Top 7 Incline Bench Press Alternatives For Upper Chest

The incline bench press targets the upper chest muscles, with both shoulders and triceps helping.

While the exercises suggested below target the same (or similar) muscles, each movement is unique and offers different benefits.

In the event of current or past injuries that ordinarily make the exercises difficult to perform, simple modifications in training can stimulate muscle and strength development, thereby boosting the tolerance of the injured tissue. Of course, you may simply want to spice up your workout routine with a few alternative exercises.

I am going to guide you through these exercises and explain in detail the advantages of each:

  • Swiss Bar Incline Press
  • Resistance Machine Incline Press
  • Standing Cable Flies
  • Dumbbell Pullover
  • Landmine Press
  • Dips 
  • Decline Press ups

1. Swiss Bar Incline Press (Multi-grip bar)

The underrated Swiss bar press offers a shoulder-friendly neutral grip for those whose shoulders are already beaten up. It emphasizes the chest muscles, and by maintaining a closer grip, you can also increase the amount of work done by the triceps. 

There are a couple of advantages of using Swiss bars over dumbbells.

Firstly the Swiss Bar has been constructed to provide multiple grip options. This makes it more shoulder-friendly for those whose sports require it or those carrying an injury. 

The main advantage is that the increased stability of the barbell means you can work towards a higher weight more easily. Why?

With dumbbells, you can work with a greater range of movement. They require more control and activation from the shoulder stabilizers. They wobble around if you don’t take care, making lifting a heavier load more difficult.

  • If you are a beginner, start your routine with this compound exercise after a good warm-up and dynamic mobilization.
  • If you are a more advanced athlete, hit the bar at the end of your training before your core workout. 

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

Beginners: 2 – 3 sets of 12-15 reps (60-90sec rest) with 3 RIR (Reps in Reserve) 

RIR = How many more repetitions you could perform before technical failure

Once you have mastered the technique and become more advanced, work towards your 5 rep max, top set with 120 seconds rest

How to: 

  • Set the bench to around 15-30 degrees incline (more than 30degree will emphasize the shoulders)
  • Hold the Bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart, then un-rack the bar safely
  • Plant your feet into the ground, take a deep breath and maintain a stiff core, then lower it to your chest.
  • Drive through your feet and return the bar to the starting position.

2. Incline Chest Press Machine 

Before you think I am crazy to get you to sit on a machine instead of choosing any other exercise over it, here is my reason:

The pinned weights, fixed range of movement, and back support all help minimize the stability demands of the movement. As a result, your chest can work beyond its limit without other muscles fatiguing first. It is a beginner-friendly exercise, and resistance machines are simple but effective ways of building muscles and strength, as recent studies have shown).

Do not just use it as a substitute; add it to your upper body workout for extra chest, shoulder, and triceps gains. Start with the primary movements like bench press. Then you are ready to chest press on the machine.

If you are an advanced athlete, superset it with an additional bodyweight chest exercise. Add this to the middle or end of your routine. 

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

2 – 3 sets of 12-15 reps with 30 to 60-second break

How to: 

  • Set your seat so the handlebar is level with the upper part of your chest
  • Maintain a straight back, rest your head on the headrest, and grip the handlebar with an overhand grip
  • Extend your arms, and squeeze the shoulder blade back, keeping It in a safe position
  • Slowly bending the elbow, return to the starting position for a count of 3-5 seconds 

3. Standing Incline Cable Flies

Have you heard of Time Under Tension (TUT), the amount of time a muscle is held under tension?

Well, this is what the persistent resistance of the cable machine can provide you with! Eccentric overload (when you lower the weight) is shown to be more effective in increasing muscle mass!

What other advantages the cable has?

  • Greater range of movement
  • Safer than DB or BB, which makes it suitable for beginners
  • Isolates muscles that can promote extra growth.

When performed standing, this exercise does more than just work your chest, shoulders, and triceps. It also requires core stability.

Imagine an anti-rotation exercise where your core works against the force resistance to keep it still. At the same time, the rest of your upper body performs the movement.

You can increase this force resistance by keeping the feet together instead of in a split position. It also challenges balance and ‘push force’ essential for sports performance.

Seated Incline Bench Cable Flies

If you are a beginner, complete it seated, which will allow you to focus more on technique and upper body movement. 

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

2 -3 x 10-12 reps with 30 seconds rest 2x Reps in Reserve. Complete it at the end or midway of your routine using Time under Tension (TUT).

The idea is that this forces your muscles to work harder and optimizes muscular strength, endurance, and growth. For example, completing a standing cable fly with a tempo of 3:0:1:1 where: 

  • 3 – Take 3 seconds to lower the cable to the starting position (eccentric phase)
  • 0 – Do not pause with the weight on the bottom (first pause phase)
  • 1 – Raise the weight at speed, using one second to return the barbell to the starting position (concentric phase)
  • 1 – Hold on the top before lowering to the next repetition (second pause phase)

How to: 

  • Set between the two column bars and set the handles around shin height
  • Stand in a split position, one foot in front of the other (of feet together for more stability demand) 
  • Stand tall with your body aligned by avoiding leaning forward, as this puts excessive loads on the shoulder joint
  • Keep the arms extended by your side (soft elbows), with the palms facing forward (underhand grip)
  • Exhale and bring the arms up to chest height
  • Inhale and return to the starting position.

4. Dumbbell Pullover

Pullover on the bench

This chest exercise has several additional muscles involved in the movement, like latissimus dorsi, teres major, anterior shoulder, and triceps, making this a great alternative to the incline bench press.

