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How to Do a Chest Workout Without a Bench

Working out at home is a great way to stay fit, but buying items like a weight bench can be costly and cumbersome. Get-Fit Guy has 9 exercises for an effective chest workout without a bench (plus for 4 supersets!). 

By
Brock Armstrong
6-minute read
Episode #536
The Quick And Dirty

Weight benches are costly, ugly, and take up tons of space. Get-Fit Guy has the solution. 

  • Get a great chest workout using a combination of standing, laying, and propping yourself up.
  • The key to a good chest workout is to hit the muscles from all three angles.
  • Here are 9 exercises to work your chest muscles without the need for a bench -- plus 4 supersets!

A Get-Fit Guy listener named Duncan wrote to me the other day looking for some pec building advice. This is what he said:

“After 15 months of working out at home (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), I finally feel like I have a handle on it. But the one thing that still eludes me is how to do a good chest workout without a weight bench. I looked into buying one but they are way too expensive. I have resistance bands and dumbbells. Is there a way to use those effectively without a bench?”

No Weight Bench

I know exactly where Duncan is coming from. I too have dumbbells, resistance bands, yoga balls, and foam rollers galore but no weight bench. And with a decent new one selling for $200 and used benches not being much cheaper, I am reticent to buy one. They also take up a lot of space and aren’t particularly attractive. So, what is a chest-focussed fitness fiend to do?

When you walk into a well-stocked gym, there are usually a number of different ways to get a good chest workout. There may be a chest press machine, a fly machine, a squat rack with a barbell and bench under it, and a few benches lined up near a wide array of different weight dumbbells. Then to top it off the benches also come in a variety of sizes and angles. Along with the requisite flat benches, there are incline benches, decline benches, adjustable benches, ones with slots for your legs to lock into, and even ones with fancy adjustable headrests. 

When that is what you are used to, it can seem hopeless to get a decent chest workout at home, laying on your linoleum floor, hoisting a hand-me-down dumbbell. But I am here to tell you that it is far from hopeless. In fact, it can be kind of ideal. 

I mean, let’s face it, most of us are pretty bored of the regular old chest workouts anyway so why not mix it up? Your muscles and your brain will thank you!

Let’s face it, most of us are pretty bored of the regular old chest workouts anyway so why not mix it up? Your muscles and your brain will thank you!

Chest Workout Basics

As I wrote in my episode Want a Bigger Chest? although the chest is made up of one single mass of muscle that is broken into major and minor, we are actually best off training it like it is actually three parts - the upper, middle, and lower portions of the chest. The reason for this is that each region is stimulated best by changing the angle from which you exercise the muscle.

  • Upper Chest: To stimulate the upper chest, we would normally perform exercises on an incline bench but we can also do the exercises in a standing position.
  • Middle Chest: To target the middle chest, we would normally use a flat bench but we can also lay flat on the floor or lay on a folded up blanket or yoga mat. 
  • Lower Chest: The lower chest is usually exercised by working out on a decline bench but we can also target it by raising our feet off the floor or lifting the weight above our head. 

In a nutshell, moving beyond the angle of your body, the upper chest will be targeted by doing movements that involve shoulder flexion. The middle chest will be targeted by doing horizontal adduction movements—especially ones that don’t involve shoulder flexion or extension. The lower chest will be best targeted with movements that involve shoulder extension.

So, with all that in mind, here are nine great chest exercises which hit your chest from all angles -- and you can do all of these without a bench. 

  1. Resistance Band Raised Leg Push-ups
  2. Reverse Dumbbell Chest press
  3. Dumbbell T Push Up
  4. Standing Upward Chest Fly
  5. Standing Chest Press
  6. Folded Mat Chest Fly
  7. Folded Mat Dumbbell Pull-Overs
  8. Single Arm Floor Press
  9. Front Dips

No Bench Chest Exercises

Let’s go through each one and break them down so you can put them together and get fit.

Resistance Band Raised Leg Pushups

To do this one, you need a platform to put your feet on (like a step, chair, or stool) and a resistance band. Start kneeling in front of the platform while you wrap the resistance band around your back and around your hands. Then get into a plank position and place your feet onto the platform. 

