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Top 10 Cable Crossover Alternatives for Bodybuilders

Cable crossovers are a popular exercise for many lifters around the world, but they’re not always possible. Firstly they rely on a cable machine which is an expensive (and often not practical) indulgence for lots of home gym owners. Secondly, they’re not actually a particularly good exercise. There are more functional and effective exercises out there.

In this article we’re going to run through a list of 10 cable crossover alternatives. I’ll make suggestions for a range of exercises that will mimic the movement patterns, but will offer a greater upside to your physique and athleticism.

These are exercises that I’ve tried and tested over my two decades in fitness. I rarely use a cable crossover in my programming, because I much prefer and have more faith in the effectiveness of the cable crossover alternative exercises I’ll be sharing in this list. 

Cable crossovers – the good, the bad and the ugly

It’d be unfair for me to disregard an exercise without giving an explanation as to why I think there are better alternatives. I’m not saying cable crossovers are a terrible exercise, just there’s issues with it that make me think you’re better off with alternatives. To make this a fair and reasoned section, we’ll look at the good, the bad and the ugly of cable crossovers and hopefully by the end you’ll understand my viewpoint. 

Cable crossovers – the good

The range of movement with cable crossovers is excellent – it’s actually the highpoint of the exercise in my opinion. A full range crossover allows you to go from a wide pectoral stretch to the full contraction of the muscle.

The internal rotation at the shoulder can be very useful for some people – throwers and swimmers in particular. They also engage the pectoral muscles effectively without using the anterior deltoid as much as other exercises, making it useful for those who are trying to reduce stress on the shoulders. 

The stretch is also an important element of the lift. Most lifters have tight pectoral muscles, so an exercise that helps to eccentrically contract the muscles and pull them into a full stretch can have potential shoulder pain benefits. Research shows us that a pectoral stretching protocol can help ease discomfort in people with shoulder pain.

Cable crossovers – the bad

Internal rotation at the shoulders is a problem if you have chronically tight pectorals. It can cause a tight, hunched posture and lead to upper back and shoulder issues. If you do a lot of internal rotation exercises and don’t balance it out with lots of upper back pulling work and stretching, you’re likely to develop pain later down the line.

Cable crossovers don’t build much in the way of real strength – they’re more a bodybuilding exercise than a functional or performance exercise. I wonder why make the two things mutually exclusive, when there are plenty of exercises that help to build both strength and muscle at the same time? Of course cable crossovers build some strength, but not nearly as much as other exercises such as the bench press.

Cable crossovers – the ugly

The long term trade off for people who do a lot of internal rotation work and not enough upper back work is poor posture. The two factors combine leading to a rounding of the shoulders and the upper back, creating a hunch-back look. Apart from the fact this looks bad, it’s also a one-way ticket to injuries.

10 Cable Crossover Alternatives

Now you’ve read why I don’t think they’re always a great choice of exercise, let’s move on to what I think are better alternatives. In this section I’ve tried to mimic the good parts of the cable crossover and reduce the exposure to the bad and ugly parts of it.

These exercises are tried and tested over many years and with many clients.

Dumbbell Flyes

The dumbbell fly is the closest exercise to a cable crossover when using dumbbells. It’s essentially the same exercise, mimicking the movement pattern, the pectoral stretch, the eccentric contraction of the muscle and the controlled internal rotation at the shoulder. The dumbbell fly is a very popular exercise in bodybuilding circles and requires very little in the way of equipment. 

A perfect cable crossover alternative.

Equipment needed for dumbbell flyes:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

How to do dumbbell flyes:

  • Set the bench to the incline of your choosing
  • Pick the dumbbells up, lie back and hold them directly in front of you
  • Lower them slowly out to the sides, maintaining an almost-straight arm throughout the movement
  • When you feel a full stretch, pause and lift the dumbbells back up under control
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Dumbbell flyes muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Biceps

Ring push ups

The ring push up is a phenomenal exercise – a really humbling experience for many! At first glance it should be easy, it’s just a push up. That’s true, but the element of instability added by the rings changes the exercise entirely. It increases shoulder and core engagement significantly, making it a much more challenging exercise. 

You can make it even harder by opening the hands wider as you move your chest towards the floor, but this is an advanced move and more similar to the cable crossover.

Equipment needed for ring push ups:

  • Gymnastic rings
  • Anchor point (rig, rack or doorway)

How to do ring push ups:

  • Set the rings to a depth of your choice
  • With an overhand or neutral grip, start with your arms at full extension
  • Keeping your core engaged and your back straight, slowly lower your torso to the floor, bending at the elbows
  • If you want to make the movement even tougher, spread your hands wide as you lower towards the floor – it’ll engage the pectorals even more
  • At full depth, pause and push yourself back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Ring push ups muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Core

Wide grip barbell bench press

The wide grip bench press is often overlooked in favour of a slightly closer, more traditional grip. The reason for the wider grip is because it engages the pectorals more and takes some of the emphasis off the triceps. This is in part because of the reduced range of movement of the exercise.

The wide grip stretches the pectoral muscles more, helping to mimic the stretching element of the cable crossover. 

Equipment needed for wide grip bench press:

How to do wide grip bench press:

  • Lie under the barbell, with your hands wide apart – just inside of the bench hooks on the rack is a good position
  • Taking the bar off the rack, position it over your chest
  • Slowly lower the bar to your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a depth around 1 inch from your chest
  • At full depth, pause and push yourself back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Wide grip bench press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps

Dumbbell bench press

The dumbbell bench press is my favourite of the traditional chest exercises. I like it because it forces stability on both sides of the body, so is particularly good for creating functional balance. There’s a lot of strength gains available from the exercise too, so it has direct athletic transfer. It’s a simple exercise in a home gym too.

