Cable crossovers are a great exercise for building better chest and shoulder muscles.
The problem is that we don’t all have cable machines at home – but we do all want a great workout.
This article is all about cable crossover substitutes you can do without a cable machine.
What can you do to make up for the lack of a cable machine?
Today, I’m taking you through 11 of the best cable crossover substitutes. These are going to bring muscle and strength development, whether with bodyweight, resistance bands, or free weights.
By the end of this article, you’ll be perfectly equipped to maximize your chest gains without worrying about access to equipment.
The 11 Best Cable Crossover Substitutes
1. Resistance band pull-apart (reverse)
The reverse band pull-apart isn’t as popular as it should be.
It’s like a cable crossover substitute for beginners, strengthening the pecs and serratus anterior. These are great for shoulder health and stability, as well as building muscle.
How to perform:
- Take a resistance band with a shoulder-width grip behind your back
- Keep a small bend in the arms, with the shoulder blades pressed together in the starting position
- Squeeze the pecs, bringing the hands together in front of your sternum, stretching the band around your upper back
- Pause for a moment as your hands come together, then slowly lower back to the original position
It’s usually harder to progress since the resistance bands take quite large jumps. However, it’s a great makeshift cable crossover substitute exercise that deserves more attention.
2. Band crossover
This is where you take a tube-style resistance band and anchor it behind you, so you can perform a flye. It offers the same movement as the cable crossover, just with a different form of resistance – which is great for joint health.
The elastic resistance perfectly matches where you’re strongest in this movement.
How to perform:
- Grip a long resistance band (or tube), anchored at a point behind you at roughly sternum height
- With one end (or handle) in either hand and a bend in the elbows, move your arms out to your sides just below shoulder height
- Bend the hips slightly so you’re facing just down from 90-degrees to the ground
- Using the chest, bring the hands forwards and down until they’re back in front of your sternum at 90-degrees
- Slowly return to the starting position to complete the rep
3. Push-up (and variations)
Was there ever any doubt? The pull-up should make every chest, shoulder, and arm workout program. It’s a classic bodyweight exercise with so many variations that you can target anything and build muscle across the shoulder girdle.
Push up plus:
These are perfect for training the serratus and stabilizing the scapula. They’re great for training all the muscles around the shoulder.
Like push-ups, but harder. These are great for building chest and arm (tricep) strength when normal push-ups just don’t cut it.
Ring / Deficit push-up:
These extend the range of the normal push-up, putting more weight through the pecs and improving long-term development.
These are all pec, working both the major and minor pectoral muscles. The wide grip makes them challenging – but more rewarding, too!
These variations are all excellent cable crossover substitutes. Push-ups don’t require any equipment, they can be scaled easily, and they’re great for the shoulders and arms.
4. Dumbbell flyes (or incline dumbbell flyes)
It’s hard to say flyes are cable crossover substitutes. If anything, it’s the other way around! Flyes came first, cables came after.
So, if you can’t do a crossover, then you can revert to the classic dumbbell fly (or flye).
The idea is to keep tension on your chest throughout this and move through a long range of motion (ROM). This kind of ‘stretching’ exercise is great for the large pec muscles, as well as smaller stabilizers.
How to perform:
- Take a pair of dumbbells at arms’ length over your sternum, with a slight bend in the elbow
- Keeping the scapula tucked down and a flat torso, lower the dumbbells out to the side of your body at 90-degrees
- Continue lowering until you feel a stretch in the shoulders, maintaining control throughout
- Squeeze the chest, reversing the movement, and bringing the dumbbells back to the start
Progress dumbbell flyes very slowly and focus on slower reps or paused reps before hopping the weight up. You can also use the incline dumbbell fly if the flat bench feels uncomfortable.
5. Dumbbell pullover
This has a similar ‘stretching’ style to the flye, but with the extension and flexion of the shoulders.
This is one of the overlooked functions of the chest muscles but is a great stimulus for muscle and strength. Hitting all the movements and angles helps develop a balanced physique.
This is also an important exercise for getting the pecs and lats working together.
How to perform:
- Either laying flat on a bench or with the shoulders supported on a bench, raise a dumbbell over the sternum on slightly bent arms
- Keep the core tight and shoulder blades tucked down, turning the shoulders slightly inwards
- Lower the dumbbell over your head until you feel a stretch in the pecs and/or lats
- Raise the dumbbell back up, squeezing the chest, until it returns to the starting position over the sternum, completing the rep
6. Band single-arm press
This is a great exercise that lacks the hype it deserves. This push exercise works the same range as the crossover. It’s about moving the hands towards the midline of the body while pressing, which really focuses on the pectoral muscles.
You can adjust the band press by changing your position relative to the resistance bands and their anchor. This could mean anchoring the band with your arm in a “wider” setup. You could also raise it slightly so you’re pressing down, forwards, and across your mid-line.
How to perform:
- Anchor a band behind yourself slightly above and “outside” (wider) than your shoulder position
- Grab the handle or resistance band with a firm grip, keeping your elbow and wrist straight and inline
- Keeping the core tight and keeping your hips square, press the band forwards and across your mid-line
- Hold the band over the sternum before slowly returning to the start position
- Complete a set, then repeat on the opposite arm
The single-arm press has a lot of applications, which is why it’s one of the best cable crossover substitutes.
7. Band pullover
This is the band alternatives to the dumbbell pullover mentioned above. It has all the same benefits, but with some unique twists.
Resistance bands offer a unique approach, using elastic resistance. This gets harder as you extend the band itself – making it more challenging further into the movement, and easier towards the start. This produces an excellent effect on the pullover, where you’re weakest at the start, and strongest at the end.
