12 Best Cable Crossover Alternatives (With Pictures)

12 best cable crossover alternatives (with pictures)

The cable crossover is one of the most commonly performed exercises for isolating the chest muscles. It is great for keeping constant tension in the pecs throughout the range of motion. 

However, you may want to choose an alternative if you get bored or do not have access to a cable machine because your gym does not have one or you train at home.

The 12 best cable crossover alternatives are:

  1. Machine Pec Fly
  2. Pec Deck
  3. Dumbbell Fly
  4. Incline Dumbbell Fly
  5. Decline Dumbbell Fly
  6. Banded Pec Flys
  7. Olympic Ring Pec Flys
  8. TRX/Suspension Trainer Pec Flys
  9. Dumbbell Pullover
  10. Floor Slide Pec Flys
  11. Alternating Dumbbell Fly
  12. Plate Loaded Pec Fly Machine

In this article, I will go through what makes a good cable crossover alternative, how to perform each exercise, and how to make the most out of each variation.

I have included alternative exercises that use machines, dumbbells, Olympic rings, suspension trainers, free weight plates, and your own bodyweight so you can isolate the pecs regardless of what kind of equipment you have.

What Makes A Good Cable Crossover Alternative?

What makes a good cable crossover alternative?

A good cable crossover alternative will be able to satisfy the following conditions:

  • Targets the chest muscles
  • Loads each side independently

Targets the Chest Muscles

The primary muscles used in the cable crossover are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, which are the main chest muscles that you can see on a body.

The pectoralis major helps you move your arms across your body and, when you’re doing vertical pulling motions, works together with the back muscles to pull your body up. The pectoralis minor assists in the stabilization of the scapula (your shoulder blades) and helps you bring your shoulders down and forward.

The secondary muscles used in the cable crossover are the front deltoids (the front of your shoulders) and the serratus anterior, the striated muscles underneath your armpit and between your pecs and abs. They work whenever you bring your shoulder blades forward in an exercise.

Even though these secondary muscles assist the exercise through stabilizing the larger muscles, the cable crossover movement comes through the squeezing of the pectorals with minimal involvement of the triceps at the elbows. A good cable crossover alternative will work the same muscles by following a similar movement pattern.

You might be surprised to see that I don’t include bench pressing movements in the list below. This is because the bench press works a lot more than just the pecs, as we discussed in our guide on the muscles worked in the bench press.

Loads each side independently 

During the whole execution of a cable crossover, the control and loading on the arms on each side are independent.

This means that one arm is not assisted by the other and has to work harder if the weaker arm struggles. This stops the stronger arm from taking over and reducing the subjected tension on the weaker arm. This is ultimately useful for making both sides more symmetrical in strength and size.

12 Cable Crossover Alternatives

1. Machine Pec Fly

The machine pec fly is an easier alternative to the cable crossover that can be used as a regression. This is because the movement of the machine pec fly is through a fixed path.

The cable handles in the cable crossover exercise have a lot of freedom of movement, and it requires more effort to stabilize them during execution. This makes the machine pec fly a good exercise to push closer to failure as there is less demand on focusing on stabilization. 

How To Do It

  • Set up the seat of the machine pec fly so that the handles of the are roughly mid to lower chest level
  • Hold onto the handles with a slight bend in the elbows and keep the elbows in line with your hands
  • Set the arm handles as far back as your shoulder mobility will let you
  • Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you bring the machine’s arms together in front of you and squeeze the pecs
  • Slowly control the machine’s arms back towards the starting position while breathing back in
  • Ensure that you keep your back flat up against the back pad and that you are not cheating by pushing your legs too hard in the ground so you are no longer sitting
  • Repeat for desired repetitions as prescribed in your program

Pro Tip

Most machine pec fly machines will allow you to adjust the seat height. You can adjust the height so that the handles are higher or lower, which enables you to work more of the upper or lower chest depending on which area you want to target.

If you adjust the seat so that the handles are roughly at shoulder level, you’ll feel more of a stretch in your upper chest fibers.

If you adjust the seat so that the handles are roughly lower than chest level, you’ll feel more tension in the lower chest fibers. However, it is important to note that during the execution of the machine pec fly, all the pec fibers are still activated regardless of how high you adjust the seat.

2. Pec Deck

The pec deck is the simplest alternative to the cable crossover and can isolate the pecs more than the machine pec fly. Rather than holding onto the machine arms with your hands, you press against elbow pads. This completely removes tension away from your biceps and triceps, so they no longer need to stabilize the movement.

