The decline bench press can be an effective exercise to improve the development of your lower pecs.
However, there are several reasons why you might need an alternative to the decline bench press, including your gym doesn’t have a decline bench, you find the decline bench awkward to set-up, you want to isolate the lower pecs even more, or you don’t have a spotter.
The 9 Best decline bench press alternatives are:
- Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Decline Dumbbell Together Press
- Decline Dumbbell Flies
- Single Dumbbell Serratus Pullover
- High to Low Cable Fly
- Straight Bar Serratus Pulldown
- Decline Machine Press
- Vertical Dip With Forward Torso Lean
- Incline Push-Up With Underhand Grip
In this article, I’ll split each of these exercises into the different equipment you’ll have available at the gym, from dumbbells, cables/machines, and bodyweight exercises. Let’s get started!
This article is an extension to my Top 9 Flat Bench Press Alternatives. There are some great chest variations detailed in this article as well!
What Makes An Effective Decline Bench Press Alternative?
An effective decline bench press alternative is going to target similar muscle groups to the decline bench press.
When looking at the pec muscles, they can be split into upper and lower muscle fibers.
In a study by Stephen & Armstrong (1997), they showed that when comparing a 30-degree incline bench press with a 15-degree decline bench press that the fibers of the lower pec are “significantly more activated” in the decline bench press.
However, the researchers noted there was no significant difference between upper pec activation, which means that the upper pecs were recruited similarily in both variations. The difference was merely in the level of lower pec activation.
Therefore, since the decline bench press targets the fibers of the lower pec to a greater extent, you will want to find exercise substitutes that activate the lower chest versus upper chest muscles.
The way to accomplish this is to manipulate the angle of your body, the direction and range of motion of the load, and your hand/grip placement.
The exercises below are the best decline bench press alternatives to target the lower chest. You don’t need to do all of these exercises at once. Pick 2-3 exercises and perform them over two training days throughout the week with reps between 6-15 to build muscle mass.
Other articles you may be interested in are: 10 Bench Press Accessories To Improve Strength & Technique and 16 Tricep Exercises To Increase Bench Press Strength.
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press Alternatives
Any alternative to the decline bench press should include some sort of dumbbell variation.
This is because the free-weight nature of dumbbells allows you to lift a significant amount of weight, which provides the optimal training environment for building both strength and mass through progressive overload.
For each of these exercises, you will need a decline bench, which most commercial gyms should have available.
1. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
The decline dumbbell bench press is the closest variation that you can do to the barbell decline bench press.
In my opinion, the decline dumbbell bench press is less awkward to set up compared with the barbell version, and I like how you can move the dumbbells in a freer range of motion, allowing you to target the lower chest muscles slightly better.
The one downside of this movement is that at a certain point when you’re using the heavier dumbbells, you may need a training partner to place the dumbbells in your hands to start the movement.
How To Do It
- Lie down on a decline bench press and start with the dumbbells on either side of your chest
- Drive your arms straight up, ensuring you are pressing over your sternum (not face)
- Return the dumbbells to the start position using a 2-sec eccentric tempo
A lot of bodybuilders like to twist the dumbbells at the top of the range of motion in order to isolate the lower and inner chest muscles even more. This would look like rotating the dumbbells so that your pinkies touch together at the top.
Related Article: Bench Press With Legs Up: How-To, Muscles Worked, Benefits
2. Decline Dumbbell Together Press
Note: video is performed on an incline bench, but you would perform it on a decline bench
The decline dumbbell together press is a small variation to the decline dumbbell bench press mentioned above.
You don’t need as much load for this exercise because rather than applying force to the dumbbell to lift the weight upward, you are (at the same time) trying to isometrically squeeze the dumbbells together as hard as possible as you go through the range of motion.
The added benefit of doing the decline dumbbell together press is that you also work the inner chest significantly, in addition to the lower chest muscles.
How To Do It
- Lie down on a decline bench press and start with your hands in a neutral grip (facing each other)
- Place the dumbbells together and squeeze your chest
- Drive your arms straight up, while at the same time, continuing to apply pressure with the dumbbells
- Return the dumbbells to the start position always squeezing the dumbbells together
Instead of using dumbbells, you can grab two 10lbs or 25lb plates and squeeze them together with your palms as you perform the same range of motion. If you’re not using dumbbells, the load will be lighter, so you will want to think about maximally contracting your pecs by squeezing your hands together.
If you want more details on this exercise, I wrote a more in-depth guide covering it called the Plate Pinch Press.
3. Decline Dumbbell Flies
The decline fly is another dumbbell variation that targets the lower chest.
This exercise stretches the muscle fibers more than any of the other dumbbell variations, which can lead to greater “muscular damage”. The concept of “muscular damage” is one of the main drivers of hypertrophy (muscle growth).
