The bench press is an effective upper-body exercise for building muscle in the pecs, shoulders, and triceps and plays a fundamental role in a weight-lifter’s workout.
However, if you’ve experienced an injury, you want to isolate a single muscle group, or there simply isn’t a bench available in the gym, you might be looking for an alternative to the bench press.
So how can you receive all the benefits of a bench press without using one? Don’t worry, we’ve got the answer for you.
There are multiple alternatives to the bench press that will help you achieve the same results.
In this article, we explore 9 highly effective bench press alternatives to aid your workouts, so next time you’re in the gym why not give one of these exercises a shot?
Check out our top bench press alternatives below.
Muscles targeted in a bench press
The bench press is an excellent exercise for engaging multiple different muscle groups in one exercise!
The muscles targeted in the bench press include:
- Trapezius (upper back).
What are the benefits of a bench press?
Adding bench presses to your weight training routine will increase your upper body strength, improve muscular endurance, and can prepare your upper body to do movements such as push-ups.
Depending on your gym goals, there are likely to be different muscle groups you want to be targeting. The bench press is great for this, as there are different variations that work slightly different muscles, too.
For instance, a narrower grip bench press also works the triceps and forearms as well as the pectorals. However, it isn’t necessary to do multiple variations in the same workout, as overusing a muscle group can lead to injuries. If you find you like to mix up your variations, usually stick to two per workout to be safe.
Bench pressing also helps to strengthen and build all three of the tricep heads (long, lateral, and medial) throughout different ranges of motion during the lift.
Why do you need bench press alternatives?
There are multiple reasons why you might need a bench press alternative in the gym. Any alternative to the bench press should include a heavy focus on the chest muscles, including the fibers of the lower and upper pectorals.
Namely, you might need an alternative as you could have lost movement after an injury and need an exercise to facilitate that. On the other hand, you might want to isolate specific muscles as opposed to the wider range that a bench press covers.
Or it might just be that there isn’t a bench press free in the gym during a busy period. Whatever the reason, it is always good to have alternative exercises in your back pocket so you can get the most out of your workouts!
Bench press alternatives focused on chest
Push-ups are a great all-round workout to work your whole body. There are multiple variations of push-ups depending on your fitness level, but the fact remains the same, they are a great alternative to the bench press.
Traditional push-ups are beneficial for building upper body strength. They work the triceps, pectoral muscles, and shoulders.
When done with proper form, they can also strengthen the lower back and core by engaging (pulling in) the abdominal muscles. One of our favorite variations of push-ups is weighted push-ups.
Weighted push-ups guide
- Get on the ground in the push-up position as you normally would.
- Ask your training partner to place a plate on your mid-back and spot you whilst you do the exercise to make sure that the plate doesn’t slip.
- Ensure your torso is in a neutral position, without your hips sicking and keeping your belly button tucked.
- Perform the push-up as normal, and add more weight plates as needed on your back.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as you’d like.
Tip: Patience is key. If you’re new to this exercise, whilst you’re getting used to it be careful not to overload yourself with weight. To avoid injury, you should stick to a lighter plate and work your way up!
Barbell floor press
The barbell floor press and the bench press target the same muscles, making the barbell floor press an excellent alternative exercise.
The barbell floor press helps you develop upper body strength, particularly the chest, triceps and shoulders as well as demanding on core strength. The floor press allows you to press massive weights without undue shoulder stress.
Bearing this in mind, the barbell floor press is great if you’ve experienced an injury. As the range of motion in the exercise stops at the floor, performing this exercise means that you place less strain on your shoulders during the floor press than in the bench press.
Barbell floor press guide
- Find an area of the floor to work out in front of a power cage.
- Make sure that the pins are set up so that you can take the barbell off the rack safely when you’re lying on the ground.
- Position yourself comfortably, making sure that you keep your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Perform the bench press movement as you normally would, but limit the elbow tucking as much as possible.
Tip: Keep the wrist and elbow joints stacked underneath the bar for best results.
Dumbbell chest fly
A dumbbell chest fly is an excellent upper body exercise that can help to strengthen the chest and shoulders, and is a great alternative to the bench press.
Not only can scapular retraction exercises help to improve your posture, but they can also help you gain strength in the shoulder region.
Performing chest dumbbell flyes a few times a week may help open up the chest and shoulder region and help with shoulder retraction. Chest openers are known to help reduce upper back pain, increase range of motion, and reduce tightness in the upper body.