How To Do It

  • Set up the height of the pec deck seat so that your elbows are at mid to lower chest level
  • Set up the elbow pads as far back as your mobility will allow. The more flexible you are, the further back you can set them.
  • Sit down on the seat and keep your back pushed up against the back pad
  • Place your elbows behind the elbow pads, grip the handles, and take a deep breath in
  • Exhale as you flex through your chest muscles and bring the elbow pads together
  • Inhale as you return the elbow pad back to the start position in a controlled manner

Pro Tip

Due to the nature of the pec deck, you can isolate the pec muscles very well and change the weights very easily. As a progression, you can implement multiple drop sets as a way to add an extra overloading stimulus. 

A good protocol you can use to fatigue the pec muscles at the end of your last set on the pec deck is to first perform the chosen load till failure, then drop the load by roughly 10% and perform another immediate set till failure. Then drop the load again by 10% to perform one final set till failure.

Drop sets are very similar to back-off sets and can be used for a variety of different lifts, but there are some differences in how they are performed. Learn more about back-off sets and drop sets in Back Off Sets: How To Use Them The Right Way.

3. Dumbbell Fly

The dumbbell fly is a popular alternative to the cable crossover and requires a similar demand of stabilization. It is performed with dumbbells on a flat, horizontal free-weight bench.

The difference between the dumbbell fly and the cable crossover is that there is reduced tension in the pecs when your hands are close together for the dumbbell fly. The cable crossover gives you more even tension through the range of motion.

How To Do It

  • Set up a flat free-weight bench to be horizontal and hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides
  • Lie down on the bench and hold the dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and palms facing each other
  • Maintain a mild arch in your back and a soft but fixed bend in your elbows
  • Inhale as you slowly open your arms and let your pec muscles stretch as your arms lower to a roughly horizontal level
  • Exhale as you squeeze your pec muscles and bring the dumbbells together
  • Maintain pinched shoulder blades throughout the exercise
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

A common problem that many people experience when performing the dumbbell fly is going too heavy. This is not the type of pec exercise that you want to use a heavy load on because it is inherently an unstable exercise and can easily be cheated.

If you are reducing the range of motion throughout a set or if you are starting to bend your elbows as you go down, you are cheating the exercise and should reduce the weight.

Don’t have a bench? Check out my favorite dumbbell chest exercises you can do without a bench.

4. Incline Dumbbell Fly

The incline dumbbell fly is similar to the dumbbell fly and is a great alternative to the cable crossover. The incline dumbbell fly is performed on a free-weight bench that is set to a 15- to 30-degree incline. You may also feel it slightly more on your front deltoid shoulder muscles.

How To Do It

  • Set up a free weight bench to be at a low incline of about 15 to 30 degrees and hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides
  • Sit down on the bench, lean your back against the pad on the bench, and hold the dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and palms facing each other
  • Maintain a mild arch in your back and a soft but fixed bend in your elbows
  • Inhale while slowly opening your arms and let your pec muscles stretch as your arms lower to a roughly horizontal level
  • Squeeze your pec muscles as you exhale and bring the dumbbells together
  • Maintain pinched shoulder blades throughout the exercise
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

You want to maximize the range of motion to increase the stimulus for building muscle mass, but you shouldn’t drop the dumbbells below shoulder level in an attempt to recruit more muscle activation.

This places unnecessary stress on your biceps and shoulder joint, which can lead to injury. You can tell you are going too low if you find yourself overextending your back at the bottom of the rep. Your posture should be stationary throughout the entire rep.

Looking for chest exercises you can do without dumbbells? Check out these 7 dumbbell chest alternatives that you can do with bands, your body weight, or a plate.

5. Decline Dumbbell Fly

The decline dumbbell fly is a good alternative to the cable crossover and mimics the cable crossover movement the most in terms of how you move your arms relative to your torso. You need to perform this on a decline or sit-up bench that is set to a 20- to 40-degree decline.

How To Do It

  • Set up a decline free weight bench to be at a decline about 30 degrees below horizontal
  • Wrap your legs in the leg pads, lie down on the bench, and hold the dumbbells above your shoulders with your arms straight and palms facing each other
  • Maintain a mild arch in your back and a soft but fixed bend in your elbows
  • Inhale as you slowly open your arms and let your pec muscles stretch as your arms lower to a roughly horizontal level
  • Begin to bring the dumbbells together as you exhale and squeeze your pec muscles
  • Keep your shoulder blades pinched throughout the exercise
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

To avoid recruiting the biceps and bending your elbows on the way up in the decline dumbbell fly, you should make sure that you keep your whole arm tense throughout by squeezing the dumbbell. Another good mental cue is to visualize yourself hugging a large tree trunk instead of thinking about reaching upwards.

