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9 Barbell Bench Press Alternatives At Home

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Everyone loves to bench press. Yet, at least in my experience, most people are not getting the chest growth rewards that their efforts deserve. It’s not because they are doing the exercise wrong – though that certainly is a common problem.

The reality is bench pressing isn’t suitable for everyone. It can (sometimes) cause more harm than good. 

This is because the bench press heavily recruits the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders) and the pecs.

As is the case with lots of people, these muscles are tight and it causes an internal rotation of the shoulders. This is where your shoulders hunch forward and together. 

It can lead to shoulder injuries and dysfunction unless the program is balanced with sufficient horizontal pulls, such as rows.

I’ve been training bodybuilders, powerlifters, and general gym goers for more than 30 years. 

Every time I’ve transitioned someone with shoulder issues from the bench press to one of the nine exercises I’m about to lay out in this article, their chest development has exploded and their shoulder discomfort has stopped.

In this article, I’ll explain what’s wrong with the bench press in terms of chest training. I will then detail the nine best bench press alternative exercises to maximally stimulate your pectoral fibers.

The Problem With the Bench Press

The bench press is the most popular exercise in the gym – and it’s not even close. If you don’t believe me, just walk into any gym at 4 pm and try to find a spare bench press station!

So, why is the bench press so popular?

One reason is that it is a great exercise to increase upper body strength rapidly. A beginner can usually increase their bench press weight by 10-15 lbs per month. That rate of strength progress is very gratifying.

The other reason that people gravitate to the bench is because they’ve been told that it is the best exercise to build chest muscle. This one isn’t quite so black and white.

While the bench press does activate the pectorals as the primary worker, it doesn’t do so very effectively in some lifters. That’s because it does not allow for full range of motion if you’re stiff in the shoulders. It also isn’t the best move for your shoulder joint.

Personally, I prefer a dumbbell bench press for these reasons, but the point of this article is to provide you with bench press alternatives – not different versions of the same thing!

Range of Motion

The main problem with the barbell bench press is restricted range of motion. The function of the pectoral muscle is to move the humerus (upper arm muscle) forward and in towards each other.

Because you are grabbing a bar, with a thumb distance of between two and three feet, and your hands are fixed in that position, you are unable to bring your arms closer together.

The result is that the humerus (upper arm muscle) is unable to complete the last 20 degrees of the pectoral range of motion. 

Chest Stretch

Another problem with the bench press for chest development is that the natural tendency is to focus on the bar touching the chest in the descended position.

What you really should be focusing on is what feels comfortable and natural for the shoulder joint, and what causes enough or too much pec stretch. 

Some people think that the bench press doesn’t cause enough pec stretch because the body gets in the way. The reality is the opposite. When you are doing a pectoral exercise the humerus should not be brought much lower than the level of the torso.

So, when you bench to touch the chest, you are causing excessive stretch at the bottom of the movement, potentially compromising the shoulder joint and the pectoral fibers. 

Greater Triceps Engagement

Another issue that arises when you’re bench pressing for chest development is that when you’re pressing the bar up you are obliged to push both upwards and outwards. That is because the fixed hand position prevents you from pulling the hands inward.

The outward angle of humeral push engages the triceps more and the pectorals less than if you were using dumbbells for the exercise. So, even though you are using more weight on the bench, you are not actually putting more stress on your chest muscles!

Not Unilateral

A final mark against the bench press as a pectoral developer is that it is not a unilateral exercise.

If you watch people bench pressing, you’ll find that many of them press the bar up at an angle. That is because the stronger side is compensating for the weaker side. This leads to uneven strength and muscle development.

When you train with dumbbells or cables, you are forcing each side of the chest muscle to carry its own load. 

Bench Pressing for Strength

Bench Press Alternative - Muscles Used

The bench press is a basic strength-building exercise that requires that your upper and lower body muscles work together to generate the force necessary to lift the weight off your chest. 

The front deltoids, pectorals, triceps, latissimus dorsi, core, and quadriceps must all work together in harmony. This creates the type functional force that is perfectly suited to the pushing needed on a football or rugby field.

The barbell bench press is a greater strength builder than the dumbbell press. The primary benefit is that you’ll be able to lift greater weight.

But research does show how varying the type of bench press can help to gain strength and mass.

This is because, unlike when performing a dumbbell press, exercising with a bar does not need you to stabilize each individual dumbbell. 

If you don’t believe me, try pressing a pair of dumbbells with a combined weight that’s the same and your bench press barbell weight. I doubt you will be able to. 

When it comes to the bench press, you need to decide what your training goal is. If it’s strength, then stick with the bench press. But, if you are primarily after muscle growth, there are some better options. 

Equipment Needed for the Bench Press Alternatives

9 Bench Press Alternatives That Replicate The Same Movement Pattern

Bench Press Alternative Infographic part 1

1. Seated Cable Front Press

Equipment needed for the seated cable front press:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do the seated cable front press:

  1. Set the double cable pulley to shoulder level and position a back supported bench about three feet in front of it facing away from the machine. The bench should have a slight incline of around 75 degrees
  2. Sit on the machine and grab the handles with an overhand grip. The start position has your elbows at shoulder level, angled 45 degrees to your upper body and parallel to the floor
  3. Press both arms forward to full extension at a slight decline, bringing the handles together to meet in line with your sternum.
  4. Reverse and repeat.

