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9 Decline Bench Press Alternatives That Don’t Require a Spotter

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According to gym lore, to work the entire chest you do the flat bench press, to target the upper portion of the pecs you do the incline bench and to focus on the lower pecs, you do the decline bench press.

However, the decline bench is a problem for many people.

There are a number of reasons that people may not be able to do the bench press (injury or discomfort of shoulders and lower back, equipment limitations, etc.). As a personal trainer, I’ve encountered most of them with my clients.

As a result, I have developed an arsenal of alternative decline bench press exercises for my clients to use. 

In this article, I will lay out the nine best decline bench press alternatives and moves to target your entire chest more safely and comfortably that I use with my personal training clients.

Does the Decline Bench Press Really Target the Lower Pecs?

In order to understand whether or not you can really target different parts of your chest by adjusting the angle of the bench you are lying on, we need to look into the positioning of the muscle fibers.

The pectoral fibers are categorized as having three parts:

  • The clavicular fibers 
  • The sternal fibers
  • The costal fibers

Each of these divisions is based on the origin point of the muscle fibers. The majority of those fibers originate on the sternum, with a smaller percentage originating on the clavicles and the costals, or ribs. 

It is important to note that ALL of the pectoral fibers insert on the upper part of the humerus (upper arm). For a chest exercise to be effective, it needs to move the upper arm (the insertion point) towards the origin of the pectoral fibers.

Because there are no pectoral fibers above the clavicles, the incline press does not meet this basic requirement.

So, the incline press is not an effective chest developer.

But what about the decline press?

When you do the decline bench press you are moving the upper arms toward the sternum, where the vast majority of your muscle fibers are located.

So, rather than targeting the lower portion of the pecs, using a decline bench will work nearly all of your chest fibers.

Decline Bench Press Alternative Muscles Used

However, research does show that the incline chest press works the upper chest muscles more than the flat bench press. So you can assume the decline chest press works the lower chest more than the other versions too.

The Ideal Pressing Angle

We need to also understand what we actually mean by the different angles for pectoral exercises. Your chest muscles do not know whether you’re lying on a flat or decline bench, or even if you are standing up.

The only thing that the chest fibers ‘knows’ is the direction in which they are moving the upper arms in relation to the torso. 

When you’re lying on a flat bench, the angle of the upper arms is perpendicular to the torso. That’s the same angle when you’re sitting upright and using a cable machine.

So a flat press does not require you to lie on a flat bench; it is the perpendicular movement of the arms that makes it a flat press. 

When you use a decline bench, you are able to press your arms forward and slightly downward toward the sternum. This is the ideal movement to work the majority of the muscle fibers.

However, it’s important to note that it’s not the bench position that matters but, rather, the direction of the arms relative to the torso.

Regardless of what position your torso is (lying on a decline bench, seated upright or standing), so long as the arms are moving forward and slightly down to end in line with the sternum, you are moving through an ideal plane to work the chest muscle.

Decline Bench Press Problems


The decline bench press requires you to use a specialized bench press station with a bench press bar stand attached to a decline bench. Most gyms will only have one or two of these stations.

That can make getting on the bench a problem, especially during peak gym hours. 

You can create your own hacked version by stacking plates and then putting one end of the bench on it, but you risk damaging the equipment, the wrath of the gym owner and you compromise your safety.

The majority of decline bench stations do not allow you to adjust the angle of the bench. The ideal angle to work the majority of your pec fibers is between 20 and 30 degrees. Yet, many benches are set at a steeper angle than that.

If the angle is too steep, it will engage the front deltoids too much.

Body Positioning

Another problem with the decline bench press is that it requires you to position yourself with your head lower than your torso. This may cause the blood to rush to your brain, especially when you are making an all-out effort.

The result could be dizziness, or even, in extreme cases, passing out.

Requires a Spotter

Regardless of whether the inverted position causes disorientation, the decline bench press puts you in a compromising body position. If you get stuck half way through a rep, there’s not a lot you can do.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to have a spotter standing above you when you’re doing the decline bench press. If you train alone, you are not going to have the luxury of an extra pair of hands to bail you out if you can’t get the bar up. 

Limited Range of Motion

The function of the pectorals is to bring the arms forward and together. The decline barbell bench press allows you to push the arms forward. But because your hands are fixed on the bar, you are unable to bring them together.