6. Banded Pec Flys

The banded pec fly is a great variation that you can perform in the gym or at home. There are two different types of resistance bands that you can use: single-length resistance bands, which are all one length and can be used with handles or attached to a door, or single-loop resistance bands, which are bands that are in the shape of a circle. 

How To Do It (Single-Loop Resistance Bands)

  • Hold onto the ends of a single-loop resistance band
  • Wrap it around your upper back while being seated or standing
  • Stretch your arms out to the side of you and hold them horizontally
  • It is important that there this still some tension in the band at this point. Otherwise, the exercise will be too easy. If there is no tension, try and shorten the band by looping it around your hand a few times.
  • Flex through your pec muscles and bring your arms together in front of you while keeping them horizontal
  • As you bring your arms together, exhale and turn your hands so that your palms face downwards. Keep your head tall and face forward throughout.
  • Inhale as you return your arms back outwards in a slow and controlled tempo 

How To Do It (Single-Length Resistance Bands)

  • Attach the single-length resistance band onto an anchor such as a power cage or pull-up bar so it is at or higher than head level
  • Stand in a split stance and hold onto the ends of the band. Ensure that you face away from the power cage or pull-up bar. This is so that the bands can stretch your arms backward.
  • Stretch your arms out to the side of you and hold them horizontally
  • Allow your shoulder blades to be pinched back and chest muscles stretched out initially
  • Flex through your pec muscles and bring your arms together in front of you while keeping them horizontal
  • As you bring your arms together, exhale and turn your hands so that your palms face downwards. Keep your head up and your eyes forward throughout.
  • Inhale as you return your arms back outwards in a slow and controlled tempo, and slowly rotate your hands out again so they face forward

Pro Tip

An alternative way you can perform banded pec flyers with single-loop resistance bands is performing them with two resistance bands to increase resistance. You can also attach the resistance bands onto both sides of a squat rack and stand with your back facing the rack to mimic the cable crossover movement

For more ideas on other standing chest exercises you can do, check out 12 Standing Chest Exercises: Cables, Dumbbells, & Bodyweight.

7. Olympic Ring Pec Flys

The Olympic ring pec fly is an advanced alternative to the cable crossover that relies on you being strong enough to manage your own body weight. You will need to use a set of Olympic rings that are suspended on an appropriate anchor, such as a purpose-built frame or in a power cage.

How To Do It

  • Set up a set of Olympic rings hanging off from an appropriate frame or anchor
  • Put your feet at a certain distance away from the rings depending on how difficult you want the exercises to be. The further you move your feet away from the rings, the more horizontal you are and the harder it will be.
  • Hold onto the rings with your hands together and arms at 90 degrees from your body
  • Keep your body fully extended and diagonal while keeping a soft bend in your elbows
  • Open your arms outward and allow your body to lower while keeping your abs tight and engaged
  • Inhale during the descent
  • Once you stretch your pecs as much as you can while pinching your shoulder blades together, close your arms back together again to return to the start position and exhale

Pro Tip

Olympic rings tend to be attached to adjustable straps. A good way you can easily progress this exercise is by extending the straps. When you extend the straps, you lower the angle of your body, which makes the exercise harder.

8. TRX/Suspension Trainer Pec Flys

The TRX or suspension trainer pec fly is another advanced alternative to the cable crossover and is similar to the Olympic ring pec fly.

TRX bands may be more comfortable to use than Olympic rings because the handles are easier to grip onto. You can also adjust the TRX or suspension trainer so that it can cater to your strength level by putting you at a less horizontal position.

How To Do It

  • Set up a set of TRX straps or suspension trainer straps hanging off from an appropriate frame or anchor such as a power cage
  • Put your feet at a certain distance away from the TRX or suspension trainer depending on how difficult you want the exercises to be
  • Hold the handles with your hands together and arms at 90 degrees from your body
  • Keep your body fully extended and diagonal and keep a soft bend in your elbow
  • Open your arms outward and lower your body while keeping your abs tight and engaged
  • Inhale during the descent
  • Once you’ve reached a point where you can’t stretch your pecs any further while keeping your shoulder blades pinched together, close your arms back together again to return to the start position and exhale

Even though TRX straps can be a valuable tool, they are quite expensive. If you’re looking for cheaper options, check out my favorite TRX alternatives.

Pro Tip

A good progression you can do is to elevate your feet by putting them onto an exercise step, bench, or plyo box. This lowers your body angle and tips more of your body weight onto your pecs, which makes the exercise harder.

9. Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover is a simple alternative to the cable crossover. It is commonly debated whether it is a pec exercise or a lat exercise, but it is both. With a few adjustments, you can target the pecs more than the lats.

Here is a great video from Dr Jordan Shallow that explains it:

How To Do It

  • Set up a free weight bench and stand perpendicular to it
  • Lie your upper back on the bench with your feet on the floor so your hamstrings are parallel to the ground and shins are vertical
  • Put your hands onto the inner sides of one end of the dumbbell and hold it above your chest
  • Inhale and lower the dumbbell by moving your arms back above your head until they are as parallel as possible
  • Make sure you keep your elbows slightly bent but fixed and slightly flared throughout
  • Exhale as you bring the dumbbell back up

Pro Tip

The exercise gets easier when you bring the dumbbell back to the start position, and you get the most tension on the chest muscles when you lower it. To increase overload on the pecs, add a momentary hold of 2 to 3 seconds when the dumbbell is at the bottom position during each repetition.

Interested in buying dumbbells for your home gym but not sure which ones to get? We discuss the differences between round and hex dumbbells in Hex Dumbbells vs Round Dumbbells: Which Are Better?

10. Floor Slider Pec Flys

The floor slider pec fly is an advanced alternative to the cable crossover and is a variation that can be performed at home or in the gym. You will need a pair of exercise sliders or furniture sliders and a floor that is flat and smooth. Using carpet will not work as well.

Just like the Olympic ring pec fly, you need to be able to manage your own body weight to perform this variation.

How To Do It

  • Start in a push-up position with your body fully extended and your hands on top of the floor sliders
  • Inhale as your lower yourself to the floor by sliding your hands outwards to the side while maintaining a soft elbow
  • Allow your shoulder blades to pinch as you go down
  • Exhale as you slide your hands back together 

Pro Tip

You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by elevating your feet, which will help tilt your body weight more onto your hands and engage the pec muscles more.

Start with a low elevation of your feet with something like a yoga block before progressing it onto something as high as a free weight bench or exercise stepper.

11. Alternating Dumbbell Fly

The alternating dumbbell fly is a good alternative to the cable crossover and is performed in a similar way to the regular dumbbell fly that’s performed on a flat bench. The difference is that rather than moving both arms simultaneously, you are alternating between your left and right arm throughout a set. 

How To Do It

  • Set up a flat free-weight bench to be horizontal and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides
  • Lie down on the bench and hold the dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and palms facing each other
  • Keep your back slightly arched and your elbows extended but not completely locked out
  • Inhale as you open one arm and let your pec muscles stretch as your arm lowers to a roughly horizontal level
  • Exhale as you squeeze your pec muscles to bring the arm back to the top
  • Repeat for the other arm
  • Maintain pinched shoulders blades throughout the exercise
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

As a progression, you can hold the non-working arm at the bottom instead of the top position. This increases time under tension in the pec muscle because it’s being stretched out for a longer period of time. This produces a bigger stimulus for muscle hypertrophy.

Single-arm, or unilateral, training is an excellent way to address strength imbalances. You may also want to consider doing single-arm dumbbell bench presses if one side is significantly weaker than the other.

12. Plate-Loaded Pec Fly Machine

A plate-loaded pec fly machine is similar to the machine pec fly except that the handles move independently from each other. This means that your stronger arm cannot simply take over during the exercise because each side is working independently, similar to the cable crossover. This makes it a good alternative to the cable crossover.

How To Do It

  • Select your desired load on each side of the plate loaded pec fly machine
  • Adjust the seat so that the handles are around mid to lower pec level
  • Set the machine handles as far back as your flexibility will let you
  • Sit down, keep your back flat against the back pad, and keep your shoulder blades pinched as you hold onto the handle
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale when bringing the handles together while keeping your elbows mildly bent but at a fixed angle
  • Inhale as you slowly return the handles back to the start position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Pro Tip

The plate-loaded pec fly machine is a great isolation exercise for the pec muscles where you can really push to failure safely at the end of a chest workout. It would be much safer to go to failure on a plate-loaded pec fly machine than a cable or dumbbell alternative.

A great way to do this is to perform a burnout set as the last set. This is a set that consists of using rest-pauses until no more repetitions can be performed. Rest-pauses refer to breaking down one larger set into smaller sets with 10- to 15-second rest periods in between.

A good protocol to use for the plate-loaded pec fly machine is to perform the set to failure and use a 15-second rest-pause before repeating more reps until failure. Continue this until you can’t do any more reps.

Other Chest Training Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com