitute creates. 

I've also found that the dumbbell pull over increases your shoulder mobility this is great if you want to improve this area.


  • Works your chest using a large range of motion.
  • Easy to perform at home. 
  • Improves shoulder mobility.

How to do it:

  1. 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. 
  2. Hold a single dumbbell with both hands and fully extend your arms backward over your head until they’re parallel to the ground. 
  3. Pull your dumbbell upward and over your head while engaging your core and maintaining arm extension. 
  4. Once your arms make a perpendicular angle with the ground, return them with control to the position of step 2. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you're on the move and can't take dumbbells with you, use a resistance band. Simply attach it to a secure anchor point behind your head and you're good to go.  

8. Offset Push-Ups 

Man Doing Offset Push-Ups In The Gym

Push-up techniques are a great substitute for bench press at home. This push-up variation is one of my favourites for several reasons.

To start, offset push-ups are particularly useful. The one-hand elevation makes your chest, core, and shoulders work differently to properly stabilize your body. They also increase your range of motion while improving your mobility, stability, and flexibility.   

Best of all, you can do them pretty much anywhere, all you need is a small elevated platform to place one hand on and you're good to go.


  • Improves mobility, stability, and flexibility.
  • Requires minimal space.
  • Uses your body weight.

how to do it:

  1. 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. 
  2. Bend your elbows until they reach 45-degree angles, then lower your chest until it touches the floor. 
  3. Push yourself upward, back to the initial position. 
  4. Swap your elevated hand every few reps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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

9. Floor Press 

man doing dumbbell 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. This makes it ideal if you're just starting out and your home gym doesn't have much equipment. 

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. 

I like using this bench press replacement with clients as they can perform this movement outside of our personal training sessions without needing a spotter.


  • Doesn't require a spotter.
  • Minimal equipment needed.
  • Great for all ability levels.

How to do it:

  1. Lie down with your back flat against the floor. Your legs should be extended straight upward.  
  2. Hold your barbell across your chest, with your palms facing outward. 
  3. Fully extend your arms to push the barbell up. 
  4. 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.  

Tips From A Trainer!

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

10. Standing Cable Chest Press 

Woman Doing Standing Cable Chest Press Exercise

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. 

As with many cable exercises, I'm a big fan of this bench press substitute as it places constant tension through your chest. By doing so your chest muscles receive a high amount of stimulus for building a barrel-like chest. 


  • Creates constant tension through the chest.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • Enhanced core stability.

how to do it:

  1. Find a cable machine and position two cables, so they are just below chest level. 
  2. Facing away from the machine, grab both handles overhanded with bent elbows. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Pause at full extension, then bring the cables back to chest level with a controlled movement. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't go too heavy on this exercise (at the start). Focus on using excellent form. 

11. Chest Press Machine 

Man Doing Incline Chest Press Exercise On a 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 with this bench press substitute is that the machine press 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. 

However, I need to add that the machine has a fixed movement pattern and it might not suit all lifters. If you've got joint issues, you may find this movement to be awkward. But, on the other hand, you might find it easier to perform, it'll vary person to person.


  • Great for beginners.
  • Less stability required.
  • Develops pec strength.

how to do it:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't let the weight rest at the bottom of each rep. You want to keep the tension running through your chest during the entire set for greater chest activation.

Related Article - Chest Press Vs Bench Press

12. Pec Deck Fly Machine 

Man Doing Pec Decks Fly On A 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.  

During each rep your chest works through a wide range of motion, increasing the activation in your chest. I often use them at the end of my workout to fully exhaust my chest before I go home to eat a high protein meal.

If you are unable to perform the pec deck exercise due to lack of equipment or space constraints, there are pec deck alternative exercises that can effectively target your chest muscles. 


  • Works your chest using a wide range of motion.
  • Ideal for all ability levels.

how to do it:

  1. Load your desired weight, then sit upon the platform with your back against the backrest and your feet flat on the ground. 
  2. 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. 
  3. While tensing your chest, pull the handles toward your body until they are just in front of your chest, then pause. 
  4. Return to your starting position with a controlled movement. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Focus on slow and controlled reps throughout the entire set, ensuring each chest muscle fiber is working to its fullest.

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.

What Muscles Do Bench Press Style Exercises Work?


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.[1] 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.[2]


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? 

Yes you can build your chest without the bench press. Any of the 12 exercises listed above such as dumbbell fly, floor press, push-ups, and more will do wonders for your chest muscles, but they're far from the only options out there. 

Are push-ups better than bench presses? 

No, push-ups aren't better than bench presses. Studies have found that there are actually no significant differences between the speed of muscle development when comparing push-ups to bench presses. However, you'll still need to use progressive overload to see results.

Will bench pressing help weight loss? 

Yes, bench pressing can help weight loss. The bench press is demanding on the body and uses a lot of calories. However, you'll still need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. 

How often should I do bench presses per week? 

You should perform the bench press 2-3 times per week depending on your recovery rate. However, twice per week is enough for most lifters.


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 exercise. 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. 

Choose 2-3 of your favorite bench press alternatives from the list above and watch your chest grow. 




Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.