The first lift you ever performed in the gym was likely the bench press. But after years of lifting, your shoulders can take a beating, and thinking about pressing a barbell causes pain. If you’re not a competitive Powerlifter, there’s no rule stating you have to bench press.
Instead, try these eleven epic bench press alternatives that will pack slabs of muscle on your upper body and develop next-level pressing strength without the discomfort of the barbell.
Bench Press Alternative Without A Bench At Home
Quality benches can be expensive. And with a home gym, you may not have space to store a sturdy bench. So, if you want to grow those pecs, shoulders, and triceps, use these bench press alternatives with no bench.
Barbell Floor Press
This is the closest you’ll get to the bench press without a bench. The barbell floor press is similar to a board press (placing boards on your chest when bench pressing to shorten the range of motion) as the floor will stop your elbows from moving past your body.
Powerlifters often use the barbell floor press to train their triceps and improve their lockout or blast through sticking points. Because the range of motion is reduced, less stress is placed on the pecs, with more placed on the shoulders and triceps.
Further, you negate the contributions from the legs. A well-executed bench press relies heavily on leg drive derived from a proper setup. Setting up for the floor press should be similar to the bench press with a couple of caveats:
- Lie flat on the floor with your legs straight. This will prevent you from pushing with your feet and bring your bum off the floor.
- Pin your shoulder blades together like you would when bench pressing.
- Lower the barbell until your triceps are flat on the floor. You must do this slowly; otherwise, you’ll crash your arms into the floor and lose your tightness. Your elbows should be at a 45° angle from your torso, not flared to the side.
- Pause at the bottom while keeping tension against the barbell. It will be much harder to press back to the starting position if you relax.
- Press back to the starting position.
Even though the range of motion is shorter than the bench press, you will find the floor press much harder and will need to use lighter loads. This is because of the pause and lack of leg drive.
Dumbbell Floor Press
The dumbbell floor press is a variation of the barbell floor press, but you will need heavy dumbbells for this to be effective. The setup can be more difficult than the barbell variation as you can’t unrack dumbbells. So, getting them in position is a skill in itself.
The dumbbells can help alleviate any upper body imbalances since each arm has to press the same load. Here is how to do the dumbbell floor press:
- Sit on the floor with the dumbbells on your thighs. Hold the handles, so they are vertical.
- Kick the dumbbells up as you fall back; otherwise, they will be stuck by your legs.
- If you have a partner, you can get in position with one dumbbell, and your partner can pass you the other.
- Shuffle your shoulder blades together like you would when bench pressing.
- Lower the dumbbells slowly until your triceps are flat on the floor. Pause and keep tension against the dumbbells.
- Press back to the starting position.
If you struggle to get both dumbbells in position, you can perform the one-arm dumbbell floor press, which is much easier to set up.
This is my go-to bench press alternative as the push-up and bench press are essentially the same motion except for the use of bodyweight. You get the full range of motion to hammer your pecs, and you can extend the range of motion for a more intense pec growth.
This leads to similar muscle activation between the bench press and push-up .
If you have a training partner, they can add a plate on your back. If you’re solo, you can perform the resistance band push-up. Here’s how to weighted push-up:
- Get into the push-up plank position. Your thumbs should be under or just outside your shoulders. Turn your hands slightly out for better comfort.
- Have your partner place a plate on your upper back.
- Slowly lower your chest to the floor with your elbows at a 45° angle, then push back to the starting position.
Many lifters don’t know that dips are not just a triceps exercise. They also hit the pecs. If you’re doing dips for chest and triceps gains, you need to perform the parallel bar dip. The bench dip is not a good option for most lifters as it can aggravate the front of the shoulder—especially those with rounded shoulders.
Regardless, parallel bar dips don’t agree with everyone. I can’t do dips at all due to the pain it causes on my sternum. Many lifters complain about a “popping” sensation when doing dips which is fine if it doesn’t cause any pain or adverse effects outside of the gym.
But I’ve found if I do dips, I’ll have pain in the sternum for months that will stop me from doing any pressing exercises. I have never found why some people have this problem, so if you feel this, avoid this exercise entirely. For those that can do dips safely, here’s how:
- Support your bodyweight with your arms extended on the parallel bars.
- Lower yourself slowly until your triceps are parallel with the floor.
- Push back to the starting position.