The key to engaging your lower pec is to “fly” the dumbbells lower, more in line with your sternum, and turn your palms so they are facing toward the ceiling.
How To Do It
- Lie down on a decline bench and start with a pair of dumbbells in each hand with your palms facing together
- As you fly your arms open, slightly turn your hands so they point toward the ceiling
- Ensure your arms are flying in a straight line down from your sternum, avoid bringing the dumbbells back toward your shoulders
- Once you feel a deep stretch, pull your arms together and squeeze your inner chest
Focus on light weight, high reps, and creating a strong mind-muscular connection. Avoid dropping your arms too much (beyond parallel to the body) as this may increase the likelihood of shoulder impingement.
Related article: Should Powerlifters Do Incline Bench Press?
4. Single Dumbbell Serratus Pullover
The dumbbell serratus pullover targets both the serratus anterior muscles (the muscles that wrap around your rib cage) and lower pecs.
It’s not a pure isolation exercise for the lower pecs, but it will contribute to a more defined and full-looking upper body. As such, you should include this exercise into your routine in order to have a well-rounded workout.
I don’t like to go too heavy on this exercise because I find it pretty hard on the shoulders if done incorrectly. So just go light, focus on higher reps, and think about contracting your lower pecs as you perform this movement.
How To Do It
- Grab a single dumbbell in the base of your two palms
- Bring your arms straight in front of your chest holding the dumbbell
- With only a slight bend in your arms, let the dummbell fall behind your head so that your arms are parallel to the floor
- Return your arms to over your body by thinking about ‘pulling’ the dumbbell upward
You need to avoid bending your arms too much as you bring your arms down toward the floor. If you start bending your arms more than the initial crack at the elbows, then you’ll start to engage your triceps to a greater extent, which would defeat the purpose of activating your lower pecs.
Machine or Cable Decline Bench Press Alternatives
This next section will cover decline bench press alternatives that involve either machine or cable variations.
The benefit of doing machine or cable variations is that you can usually isolate the muscle fibers of the lower pec to a greater extent compared with dumbbell variations.
This is because dumbbell variations will undoubtedly use other muscles to facilitate the movement, such as the triceps and shoulders. With machines or cables, you can explicitly focus on the muscle you want to target.
5. High to Low Cable Fly
This is one of my favorite decline bench alternatives because you can manage how much or how little you want to target the lower pecs.
If you have the cables set above your shoulders, then you’ll target the lower chest to a greater extent compared with if you have the cables set either at or below shoulder height.
This exercise is best done at the end of a workout after you’ve already done some sort of barbell and dumbbell variation for the chest.
How To Do It
- Bring the cable handles to the heighest setting
- Grab the handles in each hand and have a slight bend in your elbow
- Stagger your feet (one in front of the other) lLean slightly forward to maintain your balance
- Pull your hands together so that the cables touch
- Pause for 1-sec and squeeze your chest before slowly returning the cables back to their starting position
Just like the dumbbell fly, many bodybuilders like to twist their hands so that their pinkies touch together. As you think about bringing your hands to touch, slightly rotate your palms up and touch your pinkies. This will recruit your lower pecs to a greater extent.
6. Straight Bar Serratus Pulldown
The straight bar serratus pulldown is a similar variation to the dumbbell serratus pull-over. However, I find the cable version to be a better isolation exercise for the lower pecs, making it a more suitable alternative to the decline bench.
The key with the straight bar serratus pulldown is to purposely limit the range of motion of the exercise. What you want to avoid is having your arms come all the way down to your waist. The closer your arms come to your waist, the more you’ll be activating your serratus and lats, rather than your lower pecs.
Additionally, the reason why I prefer the cable pulldown versus the dumbbell pull-over is that you can take a wider grip on the cables. In this wider grip, you can activate your lower pecs more.
How To Do It
- Bring the cable machine to the highest setting
- Attach a straight bar to the cables
- Grab the straight bar in a wider grip (outside shoulder-width)
- Hinge slightly froward from the hips and have a slight bend in your elbow
- Bring the straight bar from about eye height to belly button height
- Work within this range of motion, controlling the load both up and down, and squeezing your lower pecs
Some people prefer to do this variation kneeling as it prevents any ‘cheating’ by swinging your body-weight to move the load. Try it both standing and kneeling and pick whichever variations feels the most comfortable.
Related Article: Touch and Go Bench Press: Should You Pause On Your Chest?
7. Decline Machine Press
Unlike some of the other substitutes for decline bench press, the decline machine press is extremely simple to set up. What I don’t like about using a decline bench for either barbell or dumbbell variations is just how awkward it is to get in and out of the start position.
With the decline machine press, you’re sitting in a slightly reclined chair, and to start the movement you simply need to press the handles in front of you.
