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September 07, 2021 9 min read

Bench presses are an essential part of any training program, especially if you’re looking to build a massive chest and strengthen your upper body as a whole. There are many reasons this lift is among the most important lifts at powerlifting meets or weightlifting competitions.

Knowing  how to properly bench press can be quite difficult for the average lifter, but there are many variations and alternatives that can still give you a killer chest session. 

Bench Press 101

Before you can dive into bench press alternatives, you should know the ins and outs of the traditional bench press. Even if you’re a bench pressing fiend already, it’s always a good idea to brush up on your form and overall knowledge.

a man doing bench presses at the gym

Like deadlifts, bench presses are a compound lift, meaning they target multiple muscles at once. Presses are a group of exercises that typically target the chest, triceps, or shoulders. Bench presses are, of course, no different. Specifically, bench presses target your:

  • Pectoralis major 
  • Anterior deltoids 
  • Triceps

Though the chest is typically the most targeted muscle group in the movement and you will likely see the most growth in this area with bench presses. 

Importance of a Strong Upper Body

It may be obvious that having a strong upper body will serve you well during training, but it will also seamlessly and noticeably translate into your everyday life. Bench press variations have been shown  to increase athletic performance, among many other positives.

Here are some of the many benefits of the strength you can build with bench presses:

  • Improve Posture: Good posture is essential. We often settle for less than ideal postures since it is something we all tend to struggle with. The truth is, however, poor posture is not normal and can even lead to worse health issues. Having properly strengthened core muscles will help support your body for a properly aligned spine and neck.
  • Help Lifting Things: Lifting things is a part of our daily lives, from things as light and our coffee cups to heavier items like groceries or books. Whatever it may be, without a strong core and upper body, your body will struggle to perform these simple tasks.
  • Protects You From Injury: Weak cores are almost synonymous with injuries. While you may get by for a while with no pain, performing everyday tasks with a weak core makes you more prone to injuries. Upper body injuries can be debilitating and typically always require rehabilitation exercises. So, it’s best to perform preventative exercises like bench presses rather than rehabilitation exercises due to injury.

How to Perform A Barbell Bench Press

Performing a traditional barbell bench press requires top-notch form and a few pieces of equipment. You’ll need a flat bench and a barbell as well as a gym buddy to act as your safety spotter.

First, lay back on the bench with your feet planted firmly and totally on the ground. Your lower back should be arched and not in contact with the bench, but your glutes, upper back, and head should all remain in contact with the bench.

Grab the bar just beyond shoulder width. Keeping your chest out and your core engaged, unrack the weight. Begin the movement by slowly lowering the bar to your chest, maintaining drive throughout your body.

Once the bar comes into slight contact with your chest (do not use your chest for direct support of the bar!), drive the bar back up. Once your elbows are in a locked-out position, stop the movement. Don’t allow the chest to cave in or the shoulders to press out.

Knowing how to properly perform a bench press, or at least have some knowledge of the movement, will help you better perform the various bench press alternatives.

Bench Press Alternatives

If you can’t bench press or need to change up your routine in the gym, there are several great exercises that can serve as alternatives to the magnificent bench press movement.

While nothing can truly replace the real thing, here are some extremely close seconds:

1. Floor Press

Floor presses are a great, low-risk way to gain chest strength and even boost your traditional bench press. Doing floor presses is also good if you find yourself struggling with form.

To do a floor press, simply lay on the ground with your knees bent and your feet firmly on the floor. Using an overhand grip on your barbell, or even dumbbells if you wish, grip your weight at about shoulder-length apart.  For the rest of the movement, simply refer to the traditional bench press instructions.

2. Dumbbell Bench Press 

If you’re working out at home or on the go, you may not have access to an expensive Olympic barbell. Dumbbells are much more transportable and typically more affordable. You’ll also need a flat bench like you would for a traditional bench press. To do a dumbbell bench press, simply lay on the bench with the traditional form.

Remember, this means your feet have adequate contact with the ground, your glutes are firmly on the bench, your lumbar spine is arched, and your shoulders and head are in contact with the bench. Next, hold the dumbbells in each hand at chest level at just beyond shoulder-length apart. Brace your core and you’re ready to begin the movement.

3. Incline Bench Press

If you want to target your upper chest muscles specifically, you can do an incline bench press. This simply means putting the weight bench up a few notches so that you lean back when seated on the bench instead of laying all the way flat. You can choose to use a barbell or do incline dumbbell presses. Next, simply perform a traditional bench press.

4. Decline Bench Press

If you want to target your lower pecs, decline bench presses are the way to go. These may feel a bit weird in comparison to incline bench presses since, as you may have guessed, you’ll be leaning back slightly more than parallel with the floor.

For this reason, you’ll need a bench with footholds for safety.  Lay on the bench and place your feet in the footpads. Next, just simply perform a traditional bench press. This position is very vulnerable, so be sure you’re extra careful with weight amount and utilizing safety precautions.

5. Dumbbell Flyes

Although bench presses are perhaps the best compound movement for the chest and  activate your chest, shoulders, and triceps much more than dumbbell flyes, you should always mix it up and challenge your muscles from multiple angles. Dumbbell flyes are very different from bench presses, so pay close attention to the form.

