April 12, 2021 9 min read
For those of us chasing gains, there are some myths that come back again and again… and again. Most of us know better than to believe that ‘rest is for the weak’. One way or another we’ve all learnt that the opposite is true - no rest, no results.
But you may still find yourself believing that the only way to achieve a chiselled chest and beast-like upper body strength is by spending your days and nights at the cable crossover.
If you’re working out at a home gym, chasing gains on the road, or just want to change up your chest workout, we’ve got some good news for you.
There are many other moves that will carve out your pecs and bulk up your upper body. Ready to make chest day the best day of the week? Read on.
It’s true, there’s a reason the cable crossover machine always seems to be busy. It’s an incredibly efficient way to burn up your pectoralis major - the big fan-shaped muscle we’re targeting in the quest for chest definition.
It’s also adjustable, allowing a range of movement. Changing up the angle of your cable crossover exercises lets you target your lower and upper pecs as well as other muscle groups.
The cable crossover also seriously works your shoulders and arms, giving you all-round upper body strength and the v-shaped torso you’ve been angling for. And the results aren’t just for show.
The chest muscles have serious functional importance, helping you lift, pull, and throw heavy weights, as well as improving posture and shoulder motion. If you do any exercise that requires upper body strength (that’s all of us, right?), you’re going to want your pectoral muscles on side.
If the cable crossover’s such a sure bet for a chiselled chest, why do anything else? For a start, access can be an issue. Many home and garage gyms don’t have the space or budget for a cable crossover - all those weights, chains and pulleys just don’t come cheap.
A cable crossover is also the opposite of travel-friendly, making it a challenge to keep your chest chunky on the road. Some commercial gyms just don’t have a cable crossover machine (don’t ask us why).
Even at those that do, you probably don’t want to spend all day waiting for every other guy in the gym to have his Schwarzenegger moment before you get a go.
It’s also hugely important to change up your chest workout if you’re looking to get a ripped torso. When the gains are good, it’s easy to just keep doing the same thing over and over, but that’s a surefire way to put an end to your progress.
Just like people, when muscles get bored, they stop what they’re doing, but if you keep them busy and challenged, they’ll thrive. Keep your chest muscles active and growing by involving different muscle groups, changing up their range of motion, and giving them new, targeted exercises to conquer.
Finally, for some people, the cable crossover can cause shoulder stress and put pressure on upper body joints. No matter how good the gains, that’s just not worth it. You’ve got to find a way to destroy your upper body without actually destroying it.
Whatever your reasons, we’ve got great news. There are some incredible alternatives to cable crossover exercises that will punish your pecs, challenge your chest, and give you the upper body you’ve been working for, and we’ve collected seven of the best below.
There are a huge number of chest exercises that use bodyweight alone, and they can be a great way to get going on the road to powerful pecs. However, if you’re chasing bodybuilder levels of upper body definition, you’re going to want to up the intensity with a bit of tech.
It doesn’t have to be much - just adding free weights can increase the challenge enough to take your chest game to the next level. The exercises below keep it simple, using only free weights and resistance bands - equipment that’s cheap, versatile and likely to already be a part of your home gym.
Ground-breaking? No. Effective? Absolutely. We’ll start with a zero-equipment exercise that’s great for hotel rooms and outdoor workouts, letting you maintain chest activation even when you’re far from a gym.
But these aren’t the push-ups you met in gym class - those aren’t going to get you the gains you need. Amp up the difficulty and the bodyweight you’re handling with two simple principles: elevation and unilateral loading.
Lifting your feet above ground level will increase the bodyweight your upper body is handling, blasting your chest. You don’t have to go for the full hand-stand push-up to feel the effect - just resting your feet on a bench, chair, or wall will take your push-ups from fine to fierce.
The one-armed push-up is impressive for a reason - it’s hard. By only using one arm, you double the weight that arm is moving as well as building balance and core strength.
In addition to the standard one-arm push-up, the archer and typewriter variations are hugely effective ways to introduce unilateral loading to your push-up routine, and push your chest to prove its worth.
This is pretty much identical to a cable crossover but only needs a resistance band and an anchor. The anchor must be something stable you can wrap the resistance band around at chest level, like a pole or tree.
