pec deck alternative
Fitness

13 Pec Deck Alternatives for Building Upper Body Strength

Your pectoral muscles – the ones which make up your chest – are important for a variety of reasons. For one, they are a key part of your upper body strength, but perhaps the most essential role they perform is stabilizing other muscle groups around them.

Having strong pectoral muscles will help with your posture and will mean they can work to provide support for other upper body movements, more specifically ones that target your arms. Given its simplicity, the pec deck is a popular piece of kit but is not necessarily an option for everyone, or your personal preference is to try something different. 

Here are 13 great alternative exercises (most of which don’t involve resistance machines) to the pec deck machine that will target your chest muscles.

1. Barbell Bench Press

How To:

  • Place a bench underneath a barbell that’s loaded on a squat rack or bench press rack. Lie down on the bench, facing up. The bar should be roughly in line with your wrists when you extend your arms up in front of you, and it should also be in line with your eyes/face while it’s racked.
  • Using an overhand grip, take hold of the bar and lift it off the rack, while still lying down on the bench. Bring it forward slightly so it’s away from the rack and now in line with your upper chest.
  • Lower the bar under control until it is almost touching your chest. Hold here for 1-2 seconds.
  • Push the bar back up until your arms are extended, but do not allow your elbows to lock. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell
  • Bench
  • Squat rack/bench press rack

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This compound movement works more muscles than the pec deck, as it also activates your triceps and part of your deltoids. The range of motion means your pecs are getting an intense workout from start to finish.

Pro Tip: 

From the starting position, as soon as you have hold of the bar, keep your wrists strong and straight. Do not allow them to bend your hand backward.

2. Press Ups

How To:

  • Place your hands flat on the floor in line with your shoulders, fingers flayed out, and pointing forward. Your arms should be straight with the shoulders, elbows, and wrists all aligned. This ensures you’re moving through the correct range of motion.
  • Stick your legs straight out with your toes on the ground, so that your posterior chain creates a straight line.
  • Lower your torso down by bending at your elbows. Stop once you are just above the floor.
  • Push back up through your hands to extend your arms and return to the starting position.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • None.

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Easy to do anywhere, the humble press up is the best bodyweight exercise you can perform to work your pecs. No resistance machines in sight, just you and the ground.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your elbows tight to your body when lowering yourself down, this is the proper technique. Do not let your elbows flare out to the side.

3. Cable Crossovers

How to:

  • Stand in the center of the cable pulley machine and set the handles on either side of it to their highest point. 
  • While holding a handle in each hand, bend forward slightly, keeping your chest open and your legs in a split stance. Keep a slight bend in your elbows. 
  • Squeeze your chest muscles and bring the handles together down and in front of you, keeping your arms in a slight bend. Hold for a couple of seconds.
  • Allow your arms to move back to the starting position, preventing the weight stack from slamming down on either side, then repeat.
  • 10-12 reps.
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Equipment Used:

  • Cable pulley machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The Cable crossover activates your pecs as the primary muscles, and as the cable machine is one of the most versatile resistance machines out there, you can set the handles at different levels to target different areas of the chest.

Pro Tip: 

Keep the cables under control at all times. When releasing your arms back out wide, make sure you do so slowly to avoid a shoulder injury.

4. Dumbbell Flys

How To:

  • Lie on a bench, facing up. Hold a dumbbell in either hand with your arms extended up in front of you (without your elbows locking) and your palms facing inward.
  • Slowly lower the weights down to either side of you until you feel a stretch in your chest. Keep a slight bend at your elbow joints.
  • Squeeze your pectoral muscles to bring your arms back together to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Also known as chest flys, dumbbell flys your muscles in a similar range of motion to the pec deck, but you’re not relying on the machine for stability – it all has to come from you.

Pro Tip: 

Avoid using an excessive weight with dumbbell flys. Start out with a lighter weight and work your way up. If you feel pain or discomfort in your shoulder joints, use a lighter weight.

5. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

How to:

  • Lie down on a flat bench and hold a dumbbell in one hand above your chest, with a neutral grip and a slight bend in your elbow. Your free arm doesn’t need to do anything though you could hold it out to the side for stability.
  • Lower the dumbbell to your chest and hold for 1-2 seconds.
  • Push the weight back up, but don’t lock your elbow. Repeat the movement.
  • 8-10 reps on each arm.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

You have to move the weight with a lot more control here as your body is unstable due to there only being an extra weight on one side, so your muscles are working a bit harder.

Pro Tip: 

Engage your core, quads, and glutes to keep your body aligned and to prevent it from rocking side to side while you lift and lower the weight.

6. Smith Machine Incline Press

How To:

  • Set a bench at an angle, roughly 30-45 degrees, and place it in the center of a Smith Machine, with a loaded bar above it.
  • Lay on the bench and grab the bar, then lift it off the rack, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Lower the bar to your chest, then push it back up to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Smith Machine
  • Bench

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Though it’s not a particularly common machine, the Smith Machine keeps the bar moving up and down in a rigid range of motion, adding an element of safety and stability, making it one of the best resistance machines for building up strength.

