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Equipment swap: bench press

Timing is everything when you’re fitting in a training session before work, between meetings, or on a lunch break. So when the equipment you need is taken, it can really throw a kink in your plan. That’s why Furthermore is introducing Equipment Swaps, a mini-series that offers alternative exercises when your fitness tool of choice is unavailable.

Over time, you may get used to working your triceps, pecs, anterior deltoids, and back with the barbell bench press every week. But if you notice it’s occupied, don’t look at it as a reason to skip the muscle group altogether. Instead, be flexible, but with a purpose.

The exercises below, from Akeem Scott, a Tier 3 trainer at Equinox Flatiron in New York City, aren’t exact swaps for the go-to move, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Some of them offer unique benefits that you won’t get from using a barbell.

Case in point: One study found that free weights work the shoulders’ medial deltoids more so than the barbell. Completing a dumbbell press at an incline works your upper chest, while pressing in a decline position takes pressure off your shoulders and targets your triceps more effectively.

And switching from the bench to the floor requires more balance. “When people use the bench press, they often stop engaging their lower body,” Scott says. “The floor variations force you to use your legs and work your core to stabilize the weight.”

Try one of the six exercises below as a swap for the barbell bench press. “With dumbbells, go as heavy as you can (with good form) and stick to the number of reps and sets you had planned for the bench press,” Scott says.

Incline press with dumbbells

Sit on a bench set to an incline of about 45 degrees with knees bent in front of you and feet flat on floor. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, bring arms into a goal post position, with elbows in line with shoulders, palms facing forward. Keeping shoulders down, press dumbbells directly overhead without locking elbows, then slowly lower back to goal post position. Repeat.

Chest press with dumbbell

Lie face up on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring arms into a goal post position, with elbows in line with shoulders, palms facing forward. Keeping shoulders down, press dumbbells directly overhead without locking elbows, then slowly lower back to goal post position. Repeat.

Decline chest press with dumbbells

Lie face up on a decline bench (not pictured) with knees bent and legs secured in the footholds. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, with arms fully extended directly above your chest. Lower the dumbbells slowly to sides of chest, tucking elbows close to your body. Pause, then press the dumbbells back to starting position.

Chest press on floor

Lie face up on a mat with a dumbbell in each hand, knees bent, heels resting on the floor, toes up. Start with arms extended toward the ceiling directly over shoulders, palms facing your feet. Lower dumbbells slowly to sides of chest, bringing arms into a goal post position. Pause, then press the dumbbells back to starting position. Repeat.

Chest press with 90-degree hold

Lie face up on a mat with a dumbbell in each hand, feet off the floor, and knees bent at a 90-degree angle with shins parallel to the floor. Start with arms extended toward the ceiling directly over shoulders, palms facing your feet. Lower dumbbells slowly to sides of chest, bringing arms into a goal post position. Pause, then press the dumbbells back to starting position. Repeat.

Chest press with elevated legs

Lie face up on a mat with a dumbbell in each hand, legs extended 1 to 2 inches off the ground. Start with arms extended toward the ceiling directly over shoulders, then lower dumbbells slowly to the sides of chest, bringing arms into a goal post position. Keep legs elevated, pause, then press the dumbbells back to starting position. Repeat.

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