What can I use instead of a pec deck?
You can easily replace the pec deck with a cable crossover or single-arm cable exercises. It’s also possible to use bodyweight, resistance band, or free weight exercises to replace the pec deck and still build a huge chest.
A pec deck is a convenient machine, but its benefits aren’t unique.
We don’t all have access to a pec deck, so today, we’re looking at pec deck alternatives to get all the results with whatever you have available.
What Muscles Do Pec Decks Work?
The Pec deck works the major and minor pectoral muscles and the front deltoid. It may also develop the serratus anterior, but this shouldn’t be a major contributor.
Understanding your chest helps you grow it. They’re big muscles, split into upper and lower, and respond to stretching, making pec decks so popular.
The pec major muscles move the arms forward and towards the centerline of the body. The upper and lower pecs push upwards and downwards, respectively.
How Do You Simulate Pec Decks?
You simulate pec decks by focusing on consistent tension in your chest muscles, long-range shoulder extension, and squeezing the hands across the body.
These are available with all kinds of other methods, such as bands, bodyweight, and dumbbells.
Olympic gymnasts have some of the strongest chests in the world without using a pec deck. They use bodyweight and leverage to build a bigger chest, and so can you.
Bodyweight exercises start with no equipment, but adding rings, bands, and weights can all help you progress.
Push-ups are the easiest way to build your chest with bodyweight. They strengthen your upper body and build a bigger chest, shoulders, and triceps.
You can use all kinds of variations to make them suitable for your needs, or change the focus of the movement. The push-up is for everyone.
How to perform a push-up
- Take a shoulder-width ‘grip’ on the floor, with your torso straight in a kneeling or plank position.
- Keep your chest proud and shoulders neutral.
- Bend your elbows and hinge your shoulders to lower your chest to the floor.
- Press the floor away until your arms are locked, completing the rep.
Progression and Scaling
Decline push-ups are perfect for lengthening the chest and building more pec muscle mass. They emphasize all the right things – just ensure you have the mobility and strength for them.
Ring push-ups are amazing for strengthening the shoulders and chest with more stability. They make variations – like decline push-ups – far more effective.
Archer push-ups are a pec-intensive variation that loads one pec very heavily, and helps you develop strength at length. This is great for athletic development, as well as bigger chest muscles.
Slider push-ups can be used with other variations like archer push-ups or decline push-ups. The sliders let you move your hands in at the end range, adding even more chest recruitment.
Dips are a perfect exercise to stretch and strengthen the chest. This gives you access to stretch-mediated hypertrophy for maximal gains.
You can start with ‘bench’ dips, develop them into normal dips, and then weighted variations.
How to perform a chest dip
- Take your grip on a sturdy object behind you, or a pair of dip bars.
- Raise yourself off the floor, placing the weight into your upper body, on straight arms.
- Keeping your chest up and out, and upper back tight, lower yourself down by bending the elbows and hinging the shoulders.
- Descend as far as you can, before reversing the movement and pushing down to raise yourself up.
- Once your arms are locked again, the rep is complete.
Pro tip: focus on inclining your torso, leaning forward a little as you lower yourself, to produce a stretch in the chest.
Progression and Scaling
Bench dips are the best place to start for beginners. They take the weight off the chest and shoulders and put it into your feet. Elevate the feet to add more weight patiently over time.
Single-bar dips are hard but rewarding. These help you progress, emphasizing the triceps and lower chest in particular.
Weighted dips are harder than normal but help you get more from each rep. Load patiently using a dip belt or weighted vest.
3. Ring Fly/Pushdown
You can perform this gymnastic strengthening exercise from kneeling, sitting, standing, or a full support position. It’s a pure chest exercise that combines the best benefits of dips and flys.
How to perform the ring fly
(Practice this kneeling or more upright to build fundamental strength)
- From a standing, kneeling, or support position, take a ring or TRX handle in each hand.
- Slowly lower yourself by moving the rings out and upwards.
- Progress as far as you comfortably can until you feel a stretch in the chest muscles.
- From the bottom position, keeping your arms straight and chest forward, bring the hands together, raising your body and squeezing your hands together in front of your body.
- The rep is complete when you return to the starting position.
Progression and scaling options
Standing ring pushdowns are great for beginners to develop the strength and muscle mass for progressing further. Stand further away to make this exercise harder.
Kneeling ring pushdowns put more of your bodyweight into your arms and give you a greater challenge. As mentioned above, move your weight further away to load the chest more.
While pec decks are isotonic (the same tension throughout), resistance bands’ elastic tension gets stronger as you stretch them.
This is perfect for the ‘hands across the body’ focus, making resistance bands a great way to train the chest.