Ideally, your body will be parallel to the floor or your feet can be slightly higher than your head. Now do as many push-ups as you can. If you have trouble doing at least eight push-ups, you may want to choose a lighter resistance band (or none at all). 

Reverse Dumbbell Chest Press

For anyone who is used to doing a chest press, this may feel a little wonky at first but stick with it. Basically, you lay on your back, knees bent, with a dumbbell in each hand. You then do a basic chest press but in this version, you grip the dumbbells with your palms facing backwards, towards you. This minor grip difference targets your pectoral muscles in a unique way.

Dumbbell T Push Up

Get yourself into a push-up position while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Place your hands directly under your shoulders with your palms facing each other. Then do a push-up but when you get back up to the top of the push-up, lift one dumbbell off the ground and rotate until your body creates the shape of the letter T.

Each rep consists of a push-up and a twist so it is best to alternate reps from left to right.

Standing Upward Chest Fly

Similar to a front raise exercise but with a twist of the wrist this an effective chest exercise.

To do this, start in a standing position with your dumbbells just out from your sides with your palms facing forward. Bend your elbows slightly as you lift both of your arms up to meet at mid-chest height. Don’t swing your arms, use nice controlled movements. 

Standing Chest Press

Doing a chest press while standing will target your pecs in a unique way which can stimulate new muscle growth very effectively. 

You only need one dumbbell for this exercise since you will be grasping it on either side. The movement is simple but not easy since you will be fighting gravity the entire time. For this reason, choosing a dumbbell of the correct weight is key. Make sure you can press in and out at mid-chest height successfully without rounding your shoulders or collapsing in the back. 

Folded Mat Chest Fly

To prepare for this one, roll a yoga mat or a blanket up so you can lay on it and be raised off the ground enough to give your elbows the ability to go past your chest height. If you have a stability ball or BOSU you can lay on that. Once you are comfortable simply perform chest flies the way you would if you had spent all your hard-earned money on a weight bench. 

Folded Mat Dumbbell Pull-Overs

Once again, roll up a mat or blanket so you can put it under your back (a stability ball would also work). Then, hold a single dumbbell with both hands with your arms extended above your chest. Keeping your arms nice and straight, lower the dumbbell behind your head - don’t let it touch the floor - and stop when you feel a stretch in your latissimus dorsi.

On the way back up to starting position, rotate your hands and arms inwards rather than outwards so you activate more of your chest muscles instead of your lats. Keep your core engaged the whole time and don’t let your ribs jut upward or your back arch. 

Single Arm Floor Press

For this one, you can lay flat on the floor (no need for a rolled-up mat or blanket) and you only need one dumbbell since this one works best if done unilaterally (one arm at a time). By doing it this way, you can develop balanced strength in your core and stability. 

Start on your back with your legs out straight with the dumbbell in one hand and your other hand out flat on the ground at a 90-degree angle from your body. As you press the weight up and down with your one hand you should feel your core engage making this more than just a chest-building movement. 

Front Dips

This is my current favourite exercise and it is a great stand-in for a decline bench press. 

Place a platform of some sort in front of you and place your palms on it. Make sure your knees are far enough off the ground that you will be able to lower your chest down toward the platform without hitting the ground. Use slow and controlled movements and concentrate on engaging your chest muscles and not only relying on your shoulders. 

A Quick and Dirty No Bench Workout

I like to put these all together into four supersets (supersets are back-to-back exercises performed with minimal rest).

Superset 1 

  • Resistance band raised leg push-ups
  • Reverse dumbbell chest press
  • Rest for 45 to 60 seconds and repeat three times through.

Superset 2

  • Dumbbell T Push Up
  • Standing Upward Chest Fly
  • Rest for 45 or 60 seconds and repeat three times through.

Superset 3

  • Standing Chest Press
  • Raised Chest Fly
  • Rest and repeat three times.

Superset 4

  • Raised Dumbbell Pull-Overs
  • Single Arm Floor Press
  • Rest and repeat.

Finisher

  • Front Dips to failure. 

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.