The Five Best Bench Press Alternatives
10/01/2021 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
If the bench press has been the mainstay of your chest routine since teletext and dial-up internet were the pinnacle of consumer technology, then maybe it’s time you upgraded the fibres on more than just your broadband.
Whether you’re bench-less, have injuries or niggles preventing you from benching pain free or are just looking to spice up your routine and press through plateaus, we’ve got five alternative movements for you to add to the roster.
Time to get off the bench and get to work.
Dumbbell Bench Press
By switching from the bar to dumbbells we’re not just addressing strength imbalances from left to right that might over wise go unchecked, but the free moving nature of the dumbbells will allow you to find a more natural range of motion, helping to mitigate any injury risk and potentially help you to rehabilitate any you may be carrying already. Not only this, but the added range of motion you’ll open up in the bottom position without the barrier of the bar stopping on your chest, will create a greater stretch through the pecs, which can be conducive to muscle gain.
Set yourself up on bench with two dumbbells on your knees. Lay back and simultaneously lift your knees, ‘kicking’ the dumbbells onto the the front of your shoulders, with the heads of the weights touching your chest and your elbows pointing away from your body at a 45 degree angle. Dig your feet into the floor, creating tension through your entire body and explosively press the weights up. Squeeze your chest hard at the top of the rep before slowly lowering the dumbbells back to the start position, repeat.
If you want to take the increased range of motion and inherent instability of the dumbbell press up a notch, then your next stop is the ring push-up. Allowing your shoulders to explore a huge range of motion, but without pressing your all important scapula muscles into a bench, ring push-ups are a panacea when it comes to building stability through your shoulder girdle, whilst also delivering a healthy dose of core strengthening goodness. With the option of adjusting the rings up or down to regress or progress the movement, the ring push-up is perfect for everyone from beginners right through to advanced athletes.
Assume a strong plank position above a pair gymnastics rings. Turn your hands slightly outwards and actively push down on the rings, separating your shoulder blades. Flex at the elbows slowly lowering your chest towards the ground, keep the rings close to your body, stopping as you pass below your hands or when you feel a stretch through your chest. Press back up under control to the start position, repeat.
Whether you’re lacking a bench, trying to avoid excess strain on your shoulders or looking to build lockout strength in your triceps, the floor press is a massively slept on movement. As the name suggests, it’s a cousin of the bench press that’s performed laying flat on the ground, or in a bridged position to slightly increase the range of motion.
Position yourself on the floor beneath a barbell in a rack, or have a partner deadlift a barbell and pass it to you. Hold the bar fully locked out, with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width apart and slowly lower it until the back of your arms are resting on the ground. Explosively press the bar back to full lockout, repeat.
And old-school chest builder, responsible for some of the greatest physiques of all times. Not only a worthy substitute for the the bench press but a powerful accompaniment, hitting the chest from a different angle and offering up an entirely different stimulus. The weighted variant is known for building huge tricep power.
Jump up on two parallel bars with your palms facing inwards and arms straight, wrists stacked below elbows and shoulders. Bend at the elbows and slowly lower your body until you feel a deep stretch through your chest. Keep your arms close to your body, ensuring your elbows don’t flare outward. Drive yourself back up to the top and repeat.
The humble push-up has stood the test of time for good reason- it works. A properly performed or ‘virtuous’ push-up requires total body tension, core stability, shoulder mobility and builds strength endurance through your chest, shoulders and triceps. By adding additional weight we take everything that’s good about a push-up and make it better.
Place a weight plate onto your back (or have a partner assist). Drop into a strong plank position, with your core tight and hands stacked beneath your elbows and shoulders. Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest to the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body as you push back up explosively, repeat.