11 Incline Bench Press Alternatives For Chest Development


Incline Bench Press is one of the most effective exercises for building upper body strength, specifically for the upper chest, shoulders and triceps.

However, sometimes you may find yourself needing an alternative for Incline Barbell Bench Press.

Maybe you don’t have a bench (or a barbell) or maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your training program.

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an exercise to use as a substitute then you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you what I consider the 11 best Incline Bench Press alternatives.

Incline Bench Press Alternatives

I’ve tried to include as much variety in this list of Incline Bench Press alternatives as possible. You’re going to find exercises that closely mimic Incline Bench Press along with exercises that look completely different. There are exercises that utilize all kinds of different equipment – dumbbells, medicine balls and even a cable machine.

What all these exercises have in common, though, is that they are all great in their own way for developing upper body pressing strength and power.


Dumbbell Incline Bench Press


Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Missing the “barbell” in Incline Barbell Bench Press? My first Incline Bench Press alternative suggestion would be to switch to dumbbells and do Dumbbell Incline Bench Press to attack the upper chest.

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • As you go higher with your angle, you are moving more toward a shoulder press. The flatter the bench gets, you are moving more toward a regular bench press.
  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.


Bench Press


Bench Press

We can’t talk about Incline Bench Press alternatives without mentioning regular flat Bench Press, right? Bench Press won’t target the upper chest the same way as Incline Press, but it’s still going to be one of the best Incline Bench Press alternatives simply because it’s one of the best upper body movements, period.

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Always have a spotter, regardless of the weight. Yes, even for the lighter sets.

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.

When you bring the bar down, lightly tap the chest and then press back up. Do NOT bounce it. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve watched Bench Press like they were mad at their sternum.

In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)

Make small gains in weight over time.


Dumbbell Bench Press


DB Bench Press

Don’t have an adjustable bench? Switch to a flat bench and do Dumbbell Bench instead (or even on the floor if necessary).

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
  • Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • The dumbbells should be slightly angled (representative of the path you are descending with your elbows).
  • Press the dumbbells up.
  • Control the dumbbells down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbells in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The dumbbells will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the dumbbells back up.

Coaching Points

When your set is done, do not freely drop the dumbbells without checking your surroundings. You could drop the dumbbell and it might hit a person nearby. Or your could drop your dumbbell and crush your fingers on a dumbbell that was left next to your bench.

The best way to finish a set is to bring the dumbbells back to your thighs and stand up with them. Or have a lifting partner take them from you.


Feet Elevated Push-ups


Feet Elevated Pushups

Short on equipment? Give Feet Elevated Push-ups a try.

Push-ups, and Push-up variations, are often overlooked chest exercises because they’re considered “too simple”. Let me tell you – simple works.

Equipment Needed:

  • Bench or Box

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Lie face down on the floor and place your feet up on a bench or box.
  • Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
  • Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
  • Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
  • Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
  • Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
  • Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
  • Lock out your push-up and pause.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the push-up. The benefits of doing sound push-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

Keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle. For maximal chest, shoulder, and rotator cuff engagement, do not let the elbows flare out away from the middle. Also, do not let the elbow hug right next to the torso.


Landmine Press


If you have a landmine, Landmine Presses are an excellent exercise both as an alternate pressing movement and a unique exercise to add some variety. They have a very similar movement pattern to Incline Bench Press, but they will also incorporate more core and shoulder stability.

Equipment Needed

  • Landmine Attachment
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To

  • Set up a landmine attachment with a barbell.
  • Grab the end of the barbell and start with it at chest level.
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent and core braced.
  • Remove one hand from the bar and then press the bar to full extension with the other arm.
  • Lower the bar back to chest level under control.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch to the opposite arm.

Coaching Points

Keep the core braced and maintain a neutral torso. If you find yourself leaning back and arching the low back, lower the weight if needed and correct your form.

If you don’t have a landmine attachment, don’t worry! Here is how you can make your own DIY Landmine Attachment with just a tennis ball.


Floor Press


I didn’t have a bench the first year I started working out in my garage. If that sounds familiar, consider Floor Presses as an Incline Bench Press alternative. They’re more like a flat bench and not as targeted on the upper chest, but they’re a very effective horizontal pressing movement if you don’t have a bench.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Squat Rack

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set your barbell up in the rack at the proper height to be able to rack and unrack the bar safely*.
  • Lay on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
  • Engage your lats and set yourself up basically the same as you would for Bench Press.
  • Grab the bar using a close grip**, hands right about on the edge of the knurling.
  • Unrack the bar, lower it down until the triceps lightly tap the floor and then press it back to extension.
  • Repeat for the designated amount of reps.