The only downside to the decline machine press is that not all gyms have this piece of equipment. You may have a “seated chest press machine”, which is great at targeting your total chest. But, a decline machine press is a bit rarer to see.
How To Do It
- Sit in the chair of the machine and use the seat belt if there is one
- Grab the handles outside of your chest and press your palms out in front of you
- Focus on squeezing your lower pecs as you straighten your arms
- Return the handles to the start position without ‘bouncing the weight’ at the bottom
If you want to exhaust your lower pec muscles even more, you can choose to superset the decline machine press with one of the bodyweight decline bench press alternatives in the next section. Perform 10 reps of the decline press and then as many reps as possible with the bodyweight exercise directly after.
Low-Load or Bodyweight Decline Bench Press Alternatives
These low-load or bodyweight decline bench press alternatives are great if you only have access to minimal equipment or no equipment at all.
However, don’t underestimate how challenging these exercises can be just because you’re not using barbells, dumbbells, or machines.
In fact, I like to use these low-load and bodyweight exercises at the end of a workout to ‘burn out’ the lower pecs, or as a superset with other exercises to make them more difficult.
8. Vertical Dip With Forward Torso Lean
The vertical dip is performed on parallel bars, which is in contrast to the horizontal dip where your feet are elevated on a bench.
The vertical dip will target your lower pecs to a greater extent compared with the horizontal dip, which is more for isolating the triceps. If you’re wondering how to do a decline bench press without a bench this is an excellent alternative.
The vertical dip will be more similiar to a decline bench press if you lean forward with your torso rather than keeping your back vertical.
Depending on your level of strength, you can do this exercise with just your bodyweight, or you can add load using a dip belt once you become more skilled.
How To Do It
- Place your hands on parallel dip bars
- Take your feet off the floor so that your entire weight is felt in your hands
- Lean your torso forward slightly
- Bend your arms to lower yourself to the floor
- The end point should be when your arms reach a 90-degree angle, but not pushing beyond what feels comfortable on your shoulders
- Push yourself back to the starting position and maintain the same forwar torso lean
While I can do vertical dips with loads in excess of 100lbs, I still like to do the bodyweight variation from time-to-time, but slow the tempo to a 3-second down, and 3-second up count. When each rep takes 6-seconds to complete, it doesn’t require much load to start feeling a significant training effect
9. Incline Push-Up With Underhand Grip
The incline push up is performed with your hands on a raised surface, which will activate your lower pecs more than a flat or decline push up. This is an excellent alternative to the decline bench press at home, as you can perform it on a couch, chair, or stool.
However, to activate your lower pecs even more, which will make it more similar to a decline bench press, rotate your hands so that your fingers are pointed toward your toes. This is also called an ‘underhand grip’.
While you can do the incline push-up as part of the main workout, I like to use it as a warm-up for other bench press variations.
How To Do It
- Set up a small riser in front of you or use a flat bench press
- Place your palms on the riser with your fingers pointing toward your toes
- The start position should have your body placed at an angle
- Lower yourself so your chest touches the riser or bench and keep your elbows tight to your side
- Press yourself back up and squeeze your lower pecs in the process
For extra resistance, you can wrap a band around your body. Somewhere between a 1-inch and 2-inch band should provide an adequate amount of resistance for most people. The idea is not to load the exercise substantially, but perform a high number of reps that gets you closer to your fatigue limit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions that I get around the topic of decline bench press alternatives:
Do You Really Need To Do Decline Bench Press
If your goal is to develop your lower pecs, you don’t need to do decline bench press. While the decline bench press can be an effective exercise, there are other alternatives that can target your lower pecs similarly or to a greater extent. If your goal is powerlifting, and you want to increase strength on your bench press, the decline bench press has very little carryover.
How Do You Decline Dumbbell Press Without Bench?
If you don’t have a bench, I would substitute the decline dumbbell press with either a high-to-low cable chest fly or a vertical dip with a slight forward torso lean.
What Muscles Does Decline Bench Work?
The decline bench works the lower pecs. In a study by Stephen & Armstrong (1997), they showed that when comparing a 30-degree incline bench press with a 15-degree decline bench press that the fibers of the lower pec are “significantly more activated” in the decline bench press.
Is Decline Bench Easier Than Flat?
You can usually lift more weight in the decline bench press vs the flat bench press. In the decline bench press, an average person should lift between 1.2-1.3 times their body-weight. In the flat bench press, an average person should lift between 1.1-1.2 times their body-weight.
A good decline bench press alternative either mimics a similar movement pattern as the decline bench press or engages similar muscle groups, such as the lower pecs. Many of the decline bench press alternatives discussed in this article are exercises that you can also perform in conjunction with a solid chest program.