Sculpting a muscular chest calls for heavy chest days and several types of exercises. When you perform the decline bench press, you can better focus on the lower chest muscles and build more defined pecs.
If you want to switch up your chest day and replace the decline bench press, here are seven other exercises you can do!
Table of Contents
- 1. Weighted Chest Dip
- 2. High Cable Crossover
- 3. Decline Fly
- 4. Dumbbell Pullover
- 5. Incline Pushup
- 6. Bench Press
- 7. Weighted Pushup
- Decline Bench Press Alternatives Conclusion
1. Weighted Chest Dip
When you perform weighted chest dips while keeping your upper body at about a 60-degree angle, you’re hitting those hard-to-reach lower pecs. For this exercise, you’ll need parallel bars or a dip machine, though any two stationary objects will do just fine.
- Begin with your hands gripped around each bar, your arms fully extended, and your legs
- bent so that they won’t touch the floor when you lower yourself.
- To target the lower pecs, keep your upper body at an angle of about 60-degrees
- throughout the entire movement.
- Slowly lower your upper body until your arms are bent at about a 90-degree angle,
- making sure that your back remains straight.
- Extend your arms to their original starting position and perform additional repetitions.
2. High Cable Crossover
Not all gyms have a cable crossover machine, so you’ll have to make sure that your gym has one before putting this exercise into your routine. By positioning the cables above your head, you’ll be able to work your lower chest muscles a little more.
- Grasp one pulley handle in each hand and try to stand directly in the middle of the two pulley systems.
- With a slight lean forward and one foot forward, bring your hands inward, meeting at a central location in front of your body.
- Slowly return your hands to the starting position, being careful not to extend the arms too far back.
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3. Decline Fly
If you’re really looking for an exercise similar to the decline bench press, the decline fly might be your best bet. You’ll be using a decline bench just as you would with a decline bench press, but you’ll need two dumbbells rather than a barbell.
- Select a reasonable weight to perform this exercise, likely lower than your chosen weight for regular flies.
- Begin with one dumbbell in each hand with your arms extended above your body.
- With your arms still extended, lower the dumbbells to your side, allowing for a slight bend in the elbows while doing so.
- When you feel a pull in the chest muscles, bring the dumbbells back to their original starting position.
4. Dumbbell Pullover
The pullover is a great alternative to most chest exercises because it successfully isolates the pecs. To perform this exercise, you’ll need a dumbbell or barbell of an appropriate weight and a bench to support yourself through the exercise.
- Begin with your upper back resting perpendicular on a bench with your feet planted flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
- With a dumbbell or barbell in your hands, start with your arms extended above your body with a slight bend to them.
- Keeping your arms nearly straight, lower the dumbbell or barbell behind your head.
- Use the strength in your chest to return the dumbbell or barbell to its original starting position.
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5. Incline Pushup
Though incline pushups reduce the amount of resistance your chest muscles are working against, they do better target the lower pecs. For this exercise, all you’ll need is a low stationary object that can support your body weight (like a bench).
- Keeping your entire body completely flat, plant your hands on the bench in front of you, your toes on the floor, and your arms fully extended.
- With your entire body still straight, lower your body to a point where your arms are at about a 90-degree angle.
- Use your strength to push up off the bench and extend your arms to their original starting position.
- You can make this exercise more difficult by performing it on a much lower bench, though this will place less of a focus on your lower pecs.
6. Bench Press
The greatest part about the regular bench press is that it hits all areas of the chest in a single movement, including the lower pecs. To perform the bench press, you’ll need a bench and a weighted barbell (or a set of dumbbells).
- Lie on a bench while on your back with your feet planted firmly on the floor below you.
- With your arms holding a barbell or two dumbbells directly above your chest, begin lowering the weight until the weight(s) are at about the level of your chest.
- Extend your arms to their starting position while keeping the weights directly above the level of your chest.
- Be sure to keep your body flat against the bench and try not to use momentum in your back or leg to push the weight up.
Depending on the amount of weight you’re pushing, you may need the help of a weightlifting belt for additional support.
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7. Weighted Pushup
Like the bench press, pushups can also be extremely useful in targeting all areas of your chest. When you add weight to pushups through chains or weight plates on your back, you can work your chest a little more and see greater gains.
- Begin with your hands and toes planted on the floor with your entire body completely flat, making sure to keep this straight body position through the entire movement.
- Keeping your entire body straight, lower your arms to about a 90-degree angle or less and hold this position for a second.
- Use your chest muscles to push yourself up off the floor and return your body to the extended arm position you started in.
Do You Really Need To Do Decline Bench Press?
(Hold up!) Before we offer an answer on that one, let’s shift gears to another question: does the decline bench press target the lower pecs any better than the classic bench?
If you trust the findings of a 1997 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the answer is “yes.”
Meanwhile, a 2017 study from the Journal of Human Kinetics discovered the exact opposite.
