The bench press might be the most popular lift of all-time and it is great for building muscle mass and strength in the chest and other muscles in the upper-body. Whether you have a need due to injury or a need to incorporate variety into your training program, it is good to get away from this lift for awhile. Below are several exercises that could be used as bench press alternatives.
Really, there could be dozens of bench press alternative exercises that still use the barbell and bench. There is incline, flat, decline, and everything in between. You could also get fancy changing the grip or adding things like bands or chains. There are tons of variations, but if you are looking for alternatives to the bench press, I’m assuming you don’t want any of that.
If you are looking for a substitute to the bench press, you probably won’t exercises that are nothing like the bench, but still hit the same muscles. That can be a problem, because nothing is going to work the muscles quite like the originals. These lifts below, though, all do a good job of targeting the pecs and triceps in a similar manner.
This is the only exercise that mimics traditional barbell bench presses on the list, but it just has to be included. This is pretty much exactly the same exercise, it just replaces a barbell with a pair of dumbbells. Using dumbbells, as opposed to a barbell, forces each side of your body to perform equal work and can expose any weakness in the muscles on either side of your body.
You can see what the exercise looks like in the video below. A good spotter can really be important for this lift and especially so when you start to go heavy. Safely getting the dumbbells into the starting position at the beginning, and on the ground at the end, can be the trickiest part of the lift. A smart spotter will be able to help you with that.
A simple push up, and all of the crazy variations, can be one of the best exercises at targeting the pecs and triceps. When you are more advanced, you can definitely start to try different things out with your push up routines. Varying the width of your hand placement or trying an unbalanced hand placement, such as 1 hand in front of your head and the other below your chest, will really force your muscles to work in different ways.
The cool thing about push ups is that they can be done almost anywhere and their variety is only limited by your imagination. Single arm variations, diamond push ups, and clap push ups are great for getting advanced chest work in. Many people overlook push ups because some consider it a beginner exercise, but if you are creative, they can be some of the most challenging stressors of the chest and arms out there.
Dips are a great exercise for upper-body size and strength and they can be done in many different ways. Depending on how you perform them, they can really work the chest, triceps, or both. In general, a more upright posture during dips targets the triceps, while a forward lean with the upper-body will target the chest more. For a greater stimulus, you can add resistance by wearing a dip belt that allows you to add weight to it, which is shown in the video below.
You may have heard or even done dumbbell pullovers before, but I’m guessing you haven’t done them with an incline bench. Using an incline bench actually allows you to work a longer range of motion and allows you to really feel the muscles working. Plus, if you’ve ever done flat bench pullovers, you know how tricky balancing can be, especially when you start to go heavy with it.
Using an incline bench pretty much eliminates the worry about balancing the weight and your body. Also, if you can put some kind of platform behind you to lay the dumbbell before and after your set, it makes it a little bit easier to get going. Getting the dumbbell from the ground to overhead and into the lift can sometimes be the trickiest part of it, and this eliminates that part of it.
Beginners should definitely not go heavy on this lift, as they will be holding a dumbbell directly over their head at one point. You should absolutely be conservative with the weight the first few times you try this and not risk anything, as it can be a tricky lift even for experienced lifters. You can see what it looks like in the video below.
Pec flyes are a great choice for targeting the chest muscles to add mass. Using a decline bench may actually activate more chest muscles than a flat bench, according to this study by Stephen C. Glass and Ty Armstrong. While that study compared decline and flat bench press, it is reasonable to guess that there could be similar benefits to other decline chest exercises.
Different variations of pec flyes have long been a staple in the bodybuilding community because of their ability to target the pecs specifically and put on mass. If you squeeze the pec muscles at the top of the motion you can really feel them working. This lift also works a long range of motion. This is a tricky exercise to describe, but you can see what it looks like below.
While it is a great exercise on its own and should be a staple of most training programs, these bench press alternatives make a great choice for whenever you want – or are forced – to incorporate some variety into your training. Mixing it up with different exercise variations like those above will prevent you from stalling and allow you to continue to progress on your strength and mass goals.