Resistance bands can also add tension to other types of exercise. You can add a band to push-ups or bench presses for better results.
4. Resistance Band Chest Flys
You can perform the chest flys movement from the pec deck with the resistance band chest flys.
This is a great way to strengthen the shoulders, and the elastic resistance makes it stronger at the very end range, where you have to squeeze the chest actively.
How to perform a resistance band chest flys
- Set up a resistance band behind or below yourself, so the resistance is directly behind your shoulder blades.
- Take a grip on either end of the band where there’s light tension in the start position.
- Keeping your arms mostly straight, draw the biggest arc possible with your hands and elbows.
- Bring the band around, bringing your hands together in front of your body.
- Hold this end position, squeezing the pecs, before slowly reversing to the start position.
Scaling and progressions
Hand position can be supinated or pronated to focus on different shoulder positions. This is useful for shoulder health but isn’t going to increase chest development.
Band angle can help you emphasize one head of the pecs or the other. Higher angles increase lower chest development, while lower angles emphasize the upper pec. Neither is superior.
5. Banded Push-ups and Dips
As mentioned above, push-ups and dips are great. When you add a band for resistance, you make them more challenging as your chest is taking over the movement.
This helps you get better results from both. We’re not going over them again, but the added band resistance can make a huge difference.
How to perform banded push-ups and banded dips
Banded Push-ups: as above, but add a resistance band around your back, tucked under the “heel” of your palms on each hand.
Banded Dips: as above, but add a band around the top of your back, tucked between the heel of your palm and the dip bars or surface.
Scaling and progressions
All progressions for the normal versions of the push-up and dip can be used. Be careful using bands and sliders together!
6. Resistance Band Pushdowns
Resistance band pushdowns offer a great way of building your chest in the vertical pushing movement, similar to dips, without using bodyweight every time.
They recreate the ring pushdown with less stress, and are better for chest ‘pumps.’
How to perform the resistance band pushdown
- Anchor a resistance band to a very high angle, so that it’s above and behind you.
- From a standing or kneeling position, take one end of the resistance band in either hand.
- With arms nearly straight, bring the hands down and together in the largest possible arc.
- Squeeze the hands together and hold the bottom position briefly (do not roll the shoulders forwards)
- Slowly reverse the movement to the starting position.
Pro tip: focus on crossing the hands over in the bottom position for maximum chest tension.
Progression and scaling
You can add band tension, reps, or sets to this exercise. Ideally, find a high enough anchor for the band to maintain tension in the end-range, as well as during the middle of the movement.
7. Resistance Band Chest Press
Like the chest fly and pushdown, this exercise is all about using the band tension to recreate the cable tension of the pec deck.
The elastic resistance lets you practice standing or lying, depending on what you can anchor it on.
How to perform the resistance band chest press
- Set up an anchor for resistance bands behind or below you (for standing and bench, respectively)
- Take one end of the band in either hand, taking care to keep the wrist as neutral as possible.
- Take a comfortable bench press position, with the upper arms at around 30-45 degrees to the torso.
- Maintain a stable back and press your hands forwards and together, keeping the elbows directly below the wrist.
- Hold the end position before reversing the motion to return to the starting position.
Pro tip: use a stagger stance and lighter band tension for the standing version of this exercise, improving stability.
Progression and scaling
You can increase the band tension by changing band, changing your distance from the anchor, or adding small bands to increase total resistance.
You can perform ‘incline’ and ‘decline’ variations based on the angle of the band to target the upper or lower pec, respectively.
Another great variation is the narrow grip chest press. This focuses on shoulder extension, giving a great stretch in the bottom position.
Adding variety to your chest training is a great way to get more from free weights. The greatest bodybuilders of all time, with the biggest chests, swear by basic free-weight exercises.
Dumbbells are the king of free-weight chest exercises, offering the best range for the shoulders and chest.
8. Dumbbell or Plate Chest Flys
Dumbbells are better than barbells for chest growth for most people. The added stretch and control focus make for better chest building.
This also lets you replicate the shoulder and elbow angle of the pec deck more closely.
How to perform the dumbbell chest flys
- Take a light dumbbell in either hand.
- With a bent or near-bent (advanced) arm, lower the weight out and to the sides, drawing the largest possible arc with the elbows and hands.
- Lower until you reach a stretch in the chest, before reversing the movement.
- Push the dumbbells into each other in the top position for a 2-count, before proceeding to the next rep.
Progression and scaling
Aside from the obvious weight, reps, and sets, you can add different angles to the chest flys.
One of the best ways to progress is to move from bent arms to straighter-arm variations with the same weight. This lengthens the lever, emphasizes the chest’s role in the exercise (and reduces front delt load).
9. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench is a staple of chest training for bodybuilders and athletes. It uses lighter weights than the barbell variation, focusing on longer movement to stretch the chest.
You can also add pauses at the end range for better stretch and growth.
How to perform the dumbbell bench press
- Take a dumbbell in either hand, with your back pressed flat into a bench.
- Set your elbows directly under your wrist, with your arms at around 30-45 degrees to your torso.
- Bend your elbows and hinge your shoulders to lower the weight, keeping your chest big.
- Lower the weight as far as possible, or until you feel a stretch in the chest.
- Press the weight up by extending the shoulders and elbows together, pressing the dumbbells towards each other over the sternum.
Progression and Scaling options
Near grip dumbbell bench press is an excellent choice for emphasizing the length of the chest in shoulder extension.
Other machines can offer many benefits of a pec deck, even without the same setup. If your gym doesn’t have a pec deck, learn how to use the cable machine.
10. Cable Flys (Cable Crossover)
The cable crossover or cable flys can be used as an alternative to the pec deck – and it may even be better.
Cable flys or crossovers are long exercises with constant tension that focus on chest and shoulder health.
How to Perform Cable Flys
- Take a cable handle in either hand and step forward until you feel light tension.
- Keep your hands as far out to the side as possible, with the core tight and chest projected out.
- Begin the movement by drawing the biggest arc possible with the hands and elbows, bringing the hands forward in front of the sternum.
- Hold the end position briefly, pushing the hands into each other.
- Slowly reverse the movement until you reach the starting position.
Progression and Scaling
Single-arm cable flys are fantastic for building the pecs. They offer an even longer range of motion. Focus on bringing your loaded hand into the “pocket” of your opposite hip.
Lying cable flys can also offer a chance to specify for either the upper or lower pec head. This can also be a great choice.
11. Cable Presses
Cable chest presses are a more intense, heavier alternative to cable flys.
They load the end range of the chest the same way, but offer more direct overload, as well as building the shoulders and triceps.
You need to load cable presses at a comfortable weight for your shoulders, so prepare for higher reps.
How to perform the cable chest press
- Take a handle in either hand, keeping your elbows directly behind your wrists, stepping forward until you feel the tension in the chest.
- Keep your chest pitched forward slightly.
- Begin pressing by driving the palm through the handle.
- Continue pressing down and forwards until you can push the hands or wrists into each other.
- Hold the end position briefly, squeezing the pecs, before slowly reversing the movement.
Pro-tip: focus on extending the chest muscles until you feel a stretch, and hinging the shoulder, on the way down.
Variations, Progression, and Scaling
These can be performed in incline and decline variations to change the angle of the press and the pectoral head they target.
Higher angles on the shoulder increase lower pec activation and start to look like pushdowns. Lower angles emphasize the upper (clavicular) head, like an incline bench press.
What is the best alternative to the pec deck?
The best alternative to the pec deck is the cable chest fly, which does all the best things pec decks do and more.
The pec deck is a great tool, but not essential. It doesn’t matter what you use to build the pecs. The main factor is how you move, add load over time, and recover properly.
Can you target the upper or lower pec?
Yes – the pec has an upper (clavicular) and lower (sternal) head, with different functions. You can train them together or separately, which can help you build a more aesthetic chest.
Practice isolation exercises for each head to avoid weak links and build a stronger chest.
Can you target the inner pec?
No – you cannot target inner or outer pecs. The muscle contracts across the whole length, and the main factor for inner vs. outer pec is genetics.
The best way to build your inner pecs is simply to increase the overall size of the muscle. As mentioned above, you can train the upper and lower heads separately if a portion of your inner pec is smaller than the rest.
Is cable crossover or pec deck better?
The cable crossover and pec deck have similar functions. Arguably, the cable crossover is better than the pec deck, as it has a longer range and lets you cross your hands and elbows in front of your body even more than the pec deck.
How do you build a huge chest without the pec deck?
You can build a bigger chest without the pec deck by improving your strength in the end ranges, adding more ‘squeeze’ across your midline, and directly training the upper and lower heads.
Strengthen the stretch
The chest muscles are long and large, and – like all other muscles – they get stronger and bigger when you stretch them.
Stretching can happen at full length with wide movements like a chest fly or full-range shoulder extension (like in pressing movements).
Squeeze across the midline
Work your pecs with exercises that bring your hands (and weight) across your body.
For example, exercises like the cable machine chest press focus on keeping the hands in the middle of the body.
Train upper and lower pecs directly
As you become more experienced and your chest growth starts to plateau, you need to target the upper and lower pec.
Using exercises that emphasize one head or the other will help them both develop properly over time.
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