Dumbbell chest fly guide
- Begin by lying down with your back on a flat bench press. Your head and back should remain firmly pressed into the bench throughout the exercise.
- Ask your spotter to place a dumbbell in each of your hands.
- Bring your arms up straight in front of you so they’re at chest level, palms facing each other.
- Slightly bend your elbows, take your hands apart and begin to slowly lower dumbbells in an arc motion until they’re in line with the chest.
- When you can feel a stretch in your pecs, begin to fly your hands back to the center.
- Repeat for as many reps as your workout requires.
Tip: When performing a dumbbell chest fly, you should ensure that you keep your elbows bent at all times. You should never fully straighten or lock your arms, as this forces the weight you’re lifting onto the elbows and shoulder joints which can significantly increase your chance of injury.
Dumbbell bench press
A dumbbell bench press is another good alternative to the bench press and involves using two dumbbells to achieve a close result.
There are multiple benefits to dumbbell bench presses. As the dumbbells are independent of one another (unlike the barbell bench press), the body must work to properly stabilize the load unilaterally.
However, you won’t be able to lift as much weight in comparison to the barbell bench press.
This is down to the fact that the dumbbell bench press includes more stabilizer muscle groups, such as the serratus anterior, pec minor, and other smaller muscle groups in the shoulder.
Dumbbell bench press guide
- To begin, set up a bench at an incline of around 30-45° and place your feet flat on the floor and your back on the bench.
- Lift the dumbbells to chest height with your palms facing forwards.
- Push the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended, using your pecs to power the movement.
- To activate the pecs more, take a prone grip (palms facing away from you) and ensure your elbows are at 90-degrees from the body when the dumbbells are on your chest.
- Repeat until you feel satisfied with the amount of reps.
Tip: If you find that one side is struggling when using dumbbells, you can focus on building your strength on that side to balance your body. Start with a lower weight and work your way up.
Standing cable chest press
The standing cable chest press is a powerful exercise for building stronger chest muscles and works well as an alternative to a bench press.
There are multiple benefits of using a standing cable chest press. This variation of a chest press allows you to move slowly and with control. The cable chest press also strengthens your core muscles, which improves balance and stability.
You can do it one arm at a time and adjust the height of each push to target different areas of your chest, too, making it a great, versatile exercise to master.
Standing cable chest press guide
- Position two cables slightly below chest level. Stand facing away from the machine, and grab the handles with an overhand grip and bent elbows.
- Stagger your stance with one foot in front of the other, lean forward, and push the handles out and toward the middle of your chest.
- Pause here, then release the cables until the handles are at chest level.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat the reps for as many times as you see fit.
Tip: It is worth noting that you can easily injure yourself if you are unfamiliar with this exercise, therefore, you need to ensure that you learn the proper form before loading on any heavier weights.
Bench press alternatives focused on shoulders
Barbell overhead press
An overhead press is an exercise whereby you stand with the bar at your shoulders, and press upwards ending up with the bar overhead.
The barbell overhead press is not only an excellent alternative to the bench press, but also targets similar muscle groups, too. Bearing that in mind, there is a significant amount of shoulder activation in the overhead press in comparison to the bench press, especially the front deltoid.
This is something to take into consideration if you plan to use this exercise to isolate certain muscles.
There are multiple benefits to a barbell overhead press, too.
Barbell overhead presses help you build strength and size of the shoulder, triceps, and trapezius muscles as well as helping you to maintain and build core muscles, such as your obliques, transverse abdominal muscles.
Barbell overhead press guide
- Begin by unracking the bar.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart (the same as your squat stance would be).
- Look straight in front of you, being careful to keep this stance (you could try staring at one spot so you remember).
- Stand with your chest up and out, think of pulling your shoulder blades back and together slightly and standing with your shoulders back and down.
- Press the bar above your head, aiming to keep it in a straight line.
- Bring it back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for as many reps as you would like.
Tip: Your elbows and forearms should be in a vertical position, straight up and down. If your elbows are pointing outward or inward your grip is either too narrow or too wide. Experiment with it, after all, practice makes perfect.
Single arm landmine press
A single arm landmine press is a great alternative to a bench press if you’re specifically searching for an exercise to help balance your arm strength as it will help you work out any imbalances on your right and left side.