To do a dumbbell flye, you’ll need a flat bench and two dumbbells. If you have two kettlebells, those will work, too. To do this exercise, simply lay back on the bench with your feet flat on the ground. Keep your chest out and open, avoid caving in your chest and shoulders. Hold the dumbbells straight out in front of you at chest height with your elbows completely locked.

Before beginning the movement, engage the core. Next, start to lower the dumbbells laterally on each side. Your arms should remain mostly straight, while still allowing for a small and comfortable amount of bend in the elbows as you come to the bottom of the movement.

You should aim for a large range of motion with a depth that is just below parallel to the chest. Using your chest as the primary source of power, bring the weights back up to the starting position. Never lose the engagement in your core or chest.

6. Resistance Band Chest Fly

Resistance bands are an effective and inexpensive tool to utilize for fitness. They are also a great piece of equipment to use when building your chest. A resistance band chest fly has the same basic form as a dumbbell fly, but you can do the resistance band version without a flat weight bench. Simply stand or lay flat on a mat or the ground. 

To begin the movement, hold each end of the resistance band in either hand and hold your arms out in front of you. Next, pull both ends in opposite directions, focusing on keeping your chest up and out. Pull the resistance band as far as you can, then slowly return to the starting position.

Resistance band flyes are a great place to start if you find dumbbell flyes or even bench presses too difficult. You’ll gain strength and prepare yourself for larger lifts.

7. Cable Chest Press

Cable chest presses are similar to bench presses, but utilize the versatile cable machine rather than free weights. Chances are you don’t have a cable machine at home, but if you have access to a gym this bench press alternative is a must. 

You can do this exercise in numerous ways, but for this example, we’ll use the standing method. Move the cable pulleys to just above shoulder height and use the handle attachment. Stand facing away from the machine. Next, grab a handle in each hand and take a stabilizing stance. You can choose to plant your feet at about shoulder-width apart or utilize a staggered stance. 

Holding each handle at about chest height with your elbows bent behind you, begin the movement by press the handles out in front of you until your elbows are locked. Remember, keep your chest puffed out and your core engaged. You can choose to use an overhand grip or an underhand grip.

You can also choose to finish out the movement by crossing your hands in front of each other at the top of the movement. You can also play around with the pulley placement to target various parts of the chest.

8. Cable Flyes

Cable flyes are similar to cable presses and is just one way of the many ways to utilize the cable machine. Set up the cables the same way you would for a cable chest press.

Muscular athletic bodybuilder standing training chest and shoulders muscles on fitness equipment wire cable machine

Next, stand facing away from the machine. Grab the handles in either hand. Starting with your arms stretched out on either side, begin to bring the cables out in front of you, meeting in the middle. Keep your chest puffed out, your core engaged, and a good upright posture.

9. Landmine Press

Landmines are just a barbell that is anchored to the floor at one end. You can do many things with a landmine, presses being just one of them. To do a landmine press, stand with good posture and your feet about hip-width apart. Keeping your chest out, your spine aligned, hold the landmine in both hands at the middle of your chest. 

Begin the movement by pressing the landmine up above your head. Maintain slow and controlled movements. You can also choose to work one side at a time by hold the landmine in one hand at your shoulder and pressing up with that arm only.

10. Push-ups 

Push-ups are an underrated chest exercise. They require no equipment and are an effective bodyweight exercise. You may be worried that bodyweight resistance isn’t enough for a proper chest workout, but do anywhere from 10-20 of these bad boys and then you’ll understand.

To do a push-up, lay on the ground face down. Using your hands and toes, push your body weight up off the ground. Using your core to help support you will make the movement much more effective and easier. To target your chest more, move your hands wider beyond your shoulders. To target your triceps more, keep your hands closer together.

Tips for Building Your Chest

If you’ve tried all the bench press variations out there and still aren’t happy with your results, there may be a few tips you can implement to jump-start growth.

  • Focus on Nutrition: Too often neglected, nutrition will make a large impact on your progress. If you’re looking to build muscle and get some bulk, protein and a caloric surplus are musts. And, of course, no nutritious muscle-building diet is complete without  Steel Supplement’s Ultimate Mass Stack to maximize those gains!
  • Start Off Slow: We know, working out is just exciting! However, don’t let your excitement overpower your focus. Start off at low weights that allow you to perfect your form. With great form as your foundation, you can really pack on the weight in the future and decrease the likelihood of exercise-related injuries.
  • Warm-Up: We often skip our warm-up sessions. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world, it can make all the difference if you’re really struggling. Sometimes we lack the proper mind-to-muscle connection and can’t properly engage the desire muscles. Warming up gives you a chance to get those muscles working without wasting precious lifting time.
  • Properly Focus Your Energy: Many lifters find it hard to properly focus on the targeted muscle. However, many lifters also focus too much on the targeted muscle and forget about the rest of their body. With bench presses and their alternatives, being sure to give attention to your entire body while also properly engaging the targeted areas are essential to success. This can seem like a difficult task, but use your warm-up time to disperse your focus.

Last Thoughts on Bench Press Alternative Exercises

These alternative exercises are a great way to change up your routine without straying too far from your goals. If you want to  build a massive chest but aren’t sure where to start, bench presses and the many bench press variations are a sure way to achieve this.

Without a strong chest and upper body in general, your other lifts are likely to suffer and your everyday life may feel physically difficult. Bench presses and their alternatives serve as a great method for improving your overall quality of life, changing up your boring old routine, or providing more accessible options for getting a huge chest.