Bench Press Alternatives for Serious Chest Gains

Bench Press Alternatives for Serious Chest Gains - Oct 2021

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For many gym goers, bench press is the holy grail of upper body exercises. If you are looking for shredded pecs, shoulders, and triceps, the bench press is among the Big 3 of lifts.

But, there are other less favorable consequences of this popular chest exercise. 

During peak gym hours (and on Mondays- International Chest Day, of course), you will often find a long line up of anxious guys all wanting to get in their bench press workout at the same time.

Most of the best strength training books will hammer in the need for bench press as an effective workout, and they're right, but you're not forced to do it if you can't or don't want to.

So, if you're looking for effective substitutes for bench press then your search ends here. This is going to be your go-to guide for the best bench press alternatives to keep you on track to build upper body gains.

Why Introduce Bench Press Alternatives?

Maybe you are skeptical about abandoning the bench press and seeking out alternatives. I get it.

As gym goers, we're creatures of habit. Still, by performing the same exercise day in and day out - and forcing it to happen even in less than favorable conditions - you could be doing more harm than good.

Here are a few reasons why it is important for all athletes to familiarize themselves with substitutes for bench press:


It might be a hard pill to swallow, but bench press can be dangerous on your own if you're pushing weight you haven't lifted before or you don't know technique, which is what a spotter's for.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this role, a spotter is a fellow gym member who stands behind the bench press while you are working out. It doesn't make you look weak to use a spotter, it makes you smart.

They make sure that in the event that you fail the lift or lose control of the bar, it doesn’t come down hard on your face (bad mental image - I know). 

In the event that you cannot find a spotter (perhaps you are working out alone or don't feel comfortable asking a stranger), bench press alternatives are an excellent solution. You can still get in a serious upper body workout, without putting your safety at risk.

Muscle Longevity

Performing the same exercise regularly is a double edged sword: as you add weight, you build strength, but you are also increasing your risk of overworking the same muscles and injuring yourself.  

The solution: adding in bench press alternatives and accessories. Not only do these movements give different muscle groups more time to recover and repair, but they also help sort out muscle imbalances that are holding you back from new PRs.

For example, always training chest with a barbell allows the stronger side of your body to overcompensate for the weaker side, since both arms are pushing the same weight.

Dumbbells differ in that you have to stabilize individually on each side, which can help correct any muscle imbalances and change up your routine for new results.

Returning from Injury

If you’ve suffered a past injury to your chest muscles, shoulder, bicep, or tricep, training with bench press alternatives is an effective strategy to rebuild your form, strength, and confidence under the bar.

You can pick and choose the right substitutes to bench press to meet your individual needs.

Whether you are looking for beginner movements that help you train with correct form, or isolated exercises that allow you to build strength in one muscle group while allowing another to repair, bench press alternatives are versatile enough to be modified for any kind of fitness program. 

Bench Press Alternatives to Maximize Your Gains

Bookmark, screenshot, or send this list to your gym buddy: here are the top bench press alternatives that you need to know to optimize your upper body training routine.

Dumbbell Chest Press

woman dumbbell pressing on a flat bench

Why you need it:

This popular bench press alternative needs far less equipment than a conventional bench press, and puts more demand on your individual arm muscles and core, which is great for fixing muscle imbalances. 

How To Do It: 

Grab a set of dumbbells that you can comfortably press for around 8 to 12 reps without failure. I recommend starting low and working your way up as you get used to this workout (note: it is more difficult than bench press, so don’t try and match your working bench press weight just yet). Lay on a flat bench.

Holding your dumbbells, press up towards the ceiling. Be careful not to lock your elbows at the top. Then, bring the dumbbells back to neutral, which is at your armpits. This is one rep. 

Muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Deltoids
  • Triceps

Decline Push-Up

Man decline push up on a yoga ball

Why you need it:

The decline push up is a more advanced modification to a conventional push up.

The decline adds more resistance (weight) to make this movement more challenging and a killer shoulder workout. 

How to do it: 

Set up as you would for a normal push up, except this time place your feet on a raised surface (gym bench, box, or chair if you are working out from home). With your feet elevated and hands pressed firmly on the floor (shoulder width apart).

In a slow, controlled manner, lower your chest to the ground and push back up to complete the movement. 

Muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Deltoids
  • Abs

Incline Chest Press

Man dumbbell pressing on an incline bench

Why you need it:

The incline chest press is one of the most challenging bench press alternatives.

This movement is great for aesthetic purposes because of the resistance it places on your upper pecs and shoulders.

Also, the gains you make from the incline chest press will directly translate into you performing a more powerful bench press. 

How to do it: 

Adjust the bench at your gym so that the back rest is raised and at a 15 to 30 degree incline. Grab a pair of dumbbells, and hold them at your chest level. Press up in front of your chest, not over your head. Lower and repeat.