The position also ensures you’re always shoulder-flexing, which is the overhead role of the pecs. It might be vertical, instead of the horizontal pull of the cable crossover, but this really isolates the chest. You can also adjust your grip on the band and thus the width/tension of the movement.
How to perform:
- Anchor a resistance band behind yourself at roughly shoulder width, supporting your weight on a flat bench
- With the core and hips tight, set your shoulders slightly inwards and maintain a small bend in the arms
- Start with your hands at the bottom of your pecs before slowly lowering them overhead
- Keeping the lats and core tight, reverse the movement by pulling the band down to sternum height, squeezing the chest
- Once you’ve reached the start position with the hands at the sternum, the rep is complete
8. Svend press
This is a weird movement for most people but can be performed with very little equipment. If you’ve got 2 plates to rub together, you can get a great workout in.
The Svend press is all about squeezing the plates throughout the movement. It also has your hands pushing towards the center-line at all times, which is amazing for chest isolation.
How to perform:
- Sit on an incline bench, or upright on a chair or box
- Take a pair of small plates and press them together close to your body at sternum height
- Continuing to squeeze the plates together, press them forwards until your arms are extended
- Keeping the same tension on the plates, return them slowly to the starting position to complete the exercise
The Svend press is a lighter movement, so be sure to combine it with a ‘bigger’ movement like dips or pressing.
9. Chest dips
Dips are a classic of upper body development.
The chest dip involves letting your torso incline at the bottom, stretching out the pecs to activate them in the pressing motion.
Dips offer a complete range in the shoulder joint, which is perfect for strong lower pecs and shoulder stability. This mimics the long range of the cable crossover machine.
You can perform dips on any stable, raised surface but a flat bench is best. These ‘bench’ style dips are perfect for home workouts.
How to perform:
- Set up with your hands behind you on a flat bench or another stable surface
- Place your feet forwards so that you have a roughly 90-degree angle in the hips
- Keeping the upper back tight, slowly bend the elbows and lower your body weight as far as is comfortable
- In the bottom position, or when you feel a stretch in the shoulder, reverse the movement – pressing down through the bench
- When you return to locked elbows, the rep is complete
10. Single DB Bench Press
This is similar to the single-arm band press, but with free weight. This is a great choice if you’re at a regular gym or you have dumbbells at home.
You can use these on a flat or incline bench, depending on what you have available. As long as you can move through the full range of motion, with the elbow below the shoulder, it’ll work.
This additional range is perfect for the ‘stretching’ of the muscle we see in the flye, for example. Dumbbells also move towards the mid-line of the body during the press, which makes it an amazing choice. This why single-arm dumbbell presses make great cable crossover substitutes.
How to perform:
- Lie flat on a bench with a single dumbbell in one hand at arms’ length
- Keeping your whole torso stable, slowly lower the dumbbell by hinging at the shoulder and bending the elbow
- Lower until the dumbbell touches the shoulder, or you feel a stretch
- Keeping your core and shoulder stable, press through the weight until the elbow is locked out again, completing the exercise
11. Band punch-down
This is similar to the band press, but with a specific focus on pressing down and forwards. These are similar to a decline bench press and targets the lower (sternal) head of the pec muscle.
These are great because many chest exercises neglect the downward/forward function of the lower pecs. Adding the pressing motion with this new downward direction adds up to a great ‘smaller’ pec exercise.
The downward movement can be tricky, so beginners should be practiced slowly, deliberately, and with a pause in the bottom position.
How to perform:
- Anchor a resistance band above/behind yourself with a firm grip on the handle or band
- Maintain an active trunk and a slightly forward lean, with the band at sternum height but slightly away from your mid-line
- Press the band forwards and across the body until it is firmly over the sternum and the elbow is locked
- Slowly return to the start position, keeping control over the elbow and shoulder, to finish the exercise
The cable crossover is a niche, but effective, exercise. Fortunately, you don’t need a cable crossover machine to make great progress.
The cable crossover substitutes we’ve outlined are amazing. You should be combining heavier, “bigger” movements (like the dip or press) and “smaller” exercises.
This combination ensures you’re developing the pecs, but also training the small stabilizers around the shoulder. It also helps you figure out what should be loaded over time (the big exercises) and what should be a “finisher” to your sessions (the smaller exercises).
With these great alternative exercises and this simple approach, you’re on track to build powerful pecs. No cable crossover machine, no problem.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exercise can replace cable crossovers?
There are a lot of alternatives to the cable cross-over – and we’ve listed 11 here. These range from dumbbell flyes to reverse band pull-aparts to the classic dumbbell bench press. Whatever you’ve got in your “home gym”, we’ve got an option for you. There are a wide variety of exercises that work the same muscles and movements. Fortunately, these range from bodyweight to free weights, so you can train with any (or no) equipment.
How do you do a cable crossover at home?
If you don’t have a cable machine at your home gym, you can still rely on resistance bands and free weights. You should combine crossovers with flyes, push-ups, presses, and dips for a comprehensive chest workout. If you’re using a band crossover, you’ll need a sturdy upright pillar or similar to secure your band with. Be sure to attach your resistance bands at roughly sternum height or slightly above. If you’ve got free weights, you’ll have even more options. But all of us can use classic bodyweight exercises to build muscle and strength.
How do you do a cable crossover for the lower chest?
A crossover will normally target both heads of the pectoral muscles. The upper (clavicular) head will be targeted with the conventional position. The slight angle downwards will target the lower pec (sternal head). The alternative exercises we’ve raised above will hit both heads, and you can adjust them slightly to target one or the other. This is all about which exercises you choose and how you perform them. Cable crossovers can hit the lower pec but – like all exercises – it depends on the technique. Moving the hands downwards or towards the middle of your body achieves this.