The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the world. Anyone that has ever seen a gym on the inside has probably done it at least once. When building a home gym, you want to be sure you can do it there. What do you need to bench press in your home gym? And what are the best alternatives?
To bench press at home the best equipment setup is;
- Power cage
- Weight plates
Those pieces of equipment allow you to do many exercises besides the bench press. A traditional bench press bench is not suitable for most home gyms since it’s only for one exercise.
Exactly what you need, why and what the best alternatives are is down below.
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Best bench press setup for home gym
To do a proper bench press you need some equipment. You can do some other things (we’ll get to later) you can do to build the same muscles but to do a proper bench press, you need the right equipment.
There are two ways you can go. Both are perfectly fine and allow you to do the same bench press. The first setup is better in the way that the equipment can be used for way more different exercises than the second setup.
Bench press setup #1
The first home bench press setup is this;
- Bench: A fixed flat bench is good for the normal bench press. However, if you want to do variations like the incline bench press, go for an adjustable one. Read this post before buying.
- Power cage/Squat stands: You need something to hold the bar in place so you can grab it without having to lift it off the floor. All power cages or most squat stands can do this.
- Barbell: Most barbells will do as long as it fits on the power rack or squat stands. Some barbells are too short to fit properly.
- Weight plates: A barbell alone is not heavy enough for most people. A good selection of weight plates allows you to load it exactly as heavy as you want.
How do you bench press with this setup?
- Put the bench in the power rack so your shoulders are under where the bar is going to be.
- Set the J-cups (barbell holders) to the correct height in the rack. The correct height is so you can still unrack the weight when laying down on the bench.
- Set the safety pins to the correct height. The correct height is just the tiniest bit below the lowest point of your lift. This way you don’t get pinned under the bar but still have full range of motion.
- Put the bar on the J-cups.
- Load the bar to the desired weight
- Lay down and press.
It takes a little more work to set things up than with the second setup but after a couple of times you’ll be able to set things up pretty quickly. The extra steps are worth it because of the flexibility of this setup. This is all the equipment you need to do any barbell exercise. It’s very flexible and you can do a great full body workout with just this equipment.
The benefit of using a power cage is that there are safety pins. Those will prevent the bar from going down too far. Some squat stands come with spotter arms but not all and only a few have arms low enough for a bench press.
Since in a home gym you’re usually lifting alone, having the extra safety there is very useful.
Bench press setup #2
If you have plenty of space or only want to bench press at home, this second option is for you.
It’s the traditional bench press bench you will see in most gyms around the world. The bench and bar holder are integrated into one piece of equipment.
There are some big benefits to using a special bench press bench;
- Purpose made: very little setup is necessary.
- Cheap: Most of these benches are quite cheap. Especially compared to the whole setup above.
However, these benefits do come with some drawbacks;
- Usually not adjustable (only flat or incline). There are a few benches available that are adjustable though. The height of the barbell is also limited in adjustability. A power cage has way more height adjustability.
- Only one exercise: You can only bench press on this. It’s possible to adapt it for a few other chest exercises with dumbbells but not much else. Yes it’s smaller than a power rack but not that much smaller. Of course if you can fit both, go ahead.
- No safety: Most bench press benches don’t come with spotter arms or safety pins so if the weight is too heavy, you’re all on your own.
There are uses for the bench press bench but in most home gyms you’ll be much better off with setup #1.
If you’re looking for a simple and cheap adjustable bench press bench, check this one out on Amazon
Home gym bench press alternative exercises
Maybe all of the stuff above is too much for you. It takes up too much space and costs too much. That’s fair. It isn’t the smallest equipment and to get everything you need isn’t very cheap. Are there any alternatives to the bench press that have similar results but require less or even no equipment?
There are things you can do that are similar but, to get better at bench pressing, you need to practice the actual bench press. While other exercises can give you similar strength gains and muscle development, a good bench press also requires good technique. You get a better technique by practicing it. If you want a big bench press, you’ll have to actually do the bench press. If you just want a stronger and bigger chest and triceps, there are other things you can do.
That said, with a set of dumbbells and a bench you can do quite a few good alternative exercises;
- Dumbbell press. The dumbbell press still requires a bench but you don’t need a barbell, weights or rack. Instead of a barbell you use dumbbells. More people have dumbbells at home than barbells so this can be a good alternative. The movement pattern is very similar although you move your arms separately. Another added benefit is that you don’t need a spotter or safety pins. There’s no way you can get pinned under the bar since there is none.
- Push ups. One of the simplest bodyweight exercises. Is the push up. And coincidentally it also exercises the same muscles as a bench press. You don’t need any equipment at all which makes this a good alternative. You won’t have the same resistance as a real bench press so you might not develop as much strength. For muscle development, keep increasing the amount of pushups and sets and you’ll certainly see results. You can also vary the hand position for a bigger challenge. Alternatively you can vary the height of your feet with a chair or similar to get more of an upper pec exercise.
- Dips. While dips don’t have exactly the same movement pattern as a bench press, the used muscles are pretty similar. You use shoulders, chest and shoulder muscles, just like a bench press although in a slightly different direction. That means you might not get much carryover to a real bench press but similar muscle development. Dips are also suitable to add weight to with a belt or a dumbbell between your legs.
- Floor press. The floor press is an interesting alternative to the bench press. You lay flat on the floor, grab a weight, and get it over your elbows while your elbows rest on the floor. From there you can push like on a bench press. You can use dumbbells or a barbell. If you’ve got a barbell, use large diameter weight plates so you can roll the bar over your body. This makes things much easier. The benefit of the floor press is that you only need weight. It’s also pretty safe since the weight can’t go down low enough to hurt you. That means you can lift heavier than you otherwise would. The drawback is that you don’t get the same range of motion you would on a bench press.
- Pullover: The pullover is a good accessory exercise that builds your chest and back. Just a single dumbbell and bench is necessary.
- Dumbbell floor fly: This exercise only needs a set of dumbbells. You lay on the floor and do dumbbell flies like otherwise. The benefit of this exercise is that it’s much safer for your shoulders than the normal dumbbell fly with a bench since your arms can’t go further down than the floor.
- Multi-gym: A multi gym provides a ton of exercise options in one machine. Many of them include several chest exercises. Find the multi-gyms with the best bench press in this post.
- Cable pulley press: If you’ve got a cable machine in your home gym, there are quite a few chest exercises you can perform with it.
Which muscles does the bench press build? The bench press is a so called ‘compound movement’ that targets several muscle groups. The muscle groups targeted by the bench press are;
However the upper back, abs and legs are also used to stabilize the movement.
Is the bench press the best exercise to build chest muscles? While the chest press is a great upper body strength and mass builder, by itself you might not get the best results for chest. For optimal chest muscle growth it’s better to add in other exercises like dumbbell press, cable fly, dips and the pec deck.