Dumbbell bench press isn’t as popular with lifters, mostly because it hurts their ego (it’s harder, so you have to lift lighter weights!) It’s better though!

Equipment needed for dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

How to do dumbbell bench press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie back and position them over your chest
  • You can use either an overhand or neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells towards your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a good stretch
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Dumbbell bench press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps

Push ups on handles

This is a variation on a theme, in a similar way to the ring push ups and the dumbbell push ups – it’s a chest exercise that allows the pectoral muscles to stretch and engage more than usual thanks to the greater range of motion. This extra range also allows a little extra rotation at the shoulder. 

Finally, the push ups require scapula control too, so the upper back moves freely throughout the lift.

Equipment needed for push ups on handles:

  • Push up handles

How to do push ups on handles:

  • With an overhand or neutral grip, start with your arms at full extension
  • Keeping your core engaged and your back straight, slowly lower your torso towards the floor, bending at the elbows
  • If you want to make the movement even tougher, spread the handles wide – it’ll engage the pectorals even more
  • At full depth, pause and push yourself back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Push ups on handles muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Core

Parallel bar dips

The dip is a basic yet effective exercise for the chest and shoulders, again requiring very little in the way of additional equipment. It’s not an easy exercise, but the benefits are numerous and the injury risk is very low. It’s an easy exercise to progress and regress if you need to, so is suitable for all levels.

Start with bodyweight and focus on the full range of movement first. You can always add weight as a progression.

Equipment needed for dips:

  • Parallel bars

How to do dips:

  • Take hold of the bars with a firm grip and jump to the start position, with arms at full extension
  • Leaning forward slightly, initiate the movement by pushing the elbows back
  • Continue the descent until you reach a 90 degree or further elbow bend – you’re looking to achieve a good pectoral muscle stretch
  • At full depth, pause and push yourself back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Dips muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Core

Floor press

The floor press isn’t a common exercise, but it’s a very effective way of training the chest without pushing the shoulders too far. It also prevents poor form that you could use on a cable crossover because you can’t ‘lean in’ to the exercise for extra momentum. The back is fully supported throughout the lift so a position is maintained throughout.

Floor presses aren’t always a go-to exercise, but they’re a handy one to have in the locker when needed!

Equipment needed for floor presses:

  • Dumbbells

How to do floor presses

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie back and position them over your chest
  • You can use either an overhand or neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells towards your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you almost reach the floor
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Floor presses muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps

Landmine press

Landmine presses offer a lot of versatility, which is one of the reasons they’re an excellent exercise. Another reason is they require serious core engagement, which is an improvement on the cable crossover – your body has to resist the rotation force it is exposed to with a single-sided movement. 

You can also lift a lot more weight with the exercise than you can with a cable crossover, making it more athletically functional. 

Equipment needed for landmine press:

  • Landmine attachment (or plate in the corner of the room)
  • Barbell
  • Plates

How to do landmine press:

  • Stand leaning slightly forwards, keeping your core tight. Take the loaded barbell in your hand.
  • Maintaining the forward lean, press the barbell away from you.
  • When your arm is at full extension, return it to the starting position.
  • Resist rotating your torso by keeping your core tight throughout the movement.
  • Repeat as many times as required

Landmine press muscles worked:

  • Chest
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Triceps

Bench dips

Bench dips are a good beginner dip and allow the chest to really open up, which is the perfect counterbalance to the internal rotation we suffer across our chests and shoulders when doing the cable crossover. They can be adjusted to make them easier or harder by extending the gap between the anchor point (your feet) and the bench. The further away your feet are from the bench, the harder it is. 

This ease of adjustability means that the bench dip is a great exercise for beginners. It’s also a perfect high-rep or prehab exercise.

Equipment needed for bench dips:

  • Bench/box

How to do bench dips:

  • Place your hands on the edge of the bench, palms down.
  • Extend your body so your feet are away from the bench. The further away from the bench your feet are, the harder the movement is.
  • Lower yourself towards the floor until your elbows reach a 90 degree bend behind you
  • When you feel the chest stretch, pause and hold the stretch
  • Push back up until your arms are straight
  • Repeat as many times as required

Bench dips muscles worked:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulders)

Single arm dumbbell bench press

The single arm dumbbell bench press may be the most beneficial type of bench press there is. It’s single-sided, which means there’s no way a dominant side can take over the movement. It’s anti-rotation, because the core has to engage to prevent the torso from rolling to one side. 

It’s also excellent for chest and shoulder health because the extra range of motion helps to stretch. Although it takes longer to train each side individually, it’s really worth it in this case.

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

How to do single arm dumbbell bench press:

  • With a dumbbell one, lie back and position them over your chest
  • You can use either an overhand or neutral (palms facing inward) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell towards the side of your chest, bending your elbows outwards until you reach a good stretch
  • Engage the core throughout to prevent your torso rotating to the side 
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbell back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Single arm dumbbell bench press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Core

Cable crossover alternatives – the bottom line

This article is designed to show you that your chest training needn’t suffer because of an inability to do a cable crossover – in fact it can be improved because it forces you to try new exercises out. Utilizing your barbells, dumbbells and rings will give you lots of new options.

The exercises here are all possible in a home gym without any huge additional spend, allowing you to enjoy great workouts with plenty of functional and athletic benefits. Add them to your training and enjoy the benefits.

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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