Seated cable front press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

2. Standing Decline Cable Press

Equipment needed for the standing decline cable press:

  • Double cable pulley machine

How to do the standing decline cable press:

  • Set the pulleys to shoulder level and stand in front of the machine, facing away from it with a shoulder width stance. You should be directly under the cable handles.
  • Grab the handles with an overhand grip. The start position has your elbows at shoulder level, angled 45 degrees to your upper body.
  • Round your back and look down at your feet.
  • Press both arms directly down the handles together to meet in line with your sternum.
  • Reverse the arm position under control to return to the start position. 

Standing decline cable press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

Force USA G15 Machine

Force USA G15 All-In-One Trainer
Read our best all in one home gym guide here

The Force USA G15 combines a Smith machine, a squat rack, and a pulley system in one compact machine.

The G15 pulley cables have a 2-to-1 and a 4-to-1 ratio allowing you to perform any movement on it. The cable length is longer than a 1-to-1 ratio and allows you to lift lighter weight, ideal for lat raises etc.

Add a leg press and lat pull-down attachment to make it become a true all-in-one home gym machine.

After comparing over 100 machines the G15 came out on top for quality, versatility, and nothing competes at this price point.

3. Standing Unilateral Cable Press

Equipment needed for the standing unilateral cable press:

  • Double cable pulley machine

How to do the standing unilateral cable press

  1. Set the pulley to shoulder level. Stand in front of the machine with a staggered stance and grab a single handle with your right hand in an overhand grip. 
  2. From a starting position with your elbow at shoulder level at a 45 degree angle to your body, press your right arm forward and slightly down to full extension.
  3. Reverse under control and repeat.

Standing unilateral cable press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

4. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

Equipment needed for the decline bench press:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do the decline bench press:

  1. Set a bench at a 25 degree angle
  2. Place a flat bench horizontally in front of the decline bench and place your dumbbells on it. 
  3.  Sit on the bench and take hold of the dumbbells. 
  4. Lie down on the bench and hold the dumbbells above your mid chest at full arms extension, with the dumbbell ends touching each other.
  5. Bring the dumbbells down and out to the sides.
  6. Push the dumbbells back to the start position to bring them back together

Want to get into weight training but not sure where to start? Check out our personal trainer designed beginner weight lifting routine

Decline bench press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

Note: Check out our decline bench press alternatives for more exercises similar to this one.

Bench Press Alternative Infographic part 2

5. Floor Flye

Equipment needed for the floor flye:

How to do the floor flye:

  1. Grab a couple of dumbbells and place them on the floor. 
  2. Sit behind the dumbbells with your knees bent. Grab the dumbbells and lie back on the floor with them held above your chest. 
  3. Lift your hips off the floor and as high as possible.
  4. Hold your body in this position as you lower the dumbbells out and down until the upper arms are in line with the torso.
  5. Push the dumbbells back to the start position, being sure to bring your hands together.

Floor flye muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

6. Eccentric Floor Flye

Equipment needed for eccentric floor flye:

How to do the eccentric floor flye:

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the floor. They should be about 20% heavier than you would normally use for dumbbell flyes.
  2. Get down on the floor, sitting on your butt with your knees bent directly behind the dumbbells. Grab hold of the dumbbells and roll back so you’re lying on the floor with the dumbbells held at arm’s length.
  3. Bend your elbows slightly and keep them locked in that position.
  4. Perform an eccentric fly by arcing your arms down to the floor. 
  5. Press the weight back up to the start position.

Eccentric floor flye muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

7. Svend Press

Equipment needed for the Svend press:

How to do the Svend press:

  1. Lie on the bench with a pair of dumbbells extended above your mid chest at arm’s length. Have your hands close together so that the dumbbells are pressing into each other. 
  2. Lower the weights to your chest, forcefully push inwards. 
  3. Continue this inward pressure, push back to the start position. 

Svend press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

8. Band Press

Equipment needed for the band press:

How to do the band press:

  1. Place the anchor stopper that comes with your resistance band set at the top of an internal doorway and close the door to lock it in place. Now loop the resistance band through the anchor so that it is hanging down evenly over the door.
  2. Grab the band handles in an overhand grip  and step about three feet from the door, facing away from it.
  3. Assume a starting position with your upper arms at shoulder level with elbows bent at 90-degrees. Your arms should be parallel to the floor. Adjust your position so that the band is taut in the start position.
  4. Press your arms forward and in together until your hands touch.
  5. Reverse under control and continue for the required rep count.

Band press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

9. Slider Push Up

Slider push up needed for exercise:

  • Sliders (or hand cloths)
  • A slick floor (polished timber of tiles)

How to do the slider push up:

  1. Lie on a slick floor in the standard push up position with sliders (or hand cloths) under your palms. In the start position your hands should be close together with the thumbs touching, feet shoulder width apart and body forming a straight line from the neck to the ankles. 
  2. Slowly lower into the bottom push up position. At the same time, slide your hands apart. In the bottom push up position, your hands should be under your shoulders.
  3. As you push back up to the start position, slide your hands back together.
  4. Repeat for the required rep count.

Slider push up muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

Barbell Bench Press Alternatives: The Bottom Line

If your main goal in the gym is to develop strength, then the barbell bench press is unquestionably a must-do exercise. But, if you’re more interested in building muscle than getting super strong, there are better alternatives. 

The nine barbell bench press alternatives detailed above are great options because they involve pressing the arms forward and inward, thus moving through 100% of the pectoral range of motion.

Looking to revamp your tricep workout? Check out our 5 favorite triceps pushdown alternatives you can do at home.

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Steve is a certified personal trainer, current home gym owner, former gym owner, and copywriter. He joined his first gym at age 15 and, five years later, he was managing his own studio. In 1987, he became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand.

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