Incline Bench Press Alternatives: 7 Substitutes To A Barbell

If you’ve wanted to increase your upper body strength while developing an excellent looking chest, one of the best exercises for the job is the incline bench press.  

The incline bench press focuses on your upper chest muscles, giving you a well-rounded chest Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of. But, it’s not always easy to perform this exercise in your home gym. Whether it’s lack of equipment or space, you’ll need to find another way to build your upper chest.  

This article gives you 7 of the best incline bench press alternative exercises you can add to your program.  

If you can’t do the incline bench press in your home gym, you’ll need to find another way to stimulate your upper chest muscles, working it through various ranges of motion.

See the list below and discover the seven best incline bench press alternative exercises.

1. Decline Push-Ups 

The decline push up is one of the best incline bench press alternatives around; not only does it have a similar movement pattern to the incline bench press, but it targets your upper chest.

One of the best benefits of performing this substitute for incline bench press is that it requires no equipment. So long as you have some kind of elevated platform to place your feet on, you can perform this exercise. 

It’s the ideal movement to do when you’re travelling; you can use stairs, chairs, steps, and even your bed to elevate your feet to put you in a decline push up position.

Learn More - Push Ups Vs Bench Press: Which Exercise Is Better For Chest?

How to do it: 

  • Kneel facing away from an elevated platform (bed, chair, stairs, etc.).  
  • Place your hands on the floor and lift your feet onto the platform.  
  • Walk your hands out, so your legs are straight.  
  • Ensure your wrists are under your elbows and brace your core.  
  • Slowly lower your chest to your hands in a controlled manner.  
  • Push upwards, squeezing your chest together.  
  • Repeat. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip: If you’re struggling to perform the decline push up, use a lower elevation for the feet, this makes the movement easier.  

Decline Push-Ups

2. Dumbbell Pullovers  

If you’re looking to activate your upper pecs and develop your chest without needing a bench, the dumbbell pullover is the ideal alternative for incline bench press.

This incline bench press alternative is a favorite of mine as I can perform it pretty much anywhere in my home or home gym. All you need is a dumbbell and some floor space, and it gives you a brilliant chest pump and helps develop a well-rounded chest.

Performing this movement is simple and is suitable for most gym-goers regardless of experience levels; as you’re on the floor, you don’t need a spotter, so it’s relatively safe.

How to do it: 

  • Lie on the floor with a dumbbell placed behind your head. 
  • Place your feet flat to the floor and bend your knees to 90-degrees.  
  • Reach over your head and grab hold of the dumbbell, holding it by one side only (so that it’s vertical).  
  • Bring it over your chest.  
  • Slowly lift the dumbbell behind your head, stretching your chest upwards.  
  • Stop before the weight hits the floor and slowly bring it back to your chest.  
  • Repeat the movement. 

Other Training Options - 10 Best Dumbbell Pullover Substitutes

Dumbbell Pullovers

3. Incline Chest Press With Bands 

This incline barbell bench press alternative is another exercise you can use to train your upper chest without needing a bench press, making it perfect for your home gym or while you're traveling.  

The incline chest press with bands is performed standing and uses your upper pecs, triceps, shoulders, and core to keep your body in a stable position throughout the movement.  

As you’re using resistance bands for this movement, it places constant tension on the chest muscles throughout the entire movement. The resistance of the bands also increases the further you push your hands from your chest, making this a brilliant exercise for bypassing any sticking points.

How to do it: 

  • Attach a resistance band to the bottom of a door using the band’s anchor, or stand on the band with your rear foot.  
  • Stagger your stance and hold the band in both hands.  
  • Bend your knees slightly and maintain a straight back.  
  • Use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and lift your hands to chest height.  
  • Push your hands away from your body, squeezing your pecs together.  
  • Slowly reverse the movement and repeat. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip: Add a 1-2 second pause at the end of the movement for extra chest stimulation. 

Read More - Best At-Home Resistance Band Chest Exercises

Incline Chest Press With Bands

4. Incline Dumbbell Flyes 

The incline dumbbell fly is a simple alternative for incline bench press and can be performed easily using a DIY incline bench such as using your foam roller to support your back.

During this movement, the incline dumbbell fly allows your chest to move through a massive range of motion, stimulating your upper chest's muscle fibers resulting in increased strength and muscle growth.  

As with the dumbbell pullover, this exercise is safe for beginners as it can be performed on the floor without needing a spotter to help you. 

However, this substitute for incline bench press places a lot of stress on your shoulder and elbow joints, so if you’ve had injuries in those areas, I’d be careful with this exercise.  

How to do it: 

  • Place two dumbbells next to your DIY bench (e.g., foam roller) on the floor.  
  • Lie against the DIY bench and pick up the dumbbells.  
  • Lift the dumbbells above your chest with your hands facing each other.  
  • Bend your elbows slightly – Maintain this bend throughout the movement.  
  • Open your arms while lowering the dumbbells toward the floor.  
  • Pause at the bottom and slowly bring them back together while squeezing the chest.  
  • Repeat. 
Incline Dumbbell Flyes

5. Underhand Front Raises for Chest 

Front raises for upper chest?... Hear me out.  

Usually, front raises are associated with deltoid development; however, with some adjustments, you can turn this exercise into one of the best incline bench press alternative exercises around.

With this exercise, you don’t require a lot of space, and the only equipment you need is a set of dumbbells, making it ideal for most home gym setups.  

To change the traditional front raise to target your upper chest, all you need to do is change the position of your hands so your palms are facing up; it’s that simple. 