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Pro Tip: 

Keep your back flat against the bench, don’t let it arch. This avoids putting extra stress on your lower back.

7. Chest Press Machine

How To:

  • Adjust the height of the seat so that, when sitting in it, the handles are in line with your chest.
  • Take hold of the handles with an overhand or neutral grip, depending on the angle of the handles. Push the handles forward and away from you until your arms are extended but not locked out.
  • Lower the weight back down by bringing the handles back toward you under control. Repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Chest press machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The machine has you lifting the weight through a natural motion, meaning your muscles are being properly targeted and lowers the risk of injury.

Pro Tip:

For proper technique, keep your feet flat on the floor and your back and head flat against the seat throughout the exercise.

8. Low-cable Crossover

How To:

  • Stand in the center of a cable machine, with the two handles set to their lowest setting on either side.
  • Grab a handle in either hand with your arms down by your side and a slight bend in your elbows. Your palms should be facing out.
  • Lift the handles up and in front of you so that they come together and your arms are extended out in front, but keep the bend in your elbows throughout the entire movement.
  • Lower the handles back down beside you and repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Cable pulley machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

As mentioned, these resistance machines offer an array of alternatives that all target the major muscles in your chest. Here, you’re actually targeting the lower portion of your chest muscles.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your spine neutral and don’t bend forward. Don’t allow your arms to do too much of the work either, ensure they stay at the same extension throughout.

9. Dips

via Gfycat

How To:

  • Hold your body up in the air on two parallel bars or handles by keeping your arms straight and your feet lifted off the floor.
  • Bend at the elbows and lower down until your chest is roughly in line with the bars. 
  • Push back up through your arms to return to the starting position. Repeat
  • Reps: 10-12.

Equipment Used:

  • Dip bars/handles

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Not only is your chest feeling the burn here, but your triceps are also having to work hard. You’re working against gravity and your own bodyweight to keep yourself suspended and stable, something you can’t do on resistance machines.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your elbows close to your body as you lower down, and avoid rushing through the movement. Everything should be under control.

10. Landmine Press

How To:

  • Wedge the end of a barbell into the corner of a room, using a bunched-up towel around it to prevent damaging the wall. 
  • Have some weight plates on the other end of the bar and hold this end in your left hand, rested against your shoulder.
  • Have one foot stepped out in front of the other, as if you were about to do a split squat, and take the full weight of the bar in your left hand.
  • Push the bar up and away from you, then lower it back down under control. Repeat for reps then switch sides.
  • Reps: 10-12 on each arm.

Equipment Used:

  • Barbell
  • Towel

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Though many think this is a shoulder exercise, your pecs are actually working alongside your deltoids to push the weight up and control it back down.  

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Pro Tip: 

This move can also be done from a kneeling position, with one knee on the floor and your other leg bent at a 90 degree in front with your foot flat on the ground.

11. One Arm Medicine Ball Press Up

How To:

  • Assume the press-up position, but with one hand balanced on a medicine ball and the other on the floor.
  • Lower your chest down until it grazes the medicine ball.
  • Push back up and repeat on one side, then switch to the other.
  • Reps: 10-12 on each side.

Equipment Used:

  • Medicine ball

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

The addition of the medicine ball adds an element of instability, meaning that your chest muscles need to work harder to ensure you don’t lose balance.

Pro Tip: 

If you wanted to make this move more challenging, then explode upward with each press up and switch sides, alternating the hand on the ball each time.

12. Floor Press

How To:

  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Hold a dumbbell in either hand with your palms facing each other and elbows bent at roughly 90 degrees, but with your elbows slightly raised so that only your triceps are touching the ground.
  • Push the weights up until your arms are extended and hold.
  • Lower back down under control and repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is a great alternative if you don’t have access to a bench. You’re still able to add resistance to your movements while working the pectoral muscles.

Pro Tip:

Squeeze your chest muscles at the top of the movement and keep your elbows close to your body as you lower the weight back down.

13. Close Grip Barbell Bench Press

How To:

  • Lie flat on a bench holding a barbell with an overhand grip that is inside your shoulders and your hands close together. Your arms should be extended up in front of you.
  • Lower the bar to your chest until it just grazes the center of it, then push it back up until your arms are extended again. Repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Barbell

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

By bringing your hands together, you’re taking your shoulders out of the equation so that your chest and triceps have to do all the work.

Pro Tip:

Focus on your chest muscles and make sure they are feeling a stretch throughout the movement.

Conclusion

So, you don’t need advanced machine workouts to target your chest muscles; these handy alternatives to the pec deck machine will have you blasting your pectorals in no time. Some are more advanced than others, though there is something for everyone here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do chest flys hurt my shoulders?

This is likely because you’re using a weight that’s too heavy for you, so your shoulders are under too much strain. You might also be lowering the weights too far down at the side.

Does the pec deck work the inner chest?

Yes, the pec deck targets almost the entirety of your chest, including the inner sections. As you squeeze the handles together at the top of the movement, you should feel a stretch in the inner chest.

Should I do flat or incline flys?

This depends on what area of the chest you want to target. Incline flys will focus more on the upper section of the pecs while flat ones will cover a broader area in the middle.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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