2-Arm Landmine Press
The landmine attachment is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can have in your gym. It turns your barbell into something you can use for various unilateral and obscure exercises.
Suppose you have shoulder issues that prevent you from bench pressing. In that case, this is my favorite alternative that has worked with many athletes of mine. Here’s how to do it:
- Pick up the end of the barbell and cup your hands around the barbell at chest height.
- As you press, slightly lean forward, so you finish with your head through your arms to target the shoulders or stay stationary to target the chest.
It’s as easy as that! If you don’t have a landmine attachment, you can place two plates together on the floor and put the barbell in the crook. However, do this with an old barbell, not your fancy Weightlifting barbell.
1-Arm Landmine Press
The 1-arm landmine press feels even better on the shoulders as you have more freedom of movement. You can do these standing, half kneeling, or tall kneeling with the standing variation to handle the most weight. Here’s how:
- Start with the end of the barbell in one hand. The elbow shouldn’t be directly in front but rather slightly to the side.
- Press the bar and lean slightly forward, so you finish with your head in line with your arm.
Bench Press Alternative With Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are remarkable for their versatility and space requirements. So, here are some bench press alternatives using resistance bands.
As mentioned under the weighted push-up exercise, the resistance band push-up is easy to load the push-up when training solo. Here’s how to do it:
- Decide how you are going to wrap the band around your hands. You can use either loop it around your thumb or your palm. My preference is the palm. If you use a moderate-sized band and higher, looping it around your thumb becomes painful.
- If you are using a small band, then looping it around your thumb is fine, but it pays to get used to having the band around your palm.
- Cross the band into an X. This pro tip will stop the band from flying up behind your neck when doing the resistance band push-up.
- Place the band around your back with it loop around your palms.
- Kneel and get into the push-up position. You should feel like the band will stay in place when you start the push-up. If not, sit on your knees and adjust it until you feel comfortable.
- Perform the resistance band push-up as you would the regular push-up with the thumbs directly under the shoulders or slightly outside shoulder width. The elbows should form a 45° angle to the body. Elbows flared out to the side will wreck your shoulders and are a weaker position to push from.
Band Chest Press
Another effective way to use resistance bands is to remove bodyweight and only have band resistance. You do this standing or lying down. Both are decent options. The load will be far less than a push-up but can be used to finish off your chest and triceps. Here’s how:
- Loop the band around your hands and cross the band into an X.
- Place the band around your back.
- Press the bands until your arms are extended.
Bench Press Alternative With Bench
If you have a bench but can’t perform the bench press due to equipment limitations or previous injuries, here are some alternatives for you.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Many lifters will use the dumbbell bench press after the barbell bench press as an accessory exercise to build the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Dumbbells allow a greater range of motion, putting a more significant stretch on the pecs.
But for those who can’t barbell bench press, you can use the dumbbell bench press instead to build the upper body pressing muscles. Here’s how:
- Start sitting on the edge of the bench with the dumbbells on your thighs while holding the handles.
- Kick the dumbbells to your chest as you fall back. Once flat, move the dumbbells to the side. Elbows should be at 45° from the torso.
- Press the dumbbells vertically and squeeze your pecs at the top.
- Slowly lower them back to the starting position.
Dumbbell Squeeze Press
The dumbbell squeeze press is a variation to enhance pec activation and maintain tension on the muscles. You won’t press as heavy, but it makes a great pec accessory exercise. Here’s how to do it:
- Once lying on the bench, squeeze the dumbbells together on your chest.
- As you press the dumbbells, keep squeezing them together.
Dumbbell Chest Fly
The dumbbell chest fly is the furthest removed as a bench press alternative, but it isolates the pecs. And you don’t need heavy dumbbells to get the most out of this exercise. Here’s how to do it:
- Lying on a bench, press the dumbbells vertically. Shuffle your shoulder blades together, which will help you get the pec stretch.
- Once there, bend your elbows slightly. You will keep this fixed position.
- Lower your arms to the side, leading with the elbow. You will feel an intense stretch through your pecs.
- Return to the starting position.
Give these bench press alternatives a try during your next upper body training session. For pure muscular development, you don’t need to bench press. You can get the job done with any of these alternatives while keeping your shoulders happy and healthy.
1. van den Tillaar, R. (2019). Comparison of kinematics and muscle activation between push-up and bench press. Sports medicine international open, 3(03), E74-E81.