As a result, you miss out on the final 30% of the pectoral range of motion. 

Equipment Needed for These Exercises

9 Decline Bench Press Alternatives That Replicate the Same Movement Pattern

Decline Bench Press Alternative Infographic part 1

1. Decline Dumbbell Press

Equipment needed for the decline dumbbell 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 dumbbell press:

  1. Set a bench at a 25 degree decline 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

Decline dumbbell press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

2. Seated Cable Press

Equipment needed for the seated decline cable press:

  • Double pulley cable machine

How to do the seated cecline cable 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 press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

3. Standing Decline Cable Press

Equipment needed for the standing decline cable press:

  • Double pulley cable 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

4. Decline Dumbbell Svend Press

Equipment needed for the decline dumbbell Svend 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 decline dumbbell Svend press:

  1. Set the decline angle on an adjustable bench to 25 degrees.
  2. 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. 
  3. Lower the weights to your chest, forcefully push inwards. 
  4. Continuing this inward pressure, push back to the start position. 

Decline dumbbell Svend press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

5. Decline Dumbbell Flyes

Equipment needed for decline dumbbell flyes:

How to do decline dumbbell flyes:

  1. Set an adjustable bench to a 25-degree decline angle. Grab hold of a apir of dumbbells and roll back so you’re lying on the bench with the dumbbells held at arm’s length.
  2. Bend your elbows slightly and keep them locked in that position.
  3. Perform an eccentric fly by arcing your arms down to the floor. 
  4. Press the weight back up to the start position.

Decline dumbbell flyes muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

Decline Bench Press Alternative Infographic part 2

6. Decline Machine Press

Decline machine press needed for exercise:

  • Decline machine press station (ideally Hammer Strength)

How to do the decline machine press:

  1. Load the appropriate weight on the arm pegs and then adjust the seat position so your shoulder align with the machine’s pivot points. If you can adjust the seat angle, set it to 25-degrees.
  2. Sit on the machine, leaning back into the set back. Grab the handles with an overhand grip.
  3. Press the arms forward and in together  to touch at the level of your sternum.
  4. Return to the start position under control and repeat for the required rep count. 

Decline machine press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

7. Slider Push Ups

Equipment needed for exercise:

  • Sliders (or hand cloths)
  • A slick floor like hardwood or tiling.

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 ups muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

8. Dumbbell Pullover

Equipment needed for the dumbbell pullover:

How to do the dumbbell pullover:

  1. Sit on a flat bench with a dumbbell held in both hands with your fingers interlocked. 
  2. Roll back to lie on the bench with the dumbbell held at arm’s length over your chest. Your head should be resting at the end of the bench. Now slide up the bench slightly so your head is hanging just off the edge.
  3. Keeping your elbows in tight, extending your arms back over your head and down to the floor beyond your head. Do not bend your elbows; the entire movement should come from the shoulder joint. 
  4. Go down as far as you can, making sure to keep your hips down on the bench.
  5. Reverse the motion to return to the start point. Flex your pecs in the top position. 

Dumbbell pullover muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

9. Incline Push up

Equipment needed for the incline push up:

How to do the incline push up:

  1. Stand about three four feet away from a weight bench, side on to it. Lean forward to place your palms on the bench. Palms up with your hands shoulder width apart.
  2. From a starting position with your arms fully extended (your body should form a 30-degree angle to the floor), lower your chest to the bench.
  3. Push back to full arm extension. Repeat for the required rep count. 

Incline push up muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Front deltoids
  • Triceps

Decline Bench Press Alternatives: The Bottom Line 

The decline bench press is a popular exercise that is believed to target the lower chest. In reality, the movement works the entire chest, but only when done with the right bench angle.

Yet, many people cannot do the decline bench press, for a variety of reasons as we’ve discussed in the article.

The nine exercises detailed above provide you with the benefits of the decline bench press without the pitfalls. 

Take the time to trial each of them and then settle on the three or four that give you the greatest pec stimulation. Build these into your chest program, using a rep range of between 6-12 reps to target strength and hypertrophy gains.

Want to build a powerful back and hamstrings but can’t deadlift? Check out our favorite deadlift alternatives that replicate the benefits without the risks.

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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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