Here’s the case for each:
The Case for “Yes”
Researchers behind the 1997 study recruited 15 male athletes. Each participant had electrodes attached to different areas of their pecs to gauge motor unit activation during training.
They then performed the three standard bench press variations:
- Incline (30°)
- Regular (0°)
- Decline (-15°)
The results confirmed what many bodybuilders believed all along — that the decline bench better activates the lower pecs during the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) phases.
So, based on this study alone? YES, you really do need to do the decline bench press.
This often-skipped exercise is also the most direct way to target those stubborn lower pecs, chiseling away at a more well-defined chest!
The Case for “No”
Two decades later, researchers led a similar study except — now — they recruited 12 weight lifting competitors and compared muscle activation between three angles and three hand grips.
This particular study analyzed EMG activity in these muscles during a 6RM test:
- Latissimus dorsi (the lats)
- Pectoralis major
- Deltoids (anterior and posterior)
So what did researchers discover?
Pec muscle activation was similar between the incline, decline, and flat bench. In fact, the only significant difference was in the incline bench, which activated the triceps less and biceps more.
This study suggests that NO, you don’t really need to do the decline bench press. However, if you’re building an aesthetic physique, it wouldn’t hurt to add a few sets to Monday.
How Can I Target My Chest Without Decline Bench?
Most aesthetic workout programs include the decline bench press somewhere in their routines. But what if you’re in the “you don’t need it” camp?
How can you target your chest without slipping back into that awkward, reclined position with a barbell suspended mere feet over your throat?
Regular & Incline Bench Presses
The best way to target your pecs is with the regular flat or incline bench press.
A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science reveals that these two bench variations have more in common than you might imagine.
This eight-week-long, once-a-week study recruited 47 untrained newbies divided into three groups: horizontal bench, incline bench, and a combination of the two.
All three groups ended the program with similar strength increases. However, the incline-only group developed slightly thicker muscles in the upper chest.
So you can substitute in either bench variation for the decline bench press.
Other Chest Exercise Alternatives
If you want to ditch everything bench-related, you can also target your chest with:
- Pec flies (a chest isolation exercise)
- Machine bench press
- Cable crossovers
- Chest dips
Low on space, time, and cash? There are dozens of resistance band chest exercises that you can try, too, including resistance band chest flies and resistance band pullovers.
What Can I Use If I Don’t Have a Decline Bench?
So you want to sculpt your lower pecs with the decline bench press. But you’re missing one key piece of the puzzle: the adjustable bench that allows you to achieve that 15–30° dip.
If you don’t have a decline bench available but want a very similar alternative, consider using this equipment instead:
- Smith machine (Planet Fitness members, unite!): A ten-week study from 2020 reveals that, while the Smith machine requires far less in the way of stability, participants added about 22.7% to their Smith bench press 6RM by the end of the study.
- Exercise ball: Be sure to select a stability ball that can support your total weight plus your usual barbell or dumbbell bench plus another 50+ pounds (leeway is always good).
- Flat bench while in a bridge position: This is a Jim Stoppani tip that could go horribly wrong if you overload the bar and don’t practice. Master the form before anything else.
- Hyperextension bench: Some all-in-one hyperextension benches also have back pads that support the decline bench press. Of course, double-check the weight limit first.
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How Do You Make a Decline Bench At Home?
Between cement dumbbells and pipe pull-up bars, we’ve just about seen it all in the realm of DIY gym equipment. But is there a safe and effective way to make a decline bench at home?
That depends on what you have lying around!
The alternative is staring you right in the face if you have a flat bench and 45-pound weight plates. Simply prop one end of the bench onto the center of the plate to create a slight decline.
But for a more “HGTV” solution, you can also use:
- A row of wooden planks*
- A row of strong bricks*
- The bottom step of a staircase (we shouldn’t have to say this, but … do not do your decline bench presses at the top of a staircase)
- A stepper
Now, this might seem like a no-brainer, but make sure your get-up is safe before loading up a barbell and cranking out high-speed reps.
Make sure the bench doesn’t rock or sway in any direction. And, check that your bench prop can support the weight of the bench, you, and your maximum decline bench press.
* = If you’re using bricks or planks, lie them perpendicular to the bench’s support beam. That way, if you happen to jolt forward or back, the bench won’t suddenly drop unexpectedly.
Decline Bench Press Alternatives Conclusion
Just to recap, here are 7 decline bench press alternatives you can do to build your lower pectorals.
- Weighted Chest Dip
- High Cable Crossover
- Decline Fly
- Dumbbell Pullover
- Incline Pushup
- Bench Press
- Weighted Pushup
Nearly all chest exercises focus on all regions of the chest, but some hit the lower chest muscles a little bit better. The decline bench press is one of the best exercises for the lower pecs, but you might want to switch up your chest day here and there.
By performing any combination of the exercises on this list, you can get more out of your chest day and build stronger lower pec muscles.
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