The bench press is one of the most popular exercises — and for good reason. When performed right, this compound lift is certainly one of the best moves for building strength and size in the chest, triceps and shoulders.
The bench press is so popular you can often find yourself without one. Walking into your gym at peak times and we can guarantee there will be a queue for the bench press. Every gym should have one, maybe two if you’re lucky, so chances are you’ll be standing around waiting for your turn.
So what do you do when the bench press is busy? Well, with these exercises you can skip the queues and get to work building that bigger chest, with these effective bench press alternatives.
Bench Press Alternatives
1. Smith Machine Bench Press
Muscles worked: Chest, shoulders, triceps, core
Everyone queuing at the bench press but the squat rack lies empty in the corner? Take your bench to the rack. Ensure there is a set of safety pins and away you go.
How to do it:
- Take a bench to the squat rack – ensure there are safety pins and adjust these to around two inches off your chest. Place the barbell across the safety pins so it is suspended above your body.
- Lay down on the bench and get under the bar. Forcefully grip the barbell and prepare to press it.
- Explode the bar upwards, with as much force as you can.
- Lower the bar to the rack in a controlled manner and let the rack take the weight. This is one rep.
There are few movements that develop total power like the rack press. Very similar to the standard bench press, the minor tweaks involved — such as the release of the weight — emphasise the speed at which you can recruit muscle fibres.
2. Incline Dumbbell Press
Muscles worked: Chest, shoulders, triceps
The incline press is often used as a supplement exercise following the regular flat bench. Prioritise this movement to get more out of it and target those areas of the chest that are lagging.
How to do it:
- Select a bench and raise it to a level that suits you, around 30 degrees is a good starting point.
- With the dumbbells in your hand, raise them to your chest and shoulders as if you’re about to press, this is the starting position.
- Squeeze your chest and contract your triceps to push the dumbbells up and away. Contract hard at the top.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner. This is one rep.
The dumbbell press closely mimics the movement of the bench press. However, the way the arms move across the body isolate the chest and recruit more muscle making this an even more effective chest builder than a standard flat bench press.
You can also customise the degree of incline to hit different sections of the chest. The higher the incline, the higher up the chest you target. This allows you to really bring out that ‘armour-plated’ look in your upper body.
3. Floor Press
Muscles worked: Chest, deltoids, triceps, core
The floor press is an exercise used in elite sport and high-level athletics which isn’t regularly used in a gym, probably due to the dominance of the common bench press.
How to do it:
- Lie flat on the ground with a barbell or dumbbell in your hands. Outstretch your arms as if you’re on the bench press.
- Slowly lower the weight until your elbows touch the ground. They should be at 90 degrees and the bar should never manage to touch your chest.
- Explosively press the weight away from your chest. That’s one rep.
The floor press trains approximately half the bench press movement, eliminating the lower portion of the lift. This means you can load up the bar with heavier weight, which overloads the triceps and forces neural adaptations that get your body used to lifting heavier loads.
The floor press is often rotated in and out of training programmes to get around niggling injuries that the normal bench can agitate. This can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells.
The key to replacing the bench press is to keep the stimulus as similar as possible. Isolation exercises simply won’t cut it. Whilst you cannot entirely replicate the bench press as an exercise, there are more than enough movements available to harness the same benefits. Prioritise the exercises on this list and you will return to your beloved bench stronger than you left it.