The pectoral or chest muscles are responsible for movements at the shoulder joint. These actions include flexion, adduction, and internal rotation. 

The pectorals consist of the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor, the serratus anterior, and the subclavius.

chest muscles

Pectoralis Major

A large fan-shaped muscle. It is the largest of the pectoral muscles and the one which is the closest to the skin, aka superficial. It comprises a clavicular head (which attaches to the collar bone) and the sternum and inserts into the upper part of the upper arm. The pec-major assists with bending at the shoulder joint and moving the arms towards and across the chest.

Pectoralis Minor

A thin, triangular muscle beneath the pectoralis major. The origin is the third to the fifth ribs, and the muscle inserts into the shoulder blade’s coracoid process. The primary function of the pec minor is pulling the shoulders forward and down.

Serratus Anterior

Sited more towards the outside of the chest wall. It originates from ribs 1 to 8 and attaches to the inside edge of the shoulder blade. The serratus anterior rotates your shoulder blade, allowing you to lift your arms over 90 degrees. 


The subclavius is a small, horizontally running muscle sited just underneath the collar bone. It originates from the first rib’s junction and inserts into the middle of the collar bone’s lower surface. The subclavius’s primary function is securing and depressing the collar bone and protecting the nerves in case of impact trauma.

Decline Bench Press

The flat bench press is as old as the hills and is the most commonly performed exercise in the gym. However, it is not necessarily the holy grail of chest training. 

The decline bench press is a fantastic and often overlooked exercise for developing the chest’s strength and muscularity. 

Despite the belief of incline bench for upper chest, flat bench for middle chest, and decline bench for lower chest, many experienced (old school) lifters report that the decline bench press recruits a greater activation of the overall pectoral muscles. As a result, they can move heavier weights than they can when flat or incline bench pressing. 

The scientific literature is somewhat divided on the merits of flat vs incline vs decline, and arguments continue regarding whether the decline bench has enough ROM to be considered an effective bench press. However, some evidence suggests that the old-school guys were on to something. 

Interestingly this study found that muscle activity in the upper chest is the same when incline and decline benching, which defies some common opinions. This suggests that the incline bench press may “feel” like it targets the upper chest only because it is not significantly training the lower portion of the pecs. 

“There was no significant difference in activation of the upper pectoral portion during either the incline or decline bench press.”

“Persons interested in strength training should use exercises involving the most motor units within a given muscle.”

“The decline bench press induces a greater overall activation of the pectoral muscles compared to the incline bench press.”

[1] Glass et al

In the bodybuilding world, legends such as Dorian Yates and Jay Cutler have been long-time advocates of the decline bench press, while powerlifters who suffer from shoulder issues use decline bench pressing. 

jay cutler decline bench press

Perhaps you are already a fan of decline bench pressing, and the lockdown has you missing the training effect you experience after performing the exercise. As a result, you are looking for home training alternatives. Or maybe you are finding that your local gym does not have a specific decline bench press, but you are keen to discover exercises that provide a similar level of muscle activation. 

Here are The 8 Best And Most Effective Alternatives To The Decline Bench Press. 

1. Parallel Bar Dips

parallel bar dips

Dips work so many muscles all at once. They are generally considered a triceps exercise. However, a few minor tweaks mean you can firmly emphasize the chest, with a training effect very similar to the decline bench press. 

• Grip one of the parallel bars in each hand

• Extend your arms and lift your feet off of the floor. Take all of your weight in your arms

• Lean forward slightly until you feel the pectoral muscles engage

• Bend your elbows to lower your chest towards your hand while inhaling

• Keeping your elbows tight to your body, lower until they form about a 90-degree angle

• You can lower even more if it feels ok on your shoulders

• Exhale and push down into the bars to straighten your arms and return to the starting position (maintain the slight forward lean)

2. Decline Dumbbell Flyes

decline dumbbell flyer

Decline dumbbell flyes are an excellent alternative for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, you mimic the decline bench press position by propping up your bench on a stable platform. 

Secondly, by performing slow, controlled full-depth flyes with light dumbbells, you are working through a considerably greater ROM than a standard decline bench press, enhancing the benefits even further. 

• Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie back on the declined bench. Engage your core and feel your lower back press into the bench

• Extend your arms straight up towards the ceiling and above your chest. Turn the palms to face each other and your elbows facing outwards. Soften the elbows

• Open your arms to lower the dumbbells toward the floor. Ensure the arms stay in line with the chest and not the shoulders. When you feel a stretch in your pectorals, you are at the bottom of the movement.

• Pull from the chest and e the pecs together to bring the dumbbells back above your chest.

3. Glute Bridge Kettlebell Floor Press

By far my favourite decline bench alternative. I love doing it with quite heavy kettlebells as I like to feel the weight below my hand and in contact with my forearm for stability. However, you can also do the exercise with dumbbells.