How to do it: 

  • Pick up a pair of dumbbells and hold them with your palms facing forward.  
  • Slightly bend your elbows and maintain that position throughout the movement.  
  • Raise your arms to the front simultaneously by arching from your shoulder joint.  
  • Squeeze your chest at the top of the movement.  
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells and repeat the movement to complete your set.  
Underhand Front Raises For Chest

6. Reverse Grip Rotational Dumbbell Press 

The traditional flat dumbbell press can be adjusted to target your upper chest, and it’s one of the easiest ways to work your upper chest.

Your upper chest activation is drastically increased by reversing your grip, so your palms are supinated (palms facing you). 

This alternative for incline bench press works your chest through an increased range of motion. You’ll feel your upper chest working most at the top end of the movement. 

It’s not difficult to learn this substitute for incline bench press, so it’s a brilliant alternative for most experience levels. But, it won’t be suitable for everyone; some gym-goers will struggle to position their wrists in the correct position due to mobility issues.

How to do it: 

  • Lie on a flat bench holding dumbbells on your chest with a neutral grip. 
  • Press the dumbbells up and rotate your hands, so your little fingers face each other and squeeze your chest hard.   
  • Slowly reverse the movement bringing the dumbbells back to your chest.  
  • Repeat and complete your set.  
Reverse Grip Rotational Dumbbell Press

7. Incline Swiss Ball Dumbbell Press 

The Swiss ball is one of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment around, so it’s probably no surprise you can use it as a makeshift substitute for an incline bench.  

During the incline Swiss ball dumbbell press movement, your upper pecs, triceps, and anterior deltoids are stimulated. 

Swiss balls are inexpensive and don’t take up much room, so if your home gym lacks space, it’s a fantastic substitute for incline bench press.  

It’s a comfortable makeshift bench and supports your back fully during the movement; however, it does require more core strength to help balance yourself on the ball. If you're not great with balance, I recommend trying another exercise on this list.

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How to do it: 

  • Sit on a Swiss ball and hold your dumbbells at shoulder level.  
  • Slide down the ball until your hips are just off the floor.  
  • Push the dumbbells upwards and squeeze your chest together.  
  • Bring the dumbbells down toward your chest slowly.  
  • Repeat the movement and complete your set. 
Incline Swiss Ball Dumbbell Press

Muscles Worked With Incline Barbell Bench Press Alternatives

Pectoralis Major

The pec major is the largest part of the chest, and it needs to be sufficiently stimulated to develop a barrel-like chest. By working this muscle regularly, you’ll increase your overall upper body strength and improve your other lifts.

Anterior Deltoid

During the incline bench press alternatives, you’re anterior (front) deltoids are required to create stability in the shoulder joint. By having more stability in your shoulder joint, it’ll carry over into your other pushing exercises, allowing you to lift more weight. 

Triceps Brachii

The triceps make up over 70% of your upper arms, so it’s important they’re worked during your workout. The incline bench press alternative exercises mentioned on this list use your triceps to help stabilize the arms and assist with pressing the dumbbells or weight.


Benefits Of Substitute Exercises Over The Incline Barbell Bench Press?

Performing the substitute for incline bench press exercises has many benefits: 

Increased upper body strength 

Training your chest, triceps, and anterior delts helps increase your overall body strength. Having a strong upper body is something most gym-goers aim to achieve.

Alternatives such as the dumbbell pullover require a hell of a lot of upper body strength to perform as it trains your upper chest, triceps, deltoids, core, and even activates your lats.

Promotes muscular hypertrophy  

If you train a muscle effectively, it results in muscular hypertrophy, increasing your overall muscle mass to give you a better-looking physique. Increasing your muscle mass helps burn more calories and prevents muscular breakdown as you age.  

Developing your upper chest muscle using alternatives like the reverse grip rotational dumbbell press is a brilliant way of stimulating muscle growth in your upper chest.

Easy to perform at home 

Most of the incline bench press alternative exercises on this list are simple and don’t require specialist equipment, and this makes them perfect for performing in your home gym. The dumbbell pullover is one of the easiest variations to perform, as all you need is a dumbbell and floor space. 

Read Also - Home Gym Sizing & Setup


Common Barbell Incline Bench Press Questions

What can I use if I dont have an incline bench? 

If you don’t have an incline bench available in your gym, you have a few options available to you. You can use a foam roller to angle your upper torso to create an incline; while this isn’t perfect, it does give you a different feel to regular flat bench press and engages your upper pecs.  

Or, you could try one of the incline bench press alternative exercises mentioned on the list above.

Can you use a chair as an incline bench? 

You can, but it’s not the most comfortable piece of equipment to use. I have in the past used wooden bed slats angled against a chair (or bed) to create an incline bench. While it’s not perfect, it does the job. 

But, always put safety first and test the DIY bench first before you start lifting weight above your head.  

How do you turn a flat bench into an incline? 

If you’ve got an adjustable bench press, then you simply lift the back pad of the bench into a 30-45 degree angle and lock it into position.  

However, if you’ve got a flat bench, you can place a weight plate under one side of the bench to create an incline. Ensure the bench is stable on the plate before you begin to use it for your incline bench press movement.  

Should I start with an incline or flat bench? 

It depends... if you’re looking to lift more weight, then the flat bench is generally where most people are the strongest. But, if you want to develop your upper chest, I’d recommend focusing on the incline bench as your primary exercise, so I’d suggest starting on the incline.  

Whichever exercise you choose to start with is dependent on your goals.  


Conclusion

If you’ve been looking to develop your upper chest muscle but can’t use the incline bench press, you’ll need to find alternative exercises to perform in your home gym, so you don’t leave your upper chest lagging.  

The list above gives you seven of the best incline bench press alternatives you can add to your workout with ease, add them into your program, and watch your upper chest grow. 

Last Updated on May 25, 2022