13 Bench Press Alternatives 

All around the world, Monday is National Chest Training Day. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, and many other exercisers start their training week with at least a few sets of barbell bench presses.

The origin of National Chest Training Day is unclear. However, it is probably because, for many exercisers, the chest is such an important muscle group that most people are happy to prioritize it by training it at the start of their workout week. Of all the chest exercises available, the bench press is arguably the most popular.

It’s an exercise that has really captured the imagination, and a lot of people will want to know, “how much can you bench?” Surprisingly, the bench press is a relatively new exercise, originating in the 1950s. Before that, most lifters focused on overhead pressing.

That all changed with the rise in popularity of powerlifting, which is a sport that includes the bench press. But what are the best bench press alternatives? After all, you can have too much of a good thing, and doing the same exercise over and over again will make it less effective.

In this article, we reveal some of the best exercises you can do instead of bench presses.

What Is a Bench Press?

wonderingThe bench press is a barbell exercise performed while lying flat on an exercise bench. To do the bench press, you hold a barbell over your chest using a slightly wider than shoulder-width, overhand grip.

You then bend your arms, lowering the bar to your chest, and then press it back up. Because of the risk of getting pinned by a heavyweight, the bench press should be with a spotter on hand or in a power rack.

Getting pinned by a heavy bar could cause serious injury. The bench press is popular with bodybuilders, powerlifters, athletes from all sports, and recreational exercisers. It’s also used to determine upper body strength, such as the NFL combine 100kg/220 lbs. bench press test.

What Muscles Do Bench Presses Work?

The bench press is a compound exercise. That means it involves several joints and muscles working together. The primary muscles involved in the bench press are:

  • Pectoralis major – known as the pecs, these are your chest muscles. The pecs are the agonists during bench presses, which means they are responsible for generating the most force.
  • Deltoids – the deltoids or shoulder muscles work with your pecs to lift the weight and stabilize your shoulders. The anterior or front deltoids are the most active.
  • Triceps – located on the back of your upper arm, the triceps extend your elbows. For most lifters, the triceps are the weak link during bench presses and the muscle that is most likely to limit performance.

13 Bench Press Alternatives

As effective as bench presses are, it would be a mistake to do them all the time. The more often you do any exercise, the more likely it is to lose its potency. Or, you may not have access to the equipment required for bench presses. Either way, here are 13 of the best bench press alternatives.

1. Push-ups

The humble push-up is probably the most accessible bench press alternative. It’s the ideal exercise for home trainers and anyone who appreciates a low-tech workout.

Humble push-upHow to do it:

  1. Squat down and place your hands flat on the floor, fingers pointing forward and about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Walk your feet back until your body is straight. Brace your abs.
  3. Bend your arms and lower your chest down to about an inch above the floor.
  4. Push yourself back up and repeat.
  5. Bend your legs and rest on your knees to make this exercise easier.

2. Dips

Dips are another bodyweight exercise that works the same muscles as the bench press.

DipsHowever, unlike push-ups, you’ll need to lift your entire body weight using just your arms, making them much more challenging.

How to do it:

  1. Grip the dip bars with your palms facing inward. Support your weight on your arms. Bend your legs and keep your feet clear of the floor.
  2. Bend your arms and lower your chest down between your hands.
  3. Push back up and repeat.

3. Dumbbell Bench Presses

A lot of exercisers find dumbbell bench presses better than the barbell version. Using dumbbells is often more shoulder-friendly and also allows for a larger range of motion.

Dumbbell bench pressesAlso, if you cannot complete a rep, you can just drop the weights out and down to the floor, making them safer for solo trainers.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand and arms straight. Your hands should be facing down your body.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the dumbbells down to your shoulders.
  3. Press them up and repeat.
  4. This exercise can be done using an incline, flat, or decline bench as preferred.

4. Smith Machine Bench Press

A Smith machine is a barbell that moves on rails. It can be used for various exercises, including squats, overhead presses, and bench presses.

Smith machine bench pressIt’s a good choice for solo exercisers as, if you get stuck at the bottom of a rep, you can just turn and lock the bar in place, avoiding serious injury.

How to do it:

  1. Place a bench under the barbell and lie on it, so your chest is under the bar. Reach up and hold it with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Unrack the bar by twisting it.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the bar to your chest.
  3. Push it back up and repeat.
  4. This exercise can be done using an incline, flat, or decline bench as preferred.

5. Chest Press Machine

Working out on a chest press machine means you don’t have to worry about balancing any weights or dropping them on your chest. Instead, you are free to focus on training as hard as you like in a safe environment.

Chest press machine Chest press machines are also easy to use and ideal for beginners.

How to do it:

  1. Adjust the seat on your chest press machine so that the handles are roughly level with the center of your chest. Then, grab the handles with an overhand grip.
  2. Extend your arms and push the handles out and away.
  3. Bend your arms and lower the weights, but do not allow them to clang together.

