The bench press is a highly effective exercise that helps improve overall pec, shoulder, and tricep development.
However, there are several reasons why you might be searching for an alternative to the bench press, including the bench isn’t available, you want to isolate a single muscle group more, you don’t have a spotter, you’re experiencing an injury, or you’ve hit a bench press plateau and need some variation.
The 9 Best Bench Press Alternatives are:
- Barbell Floor Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Fly
- Barbell Overhead Press
- Dumbbell Arnold Press
- Single Arm Landmine Press
- Barbell California Press
An effective bench press alternative is going to target similar muscle groups to the bench press. Therefore, in this article I’ve split up the alternatives into “chest focused”, “shoulder focused”, and “tricep focused” exercises.
This is not to say that these bench press alternatives don’t incorporate all of the targeted muscle groups you’d find in the bench press. You can simply pick the alternative based on which muscle group you want to focus on more. Let’s get started!
If you’re looking for alternatives for the decline bench press, check out my article on 9 Effective Decline Bench Press Alternatives.
Chest-Focused Bench Press Alternatives
Any alternative to the barbell bench press should include a heavy focus on the chest muscles, including the fibers of the lower and upper pec.
The pec muscles are mostly used in the bottom range of the bench press. They help you control the barbell as you bring it down, and initiate the drive from your chest to the mid-range.
1. Barbell Floor Press
The floor press is an excellent bench press alternative if you don’t have access to a flat bench, but still want a barbell variation.
It’s a compound exercise, meaning you’re still going to be able to target the same muscle groups as the bench press.
The one downside to this movement is that you’re not going to be able to lift the barbell through its full range of motion because your elbows will connect with the floor before the barbell reaches your chest.
I placed the floor press under the “chest focused” alternatives because if you limit any elbow tucking then you’ll still get a significant amount of muscle activation in the pecs. In other words, ensure you keep your elbows directly stacked underneath of the barbell (don’t tuck them).
How To Do It
- Find an area of the floor in front of a power cage.
- Set up the pins so that you can take the barbell off the rack when lying on the floor.
- 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.
If you don’t have access to a power cage to set up the barbell version of this exercise, you can grab dumbbells and perform the same movement. Make sure your elbows are stacked directly underneath your wrists at 90-degrees to get the most chest activation.
Want to learn more about the diffferences between the floor press and bench press? Check out my comparison of the floor press vs bench press to learn more.
2. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is a close variation to the barbell bench press.
You’ll still be able to work the same muscle groups in the dumbbell bench press. However, you won’t be able to lift as much weight as compared with the barbell bench press.
This is because the dumbbell bench press includes a lot more stabilizer muscle groups, such as the pec minor, serratus anterior, and other small muscle groups in the shoulder.
The benefit of doing the dumbbell bench press is that you will have to stabilize the movement to a larger extent, which should improve your overall strength and performance in other exercises.
How To Do It
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and lower the weight to your chest. In the bottom position, the dumbbells should be just outside your chest.
- 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.
There are several ways that you can manipulate this exercise to either shift the loading demand to another muscle group or to make it more difficult.
You can consider a neutral grip (palms facing each other) if you want to recruit your triceps more.
You can also place the bench at a 45-degree incline if you want to target your shoulders more.
For the chest-focused variation, I like to pause the dumbbells on my chest for 2-3 seconds in between each rep to place my pecs under greater tension.
3. Dumbbell Fly
The dumbbell fly will isolate the chest more than any other bench press alternative discussed in this article.
As you draw your hands apart in the fly your pec muscles will stretch. This produces a high level of metabolic stress on the pecs compared with the bench press, which means you’ll get a greater ‘pump’ in the chest while doing the fly versus a more overall upper body pump while benching.
How To Do It
- Lie on your back on a flat bench press.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and plae your palms facing each other.
- Using a slightly bent elbow position, take your hands apart and lower the dumbbells to the floor.
- When you feel a stretch in your pecs begin to fly your hands back together to the start position.
