Bench Press Alternatives
Looking to modify your pressing training? Get great results and add some variety to your routine with these great bench press alternatives.
What Makes a Good Bench Press Substitute?
We see so many articles online that give terrible advice when it comes to making exercise swaps. It’s not uncommon for writers to claim that a DB Fly or Cable Press is a good substitute for bench press. Sure, it targets the pecs just like the bench does, but if you really want to get a similar output from an exercise, it needs to have similar qualities outside of just the muscles targeted. Here are the things you should care about when it comes to exercise selection.
Global comment. Focus on technique, execution, and making every rep look smooth as possible. If you want to be explosive, train explosively.
Rep Ranges & Load
Bench Press is primarily a strength and muscle builder. It can be used for really high rep sets, but it’s that’s not as common. When looking to replace your bench training, think about what rep ranges and how heavy of weight you were using. A push up is a great movement, but your own bodyweight can’t simulate pressing hundreds of pounds off of yourself. For reps, if you usually do 6-12 on bench press, you aren’t going to want to pick and exercise and do 20-30 rep sets in its place.
Your bench press primarily hits your pecs, shoulders, and triceps while your rotator cuff muscles and lats help stabilize and decelerate the bar during the movement.
The bench press using a traditional straight barbell which allows you to use more weight than bands, machines, cables, etc. In order to get a true substitute, you’ll want to stick with using a barbell if possible. However, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule! If you have muscle imbalances, using DBs can help identify and fix compensation patterns. Also, if you have nagging injuries or feel beat up from the barbell, then you are going to want to pick more joint friendly options.
Range of Motion
The range of motion is probably the highest on the list of things to modify for bench. If you have a weakness at a particular sticking point, choosing an exercise that addresses it is a great idea. If you historically have bad shoulders and the bottom of the bench press irritates them, picking something like floor press is a great way to work around that while still getting a great training effect.
If you use an incline, you will incorporate your upper pec and shoulders a little more. If you use a decline, you will use your chest a little more.
Best Bench Press Alternatives
Let’s take a look at some of the best bench press alternatives along with video demonstrations.
The floor press is a great option for those who don’t feel very comfortable using the full range of motion on a bench press. It forces you to stop and pause on the floor with the barbell about 6-12 inches above your chest. Other than that, it’s very similar in terms of bench pressing best practices. Create a small arch, slightly tuck your elbows, control the weight, and press back towards you and up. We love this for strength training programs and it can be used as a replacement exercise or a supplement in any program.
Eric Spoto is one of the best American bench pressers of all time (he once benched 722lbs!). This exercise is named after him and is another bench alternative which modifies the range of motion. You lower the bar to about 4-6 inches above your chest, pause, and then press the bar back up. It takes a lot of control to decelerate the bar and the time under tension in that particular spot is very helpful for teaching lifters to be explosive off their chest.
Decline Bench Press
The decline bench press is not the best exercise in terms of regular bench carry over, however, there are some things to like about it. It’s generally pretty comfortable (although it doesn’t look like it). It reduces lower back stress and is very easy on the shoulders. You can also lift more weight on decline than you can regular bench press. We wouldn’t recommend using decline to completely replace the bench, especially since it can lead to ego lifting. It is a good alternative if you are re-introducing pressing into your routine and want a joint friendly way to toss around some weight.
Low Incline Bench Press
This is a very underrated exercise and there’s nothing fancy about it. Most incline benches are set at a 45 degree angle. That’s not the most comfortable way to press a straight barbell. Even by lowering it to 30 or 15 degrees, you challenge your shoulders and upper pecs, while pressing from a much more comfortable position.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Alright, the DB Bench Press. It’s more of an accessory, but you can still build some solid strength with this exercise. We particularly like it for those with muscle imbalances since it allows you to use both sides independently.
We are including weight dips, not because it mimics the bench, but because it really is a killer exercise and offers a great benefit that no bench press variation can – scapular movement freedom. Anytime you lay on a bench, you pin your shoulder blades to it. You’re pressing a heavy barbell without letting them fully move within their capabilities. The dip allows a great stretch and ROM while still building your pressing muscles.
Smith Machine Bench Press
Everyone hates on the Smith Machine, but there’s a tool for everything and sometimes this is a viable one. The downside of the smith machine is that it’s on a fixed track. You lose out on the stabilization benefits. However, if this helps people ease into benching where they can start properly placing tension on the muscle instead of the joint, isn’t that a good thing?