If you’re aiming for shoulder development, a single arm landmine press can help to build strength and is a good movement to increase shoulder stabilization, strength, as well as core stability and anti-rotational strength.
The landmine press is a great way to work your shoulders and chest in a way that is much easier on the joints than traditional barbell exercises, meaning that it is an ideal exercise if you have suffered an injury.
Not only this, the landmine press also reinforces proper scapular stabilization due to the pressing angle and loading of the barbell as it comes into and leaves the body.
Single arm landmine press guide
- Lodge one end of the barbell in the corner of a wall.
- Stand facing the wall with one hand on the end of the barbell in a split stance with the opposite leg forwards.
- Keep your elbow tucked to your side and extend your arm up, turn your body and lift your back heel so your weight shifts forwards onto your front foot.
- At the top end range of motion your hand should be around forehead height.
- Perform equal reps on your right and left side to maintain balance.
Tip: You can also integrate a little more ab work by performing a half-kneeling or tall-kneeling stance. To perform a half-kneeling stance, you simply need to bend your right knee to the ground if you’re holding the barbell in your right hand (or vice versa).
Dumbbell Arnold press
A dumbbell Arnold press is a fantastic exercise in the gym, and works to target the shoulders specifically.
The dumbbell Arnold press is a superior alternative to the bench press as opposed to other dumbbell overhead variations as it provides more activation in the triceps, upper chest, and front deltoid. Alongside this, it can benefit you by strengthening the trapezius muscles within the shoulder.
Another benefit of regularly training the shoulder muscles through a dumbbell Arnold press is that it can help you build strength and allow you to lift heavier weights in other exercises, such as the bicep curl and the bench press, too.
Dumbbell Arnold press guide
- Start with your feet hip distance apart.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with your palms together facing you.
- In one motion, bring elbows out wide to sides and then rotate your palms so that they are turned away from you.
- Drive your hands overhead and bring the dumbbells together at the top.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as your workout allows.
Tip: Keep your abs engaged by drawing your navel toward the spine as you lift the weights overhead to avoid overarching your lower back. If you’re unable to do this, it likely means that your dumbbells are a little too heavy, so try reducing the weight.
Bench press alternative focused on triceps
The dip is one of the greatest body weight exercises for building arm, shoulder, and triceps size and strength and are an excellent alternative to a bench press.
Dips are incredibly versatile as you can easily alter your body position in order to recruit more or less of the muscles you want to target. They are also incredibly convenient, as you can dip almost anywhere and there are multiple variations to match your fitness level!
Whichever dip variation you decide to do, your hands should always be shoulder-width apart on the surface you are dipping from, with your arms straight.
- Begin by positioning your hands on the dip machine with parallel handles.
- Slowly lower your body to the floor by bending your elbows backward.
- Position your body into leaning slightly forward and dip down until your arms are at a 90-degree angle.
- Be careful to not fully lock out your arms at the top and stop once you feel a stretch in your shoulders. Don't go any lower if you begin to feel a heavy strain or you can risk a possible shoulder injury.
- Pause at the bottom, ensuring you keep your core and glutes tight to prevent your legs from swinging.
- Drive your body straight up to return to your start position.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as your workout requires. Increase your sets and reps over several weeks as you build muscle and strength in your triceps.
Tip: If you can’t do a full bodyweight dip, start with a band-assisted variation. This will allow you to master the movement of the exercise and will help you to gain the strength you’ll need to perform the full exercise.
Depending on which muscles you want to isolate, there are multiple bench press alternatives to help you strive towards your gym goals.
Experimenting with your workout regime allows you to work different areas of your body, and can prevent you from becoming demotivated!
Although routines are great to stick to in the gym, it doesn’t mean you can’t switch up your usual bench press with an equally effective alternative.
There are so many variations and alternatives that you can adapt, so you shouldn’t feel too disheartened if you can’t perform a bench press due to an injury you’ve suffered or if the bench is occupied.
There’s a perfect addition to your workout waiting, you just need to find it!
Whichever exercise you decide to try as an alternative to a bench press, experiment and have fun with it! The gym can be busy and time consuming if you’re standing waiting around for machines.
You’ll be much more excited to do your workouts if you’re not always waiting for others to finish their workouts and can focus on your own progress without distraction if you have an alternative in your back pocket.
Next time you go to the gym, why not try something different and new to add to the usual? You might surprise yourself and find a new favorite.
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