Coaching Points

*Always test your barbell height with an empty bar. I’ve been doing Floor Presses for twenty years now and can still struggle with nailing the best height on my first try.

**Floor Press is generally done using a close grip to emphasize the demand on the triceps, however you can go with a wider grip if you choose to.


Dips


Man Doing Dips on Dip Rack Attachment

One of my all-time favorite exercises for developing pressing strength is Dips.

They’re not as targeted for the upper chest as some of the other options here, but they’re incredibly effective at building chest and triceps strength.

Equipment Needed

  • Squat Rack
  • Dip Attachment
  • A Dip Station can be used as well if you have access to one.

Muscles Worked

  • Chest
  • Shoulders (Anterior Delt)
  • Triceps

Step By Step Instructions

  • Attach your dip rack to your rack. This process will vary based on your rack and dip attachment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
  • Set your dip rack just above waist height. This will allow enough room for your feet not to hit the ground while doing reps, but not so high you feel you have to jump up into your first rep.
  • Starting position is hands on bars, arms extended, knees slightly bent and feet crossed (crossing feet is optional but does help with unwanted swinging in my experience.
  • Descend down by bending the elbows and slightly leaning forward.
  • Lower yourself under control until the triceps become parallel with the ground and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see with dips is a poor range of motion. If someone is struggling to be able to do reps, the easiest solution is to simply not lower yourself into a full rep, but this is incorrect. If a lifter cannot perform a full rep they should switch to one of the variations listed below.


Medicine Ball Chest Pass


Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

Medicine Ball Chest Pass is an explosive version of an Incline Bench Press. If you’re wanting to add some power development into your program, Med Ball Chest Pass is one of the best Incline Bench Press alternatives to accomplish just that.

Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball
  • Partner or Solid Wall

How To

  • Grab a medicine ball and a partner (or a solid wall)
  • Start on your knees, sit back onto your calves and hold the ball at your chest.
  • Explosively drive forward with the hips and throw the ball forward to your partner.
  • The forward hip extension should cause you to fall forward.
  • Catch yourself with your hands and then explosively push yourself back up to your starting position.

Coaching Points

Med Ball Chest Passes can be done from the knees as described above, but can also be done from a standing position. Regardless of what starting position you use, brace the core and be explosive!


Incline Dumbbell Fly


Dumbbell Incline Flys

Incline Dumbbell Flys won’t build strength nearly as well as Incline Bench, but they can be perfect to add some variety to your workout.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Adjustable Bench (Capable of changing angles)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
  • Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor and your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Press the dumbbells up.
  • Now, keep a slight bend in the elbow and lower the dumbbells down until they’re at shoulder height.
  • Finally, flex the chest and pull the dumbbells together, back to arm’s length over the chest.
  • When your set is done, do not freely drop the dumbbells without checking your surroundings. You could drop the dumbbell and it might hit a person nearby. Or your could drop your dumbbell and crush your fingers on a dumbbell that was left next to your bench.

Coaching Points

Remember as you move your bench up, the more you are engaging the shoulders and less chest. Be sure your angle matches the goals you’ve set for pressing.

Incline Dumbbell Fly should not be done with heavy weights. Stay relatively light, keep the movement very controlled and focus on the stretch.


Cable Crossover Flys


Cable Crossover Fly

If you have access to a cable crossover machine (hotel gym maybe?), then Cable Crossover Flys can be a great alternative. Like Incline Dumbbell Fly, Cable Crossovers aren’t as effective at developing pure strength, but don’t let that stop you from getting that chest pump at the end of your workout.

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Machine

How To

  • Place single-handle attachments on both sides of a cable crossover machine.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a slight forward lean through the torso.
  • Hold handles with your arms spread and a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Press the cables forward until your hands touch. (crossing the arms in the front will add more emphasis to the upper pectorals)
  • Slowly bring the hands back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Make sure both pins on each side of your machine are on the same notch.


Plate Loaded Incline Bench


Plate Loaded Incline Bench Press

My final recommendation for an Incline Bench alternative is Plate Loaded Incline Bench. Most college weight rooms and big commercial weight rooms will have plate-loaded equipment from Hammer Strength or a similar company.

If you have access to one of these isolateral machines, they can be a great substitution for Incline Bench.

Final Thoughts

Incline Bench Press is an excellent exercise for developing a strong upper chest, shoulders and triceps, but sometimes Incline Bench just isn’t an option. You may not have the proper equipment available to you or at other times you might just be looking to add some variety to your training program.

In these situations, you’ll need an Incline Bench alternative and I hope that at least one of the alternative exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Sports Scientist for almost 20 years at schools like the University of Tennessee, Temple University and Georgia Tech. The mission of Horton Barbell is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize their potential.

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