The resistance band crossover is a great chest exercise with all of the muscle-building benefits of the cable crossover, and also increases the range of motion of your shoulder muscles.
This variation on the resistance band crossover is a powerful way to precision-target your upper chest. Instead of pulling in front of you, you’re pulling up, pumping your pecs and building shoulder strength.
The bench press is a classic compound exercise, bulking out your chest, anterior shoulder muscles, and triceps, as well as building shoulder stability. Change it up by using an incline bench, which makes a great alternative exercise to the low cable crossover.
If you don’t have access to a bench, try a dumbbell floor press. This involves the same movement, but with a more limited range of motion.
Warning: This exercise is not for beginners. It’s a unilateral exercise requiring immense control and a lot of strength, so won’t be suitable for your first day at chest school.
However, if you can pull it off, it’s an incredibly effective way to build chest mass. This exercise will also kick your shoulder strength into overdrive while stretching your deltoids and lats.
This exercise requires an Olympic barbell and weight plates. If you don’t have a landmine attachment, put the barbell in a corner to replicate the effect.
The dumbbell pullover will blast your back and chest muscles, supersizing your torso in no time. It’s also a powerful way to build mass, strength and stability in your core and triceps. If that’s not enough, this exercise is great for improving posture and flexibility, helping you to avoid the curse of office back pains.
The dumbbell fly will push your pecs to the limit while strengthening the chest, shoulders and triceps. It also opens up your chest, helping to increase your range of motion, counteract upper back pain, and decrease tightness.
Use dumbbell fly variations to precision-target your chest goals. The incline dumbbell fly uses an inclined bench to hit the top of your pecs. If you’re looking for a major challenge that will build whole-body strength and balance, try using a stability ball instead of a bench. This variation isn’t for the faint of heart, as it recruits a huge range of muscles to keep you in good form while you fly.
To tailor your workout to your level and needs, try changing up the width and resistance of your exercise bands, the weight of your dumbbells, and the number of reps you’re completing.
Don’t try to impress by choosing the heaviest weights - that’s a surefire way to get injured, which isn’t a good look on anyone. Choose weights that challenge your muscles, but also allow you to maintain good form throughout your workout.
Start slowly, gradually increase the weight and reps, and make sure to pay attention to how your body feels. If you’re on the go, use a resistance band and your bodyweight to up your upper body strength.
For bodyweight chest blasters, try mixing pull-ups and chest dips in with your push-ups to carve out that chest. It’s also best to mix low-rep strength exercises with a good amount of cardio and functional training. This will improve your fitness, keep your body engaged, and help you to maintain muscle mass and general health.
And remember to vary your exercises. Don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut - boring your body is a great way to stop seeing results, while keeping your body active and challenged will lead you to greater gains.
All of the exercises above are suitable for a home gym and amazing alternatives to cable crossovers, but it is vital that you perform them safely. If you feel any pain, stop what you are doing and consult a fitness or health professional.
Poor form doesn’t just look bad, it can cause injury. If you’re adding a new exercise to your routine, consider consulting a coach or personal trainer, to make sure you start as you mean to continue - with good form.
As with all exercises, preparation is key - warm up before you work out and give your body the fuel it needs. Once you’re done sweating, make sure to stretch, cool down, and give your muscles a chance to rest and recover.
There are many reasons to want to pump your pecs. Maybe your shirts could do with being a bit tighter, your lifts are lacking, or you want that superman torso because, let’s face it, a big chest and strong shoulders just look good.
Building upper body strength is a game-changer in a huge number of sports, whether you’re looking to score a touchdown or climb El Cap, and is obviously a must for bodybuilders.
Having a strong back and chest also feels good - they’ll solve and prevent a lot of posture problems, helping you to stand tall and showcase the muscles you’ve been working for. One way or another, most of us could do with more upper body strength.
The exercises above are incredibly efficient and effective ways to build that strength and get yourself a ripped and rock-hard torso. Next time chest day rolls around, you’ll be fully armed (and backed and chested…) with the exercises you need for a strong and shredded upper body.