6. Svend Press

While we don’t know who Svend is (or was!), he invented an unusual but effective exercise that requires nothing more than two weight plates to do.

Svend pressThis is an excellent exercise for working your chest at home.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Place two equal-sized weight plates together and put them between the palms of your hands. Hold them in front of your chest, hands pressing inward.
  2. Without easing the inward pressure, push the weights out to arms’ length and then bring them back to your chest.
  3. Go light; this exercise is more strenuous than it sounds!

7. Guillotine Press

This bench press alternative is actually a variation that was invented by old-school bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Gironda was trainer to the stars and worked with many of the Hollywood elite, including Clint Eastwood and Cher.

Guillotine pressHow to do it:

  1. Lie on an exercise bench and hold a barbell over your chest with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your arms and carefully lower the bar to your neck.
  3. Press it back up and repeat.
  4. Needless to say, this exercise is best done with a spotter on hand. It’s called the guillotine press for a reason!

8. Dumbbell Flyes

Where the barbell bench press is a compound exercise, dumbbell flyes are an isolation exercise. That means they involve just one joint moving and fewer muscles.

Dumbbell flyesAs a result, dumbbell flyes emphasize your pecs and do not use your triceps.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on an exercise bench with your arms straight, palms facing inward, and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your elbows slightly but then keep them rigid.
  2. Open your arms and lower the weights out and down until your upper arms are roughly parallel to the floor.
  3. Squeeze the weights back up and together.

9. Cable Crossovers

Cable crossoversLike dumbbell flyes, this is an isolation exercise that emphasizes the pecs. Using a cable machine helps keep your muscles under constant tension.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in the middle of the cable crossover machine. Take a D-shaped handle in each arm. Bend your elbows slightly but then keep them rigid.
  2. Bring your arms forward and down, so your hands meet in front of your hips.
  3. Open and raise your arms and repeat.

10. Close Grip Dumbbell Press

Close grip dumbbell pressThis exercise is a lot like the Svend press (#6), but you do it with dumbbells and lying on an exercise bench.

How to do it:

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, lie on your exercise bench, arms straight. Then, with your palms facing inward, press the dumbbells together.
  2. Maintaining the inward pressure, bend your arms and lower the weights to your chest.
  3. Press them back up and repeat.
  4. Keep pressing inward throughout your set.

11. Close Grip Bench Press

The barbell bench press is a chest exercise that also involves your triceps. The close grip bench press is a triceps exercise that also works your chest.

Close grip bench pressThis is a good arm-builder, and powerlifters and bodybuilders use it to increase triceps strength and size.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your exercise bench with your eyes directly under the barbell. Grip it with a slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Unrack the bar and hold it over your chest.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the bar to about an inch above your chest. Keep your upper arms tucked into your sides.
  3. Press the bar back up and repeat.

12. Atlas push-ups

If you have mastered standard push-ups, this is the exercise for you. It involves a larger range of motion, making it more challenging and effective.

Atlas push-upsIt’s named after old-time bodybuilder Charles Atlas, who was once voted the world’s most well-developed man.

How to do it:

  1. Place three chairs in a T-shape. Place your hands on two of them and your feet on the other.
  2. Bend your arms and lower your chest down and between your hands. Get a good stretch.
  3. Push yourself back up and repeat.

13. Paused Bench Press

A lot of people bounce the bar off their chest during bench presses. This is not only dangerous; it also makes the exercise less effective. Paused bench presses are all but cheat-proof, and they’re safer and more effective than bouncing bench presses.

Paused bench pressHowever, this variation is also harder than regular bench presses.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your exercise bench with your eyes directly under the barbell. Grip it with a slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Unrack the bar and hold it over your chest.
  2. Bend your arms and lower the bar to your chest. Without relaxing, hold it there for 2-3 seconds.
  3. Press the weight back up and repeat.

Can You Build Your Chest Without Bench Presses?

Judging by the popularity of the bench press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s compulsory for building a bigger, more muscular chest. However, while this exercise can be effective, that doesn’t mean you have to do it, and there are plenty of similarly effective chest exercises to choose from.

Some lifters actually prefer dumbbell over barbell bench presses, as they don’t tend to cause as many shoulder aches and pains. Using dumbbells is also safer if you train alone. No weights? No problem; you can build a great chest with push-ups and dips.

So, yes, you CAN build your chest without bench presses, just like they used to do before the bench press was invented!

Bottom Line

Exercises don’t come much more popular than the bench press. Beloved by almost everyone who lifts weights, it’s a cornerstone of many people’s bodybuilding and strength training programs.

But, as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, and the bench press is not compulsory. In fact, you can build a great chest using many other equally effective exercises, be they bench press alternatives or variations.

You don’t have to give up bench presses, but there is no need to do it if you don’t want to. Instead, use these 13 best bench press alternatives to build and sculpt the pecs of your dreams.


References

  1. Fitness Volt, https://fitnessvolt.com/.
Patrick

Patrick

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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