There are several variations of the dumbbell fly, including changing the angle of the bench, using an incline to target the upper pecs or a decline to target the lower pecs.
In addition, you can perform the fly using cables.
Setting the cables higher up is similar to an incline fly. Setting the cables lower down is similar to a decline fly.
There are dozens of push-ups variations that you can do that all act as excellent substitutes for the bench press.
You’ll want to select a variation that provides a challenging effort by the time you get to the end of your set. Don’t underestimate how hard push-ups can be if you select the right variation.
My two favorite push-up vriations are: the banded push-up and the weighted pushup.
Grab a band from WOD Nation (click for today’s price on Amazon)
How To Do It
- Grab a resistance band and wrap it around your upper back
- Each hand will grab the end of either side of the band
- Place your hands on the floor with the band in the palm of your hand
- Perform the push-up as normal, ensuring you’re driving as fast as you can through the resistance
- Have a training partner place a plate on your mid-back.
- 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.
You can also experiment with the placement of your hands. A wider hand placement will recruit more shoulders and pecs. A narrow hand placement will recruit more triceps. As well, don’t be surprised if your lats get sore after doing weighted push-ups. I explain more in my article on Why Do Your Lats Get Sore After Push-Ups.
Shoulder-Focused Bench Press Alternatives
The shoulders have an important role in the bench press, so any alternative should prioritize the medial (side) and anterior (front) part of the shoulder.
The shoulders are most active in the bench press when you are driving the barbell through the mid-range. If you fail the bench press in the mid-portion of the lift, your shoulders are likely the weak link.
5. Barbell Overhead Press
The barbell overhead press is one of the most compound exercises that you can do for the upper body.
This is why it’s a suitable alternative to the bench press because it’s going to target similar muscle groups. With that said, there is a significant amount of shoulder activation in the overhead press compared with the bench press, especially the front deltoid.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with the overhead press is not taking the exercise through its full range. So ensure you’re not simply doing ‘half reps’, but you’re fully locking out your elbows each rep, which will recruit your triceps.
You might be interested in my article Does Overhead Press Help Bench Press?
How To Do It
- Take a grip slightly outside shoulder-width on the barbell
- Ensure your upper back muscles are engaged and you have a strong grip on the barbell
- Keep your elbows stacked directly in line with the barbell (or slightly in front) as you drive the barbell upward. Avoid the elbows flaring back behind the barbell.
- Don’t sacrifice range of motion for load. Always perform full reps.
One modification you can make to the overhead press is to take a similiar grip to your bench press.
For most people, this will mean taking a wider grip on the overhead press than normal. You won’t be able to lift as much weight, as it’s a harder movement, but it will be more similiar to a bench press.
6. Dumbbell Arnold Press
The dumbbell Arnold press is another overhead exercise targeting the shoulders.
Since it’s a dumbbell movement, you’ll get the benefit of your stabilizing muscle groups having to control the movement to a larger extent compared with a barbell variation.
The Arnold variation will be a superior alternative to the bench press versus other dumbbell overhead movements because you will get more activation in the upper chest, triceps, and front deltoid.
How To Do It
- Start with a dumbbell in each hands with your palms together facing your face
- Swing your hands apart and rotate your palms so that they turn away from you
- Drive the hands overhead and bring the dumbbells together at the top
You’ll find if you slow the movement down to a 2-sec up and 2-sec down tempo that you don’t need much weight for this exerise to be challenging. With a slower tempo, you’ll also be able to focus on contracting both your shoulders and triceps throughout the movement.
7. Single Arm Landmine Press
The single-arm landmine press is a great bench press alternative if you’re looking to work out any imbalances between your right and left side.
I actually wrote an entire guide on How To Fix An Uneven Bench Press if this is a problem for you.
In order to make this movement a bit more specific to bench pressing, you’ll want to ensure that at the top-end range of motion, when your arm is locked, that your hand is not above your forehead. This position will still allow you to recruit some upper pec muscles (rather than all shoulders).