Muscles worked:

  • Upper pectorals
  • Delts/Shoulders
  • Triceps

Decline Chest Fly

anatomical muscle diagram of a decline dumbbell press

Why you need it:

Opposite to the incline chest press, the decline chest fly targets the lower pecs.

Perform both movements regularly to build balanced chest and arm muscles. 

How to do it: 

To safely perform a decline chest fly, you will want to set up on a gym bench that has leg hooks to hold yourself in place. Sit in a declined position, meaning your feet are raised slightly higher than your head.

Hold your dumbbells up and out in front of your chest. Pull your arms apart from each other, towards the floor, as if you were opening them up for a hug.

Once you begin to feel a slight stretch in your chest, bring your arms back together in front of you to complete one rep.

Muscles worked:

  • Lower pectorals
  • Front delts

Barbell Overhead Press

man performing overhead barbell press

Why you need it:

The barbell overhead press is ideal for building your shoulder stability.

With stronger shoulders, you’ll have greater control under the barbell during your bench press.

Because this bench press alternative is performed standing, it is also a great challenge for your ab muscles. 

Why you need it:

Load a barbell to a comfortable working weight and set it just below your shoulder height on a power rack. Unrack the barbell and hold it at your shoulders. Standing hip width apart, engage your core and press the barbell up.

Make sure you are fully extending your arms without locking your elbows. Bring the barbell back down to neutral in a slow, controlled manner and you have completed one rep. 

Muscles worked: 

  • Shoulders
  • Trapezius/Traps
  • Obliques/Abs/Core

Medicine-Ball Chest Pass

Woman chest-passing medicine ball to a man

Why you need it:

This bench press alternative is a dynamic and explosive exercise that transfers over well to a lot of sports related movements. 

How to do it:  

You can perform the medicine-ball chest pass from a lying down or standing position. First, grab a soft medicine ball that is a comfortable weight for you to throw and catch.

Lie down on your back with your knees angled upward or stand about 5 feet away from a wall. Toss the medicine-ball up into the air if you are lying down or against the wall if you are standing.

You want to focus on the power behind your movement, putting force and control into your throw. Aim to keep the ball at chest level throughout the movement. Catch the ball once it returns to you to finish the rep.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Biceps
  • Abs/Core

Barbell Floor Press

woman dumbbell pressing on floor

Why you need it:

If you’ve hit a plateau in your bench press progression, weak triceps could very well be the culprit holding you back.

Barbell floor presses are excellent substitutes for bench presses that will seriously fire up your triceps.

As well, since the barbell floor press is performed on the ground rather than on a bench, the movement has a limited range of motion.

For this reason, barbell floor presses are also popular rehab exercises for athletes returning to upper body training post injury. 

How to do it: 

Set up a loaded barbell on a low rack, and lay down on the floor underneath it. Unrack the barbell as you would for a conventional bench press. Hold the bar above your chest before carefully lowering it down towards your body.

You will notice that your elbows touch the ground, preventing the bar from making contact with your chest.

Once this happens, you’ve reached the maximum range of motion for this exercise. Push the bar back up to a fully extended position, and you are done one rep. 

Muscles worked:

Chest, shoulders, triceps

Bench Dips

man performing tricep dips on flat bench

Why you need it:

Another tricep crusher, this bench press alternative needs minimal equipment for maximum results.

If you feel pain while performing dips, that can be a good indicator that you have tight chest and shoulders muscles that would benefit from more upper body mobility work! 

How to do it: 

Sit down on a bench and press your hands down next to your thighs. Lift your butt off the seat and walk out your legs so that they are straight. You should now be positioned next to the bench with your weight in your hands and heels.

To complete one dip, bend at the elbows to slowly lower your body down towards the floor. When you feel your triceps kick in to hold yourself up, straighten your arms again to bring your body back up. 

Muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Triceps

Final Thoughts

While it may remain an unpopular opinion, bench press is not the only exercise that is synonymous with serious chest gains. 

In fact, gym goers who incorporate even just a few of these bench press alternatives into their regular chest day routine are setting themselves up to be stronger, more balanced, and more resilient athletes.

Whether you are training for sport, aesthetic, or even just the challenges of day to day life, bench press alternatives can help put you on the fast track to achieving your fitness goals. 

Denver Matheson

Passionate about fitness, I dedicate substantial time to both the gym and the kitchen, nourishing my body for optimal repair and growth. However, there's another crucial space that every athlete values—the research zone. That's precisely why I'm here—to share the knowledge I've acquired over the years, inspired by the generosity of others who guided me on my fitness journey. Join me as I offer valuable insights and information to help you pursue your own barbell pursuits.

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