You can perform this exercise on the bench or in a ‘hip thruster’ position. That’s when you keep your head and shoulders on the bench while the rest of your body is in a bridge position while squeezing the glutes up.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FK4rHfWKEac
Pullover in a bridge position (more advanced) 

I love this version as it works the posterior chain and the core to a higher level.

In both cases, avoid arching the lower back, stiffen the core and maintain a neutral spine. If you have limited overhead mobility, you might not be able to work in a full ROM. In this case, just use what is available, or pick another alternative. 

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

Start with 2-3 sets of 15 reps with 30-60 sec rest on a lighter weight. Then with 2-3 week cycles, reduce volume and increase intensity, for example, 3 sets of 10-12 reps, then 3-4 sets of 8-10reps.

How to: 

  • Lie down on a flat bench with the feet planted into the ground
  • Hold a dumbbell with the palms facing up and the fingers shaping a diamond shape, where you safely hold the dumbbells.
  • Extend the arms straight up from the chest, but keep your elbows soft. This will be your starting position.
  • While keeping your back and hips in a neutral position, take a breath and bring the arms/DB above your head until the arms are parallel to the floor (or your comfortable and safe range of movement)
  • Return to the starting position

5. Landmine Press

Another great strength and power exercise that offers wide variety! Would I call this advance?

The answer is it depends!

You can change the grip, bar, weight, position, and angle you are starting with.

Standing or adding additional movement will work for muscle groups like the core, legs, and arms, not just the chest and shoulders.

By kneeling down and leaning forward, you will isolate the shoulders more. While keeping a more upright position increases the load on the chest.

My favorite exercise is highly functional and can be used for (p)rehab. Still, it has many other benefits from athletic performance and bodybuilding perspectives.

Let’s see the variations:

  • Kneeling Landmine Press
  • Half kneeling LP
  • Standing LP
  • Squat to Press LP
  • Unilateral (single arm) or Bilateral (double arm) LP

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

Start with a lighter load, then increase the weight and stability demand by standing up to challenge your body further. We are aiming for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. In a power-aimed workout (alactic capacity) 8 x 3 with 10-15 seconds rest, which changes the whole game and the aim of the session.

How to:

  • Kneel down, with your knees hip-width apart
  • Grab the bar with both hands in front of your chest
  • Keep a stiff core, take a breath in and press the barbell front and above you
  • Slowly return to the starting position

6. Forward Lean Dips

This is ‘the icing on the cake.’ This routine finisher is a winner in maximizing muscle growth.

If you are not ready to bear your body weight, try assisted machine or band dips! That will get you there!

But if you are ready to level up, add some extra weights to work with!

And if there is no gym, dips are still available for you in the comfort of your home!

This bodyweight exercise activates several muscle groups, which makes your body an absolute fat-burning machine! You feel my passion for this exercise, right?

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

Aiming for a certain number of reps would feel highly wrong to me! Why? 

If you can do 6 bodyweight dips, I wouldn’t want to take that away from you and make you do ‘assisted’ ones only to get 15 out in a set.

Neither would I make you aim for 15 with your body weight when 6 works you to almost failure.

In this case, 3-4 x 4 or 5 reps with a decent amount of recovery would be ideal to perform each set fully.

Also, you could work until failure on your first set and take full recovery of 4 minutes, then complete the next set for a certain amount of reps. Also, if 15 feels easy for you, up your game.

It all depends on your strength and how hard or easy dips feel for you! 

 How to:

  • Stand between the two handles of the dip bar.
  • Grab each handlebar with an overhand grip, stiffen your core and elevate yourself. (You can also jump up if it’s easier)
  • Lean forward to target the chest (pectorals), a more upright torso with the elbows tucked in will target your triceps more.
  • Lower yourself, dip down with the elbows driving slightly out (to maximize pecs work)
  • Push yourself back up and repeat for the desired reps and sets.

7. Decline Push Ups

Finally, an evergreen exercise, the decline push up! By elevating your feet/leg, the load goes on your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles. For that reason, this version might feel more difficult than the traditional floor press ups. It is a great exercise to add as a superset exercise to your gym routine or complete pyramid sets. It can be completed anywhere. 

Recommend weight/ reps/set/rest

2-3 sets of 10-20 reps are a good aim with 30 seconds break. If you superset with, for example, a resistance machine chest press complete as a pyramid if you are more advance and want to increase muscle mass:

  • 1st set: Chest Press 15 reps (start with a lighter weight) Press ups 10 reps
  • 2nd set: Chest press 12 reps (increase the weight) Press Ups 12 Reps 
  • 3rd set: Chest press 10 reps (Increase the weight) Press Ups 15 Reps 

You can also add an extra set!

How to:

  • Start in a high plank position with the palm on the ground and the feet elevated on a box or chair
  • Squeeze your glutes, brace your core, and aim for a 45-degree angle with the elbow for a safer press
  • Lower yourself down to the ground by bending the elbows
  • Extend your arms and return to the starting position

Pro Tips:

Progressing while following an exercise routine is about creativity and the desire for challenges rather than straightforward instructions or golden rules. While performing these exercises, have fun and play around with them. And remember to stay safe!

Find the best alternative for your goal, sport, current and past injuries, anatomy, mobility level, and current strength. There is no one size fits all approach to a particular exercise, and my blog serves the same purpose. To coach you to be your own best coach!

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