• Laying on your back with bent knees, grip a kettlebell in each hand, ensuring your wrist is through the handle of the kettlebell. Rest the bells on your chest

• Tuck your elbows tight into your body and push your feet into the floor to lift the body into a bridge position 

• While holding the bridge position, push the kettlebells up and lower back down to your chest. 

4. Low Hand Incline Push-Ups

incline push ups

It might seem counterintuitive to perform an incline exercise when looking for a decline bench press alternative. You will have to trust me on this one.

By performing the traditional push-up with the hands elevated on a bench, step, or another stable platform, you can make subtle adjustments to achieve a training effect similar to the decline bench press. 

I like to move my hands a bit lower. In other words, I want my hands lined up with the bottom of my chest or even slightly below my chest. 

I keep my shoulders blades retracted and my core engaged as I lower. As I push off the bottom of the movement, I imagine a wave of tension running from the top of my chest to my lower chest, and as my lower chest activates, I push down and away and squeeze my pecs together. 

The incline position makes a push-up quite a bit easier than regular push-ups. However, it focuses on a similar attack angle to the decline bench press. I introduce different approaches such as pause reps, matrix sets, or super slows to intensify the exercise.

5. Barbell Pullover

barbell pullover

The pullover is a little bit like the decline bench press itself. It was once a staple move, seen in gyms around the world. If you take the time to flip through old training magazines from the 70s, 80s, and 90s (I know, I know it’s sad), it’s one of the few exercises that pops up time and time again in both chest and back workouts.

I believe the pullover has suffered the same fate as several other exercises because it has been judged on the results of people performing the movement with poor technique and inappropriate weights and, most importantly, low shoulder and thoracic spine mobility. 

However, the risk of injury is significant under those circumstances. Performing the barbell pullover can be a brilliant strength-building exercise and a perfect alternative for the decline bench press. 

• Lie on a flat bench or the floor. Grip a barbell at shoulder width on your chest with an overhand grip

• Raise the bar above your chest by extending your arms and maintaining soft elbows.

• Slowly lower the weight in a smooth arc to a position behind your head by rotating your shoulders. 

• Keep moving the barbell behind your head until you feel a slight stretch in your chest, which is the bottom of the movement.

• Return to the start position in an equally smooth motion

6. Standing Cable Decline Chest Press

This exercise requires specialist equipment in the form of a cable crossover machine. It may be adapted to use exercise bands if there is no cable machine. 

• Stand between two high pulleys, gripping handles in each hand. Position the hands in line with the shoulders and elbows bent at 90 degrees. Assume a forward lunge position.

• In a slightly forward-leaning posture, brace the core and press the handles forwards and downwards. The end position of the hands should be just below the line of the chest.

• Return to the starting position in a controlled manner

7. Dive Bomber Push Up

The Dive Bomber is a fantastic bodyweight chest blaster. It’s a great hotel room alternative to the decline bench press or, indeed, a way to get a full chest workout when you have no access to gym equipment. 

I like to feel the transfer of focus from the upper chest and shoulders into the lower chest as you move forward into the cobra part of the move. At this point, I gently squeeze my elbows towards one another and try to pull the pecs down and together.

• Start with the hands and feet shoulder-width apart. The hips are raised, so your body forms an inverted V. This is called the piked position.

• Keeping your shoulders away from the ears, bring the chest forward between the hands as the elbows bend.

• Continue to glide through as you straighten your arms and bring your chest up. Your hips will now be hovering just above the floor. To finish the push-up, reverse the glide, raising the hips back up.

8. Dumbbell Squeeze Press

I love the isometric (static) tension that the squeeze press creates alongside the isotonic (movement) tension. 

I find that starting the movement slightly lower on the chest than you might typically creates a feeling like you are hitting the lower chest, similar to the decline bench press. 

Just make sure you use hex-style dumbbells instead of the round version. 

• Hold a pair of dumbbells on your chest while lying on a bench or the floor.

• Squeeze the dumbbells together and perform the chest press movement while maintaining the pressure between the dumbbells 

• Keep them pressed together throughout the whole set. 


What muscles does the decline bench press work?

The decline bench press works the pectoral muscles. It is generally regarded that the focus is on the lower portion of the pecs. 

Is the decline bench press the only way to train the lower chest?

No, virtually all chest exercises will work the lower chest to a greater or lesser extent. The eight exercises listed above are fantastic ways to optimally work the lower chest. 

Final Thoughts

The 8 Best And Most Effective Alternatives To The Decline Bench Press in this article allow you to choose an exercise that will maximize your training when it is impossible to decline bench press. 

Most exercises recruit the same muscles or adopt similar movement patterns to the decline bench press. However, some movements might throw you a bit of a curveball by thinking outside of the box.

You may also like to pick some of the exercises to mix up your regular chest training routine. 


[1] Electromyographical activity of the pectoralis muscle during incline and decline bench presses.

Glass Stephen C.; Armstrong, Ty

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 1997 – p 163-167