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.
Table of Contents
- 12 Bench Press Alternative Exercises (Substitutes To Try!)
- Benefits Of The Classic Bench Press & Similar Exercises
- What Muscles Do Bench Press Style Exercises Work?
- Common Bench Press Questions Answered
12 Bench Press Alternative Exercises (Substitutes To Try!)
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.
Learn More - Dumbbell Vs Barbell Bench 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Work up to heavier weights to avoid risking injury!
Alternative Options - Best Incline Dumbbell Press Substitutes
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Floor presses make it harder to lift as much weight, so start small to avoid injuring yourself.
Read Also - Bench Press Vs 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.
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.
Further Reading - Chest Press Vs Bench Press
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.
If you find body rocks or sways at any point, you have set the weight too high.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 5 Day Split Dumbbell Workout For Muscle & Strength Gains - June 30, 2022
- 7 Best Home Gym Paint Colors (Painting Ideas & Inspiration) - June 30, 2022
- DIY Plyo Box (How To Build A 3-In-1 Plyometric Box For Home) - June 30, 2022