Further, keeping your elbow in line with the barbell, and not having your arm flare outward, will allow you to recruit your triceps more.
If you can nail these positions, you’ll recruit simliar musculature to the bench press.
How To Do It
- Place one end of the barbell in the corner of a wall
- Stand facing the wall with one hand on the nose of the barbell
- Keep your elbow tucked to your side and extend your arm upward. At the top end range of motion your hand should be at forehead height.
- Perform equal reps on your right and left side.
You can experiment with either a standing or kneeling position. Some people prefer one over the other, but neither is superior.
Tricep Focused Bench Press Alternatives
The triceps help extend the elbow in the top-ranges of the bench press.
So while they have a limited role throughout the movement, if you find yourself failing at lock-out then you’ll want to pick a bench press alternative that helps you develop this specific strength.
The two exercises I’m going to discuss also include a lot of shoulder and pec activation. So they are not stricty an isolation exercise for the triceps, even though there’s a focus on them.
8. Barbell California Press
The barbell California press is an under-rated exercise that can help build both tricep and chest strength.
Not many people attempt this exercise, as there is a slight learning curve, and it still requires a barbell and a flat bench. So if you’re looking for a bench press alternative that doesn’t use a barbell or flat bench, this one isn’t for you.
However, the benefit of this exercise is that you don’t need a significant amount of weight for it to be challenging. It also involves ‘eccentric overloading’, which was shown in a study by Brandenburg & Docherty (2002) to significantly increase strength over a 9-week training period.
How To Do It
- Take a shoulder-width grip on the barbell and lower the barbell to your forehead (like a skull crusher exercise)
- Pause just before your forehead and drive your elbows down to the side of your body. A a result, the barbell will move from your forehead to your chest.
- Drive the barbell up (like a bench press), and repeat the movement.
You can also perform this exercise using dumbbells. Use the dummbell variation if you want to recruit your triceps more. This is because your palms wil be in a neutral grip versus prone grip like a barbell.
The dip is one of my favorite bench press alternatives because you can easily modify your body position in order to recruit more or less of the muscles you want to target.
You can lean forward more to recruit your upper pecs or you can assume a more vertical torso position to recruit your lower pecs. There is also a significant amount of shoulder strength required in the bottom-end range of motion, and the triceps are used throughout.
One of the drawbacks of this exercise is that some people experience shoulder impingement. If after you try different torso positions you still get shoulder discomfort, you may need to work on your mobility before attempting this exercise.
How To Do It
- Position your hands on the dip machine with parallel handles
- Lower your body to the floor by bending your elbows backward and using a slow tempo
- Assume a slight forward lean and stop when you feel a stretch in your shoulders
- Drive your body straight up to return to your start position
This exercise is excellent for progressive overload. Once you’ve mastered the technique using body weight, you can add weight by using a dip belt, weighted vest, or placing a dumbbell between your ankles.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Bench Press At Home Without A Bench?
If you don’t have access to a bench then you can perform a floor press, with either dumbbells or a barbell. The floor press will reduce the range of motion slightly, but you’ll still recruit all of your major upper body muscle groups. If you don’t have any equipment, you can perform push-ups using a resistance band around your back for extra tension.
Can Push-Ups Substitute For Bench Press?
Push-ups are a good substitute for activating similar muscle groups as the bench press, but you won’t get the loading needed to build any significant strength. However, you can perform push-ups with a weight on your back or get extra resistance by using a rubber band.
Can You Build Chest Without Bench Press?
Yes, you can perform other barbell, dumbbell, and cable exercises to isolate the chest muscles. The best exercises to build a chest without bench press are: flat dumbbell bench press, cable chest fly, and push-ups with a resistance band around your back.
A good bench press alternative either mimics a similar movement pattern as the bench press or engages similar muscle groups, such as the pecs, shoulders, and triceps. Many of the bench press alternatives discussed in this article are exercises that you can also perform in conjunction with a solid bench press program.