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Chest Press vs. Bench Press

by
author image Eric Bach
Eric Bach is a personal trainer, author of The Power Primer, and fitness business consultant in Denver, Colorado. His passion is simplifying fitness, helping clients get great results through the ruthless execution of the basics. Find out more on his website Bach Performance, or hang out on Facebook.
Chest Press vs. Bench Press
Make sure to keep your elbows angled toward your body as you press the weight up. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Nothing catches attention like a defined and buff pair of chest muscles. For men, it’s the most important muscle to develop for beach season. And for women it's an excellent exercise for building more upper body strength while increasing the tone of their arms and shoulders.

The bench press is the most popular exercise for building a bigger, stronger and more prominent chest. But not everyone can, or should, bench press. If you’ve had a history of shoulder injury, bench pressing isn’t ideal. In some cases, the safest way to build stronger and bigger pecs is with the machine chest press.

Bench Press

There are many variations of the bench press that can be performed at different angles and with dumbbells or barbells. The barbell bench press allows you to keep constant tension on your chest muscles; and it’s tension that promotes muscle growth. The more tension you’re able to exert on your pecs, the more muscle fibers your body will recruit to push the weight off your chest. The more muscle(s) you use, the more calories you burn, and the more muscle your body will need to repair and rebuild post workout.

To perform the bench press:

  1. Lie down on a flat bench, eyes directly under the bar. 
  2. Grip the bar with a medium width grip. Lift the bar from the rack and hold it straight over the nipple line of your chest, with your arms locked. 
  3. Take a deep breath and lower the bar slowly until it touches the middle of your chest.
  4. Pause at the bottom and then push the bar off your chest. Perform 4 sets of 6-10 reps, resting for 60-90 seconds between sets.

Chest Press Machine

You may see this machine labeled as “chest press,” “seated chest press,” “machine press” or “machine chest press.” Don’t worry, though; they’re all the same, and they work your chest muscles like the bench press.

Unlike the bench press, which is performed on your back, you do the chest press from an upright position. And thanks to multiple angles of the handles, you can choose a position that is safer for those who suffer from shoulder injuries.

To use the chest press machine:

  1. Place your back against the backrest of the chest press machine. 
  2. Grab the handles and place your feet flat on the floor or the footstool of the chest press machine. 
  3. Press the handles forward until your arms are straight. Pause for one second and then bend your elbows and slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps, resting for 60 seconds between sets.

Which One is Better?

The bench press and the chest press both target your pectoral muscles. But just because they both target the muscles of your chest doesn’t mean they’re equals.

For anyone who has easily injured his shoulder, has constant shoulder pain or has been advised to steer clear of the bench press, the machine chest press is the most viable solution.

The bench press, however, trains a larger range of motion versus the chest press. And that means, with the bench press, you'll be able to build a bit more muscle than with the chest press. But both have their unique advantages that can be implemented to increasing strength and muscle.

Read more: Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press

Where the Bench Press Excels

Because cables or machinery don't limit the bench press, you're able to move the weight farther with a barbell than you are with a machine. Barbell bench pressing allows you to contract and extend your pecs to their max level, which in turn allows you to use more muscle fibers. To keep the weight steady as you push the weight off your chest, your body will recruit smaller muscles, known as stabilizers.

Proper bench pressing recruits your serratus anterior, your anterior deltoids and triceps all in one motion. These muscles keep your shoulder stable as you press the weight off your chest. But they also assist in extending the elbow and flexing the shoulder as you press the weight up. This is why if you’re lifting heavy weight on the bench press, it’s wise to have a spotter.

Where the Chest Press Excels

Compared to the bench press, the chest press machine is far safer. Because the machine uses cables and pulleys and is on a fixed line of movement, you won’t need a spotter for this.

Because you’re using a machine and not a barbell, you can also use this machine for single arm pressing. This will allow you to push strength to another level in ways you can’t with a barbell bench press.

Plus, when compared to the bench press, the chest press is far more efficient with your time. There’s no need for you to add or remove weight like the barbell bench press. All you have to do is move the pin from one weight to the next and continue your workout.

Machines can also be used at the end of your workout when you have a little gas left in the tank.
Machines can also be used at the end of your workout when you have a little gas left in the tank. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Where the Bench Press Fails

The bench press is a huge time investment. Learning the proper technique and mastering the form takes more time than sitting down at a machine and pushing handles away from you.

Besides the time required to learn the lift correctly, it’s also time-consuming because you have to add weight plates to the bar. With rest periods between sets, it’s not uncommon for your working sets on the bench to take nearly 15 to 20 minutes. For some busy people, that’s half or all of their workout.

The bench press, when performed incorrectly or with too much weight too fast, can cause injuries to the shoulder joint. Since many people today work at computers and are hunched over (internally rotated with their shoulders), lying down and putting your shoulders in an internally rotated position while you press the heavy weight off your chest isn’t ideal.

Read More: Incline Press vs Bench Press

Where the Chest Press Fails

As you get stronger with the bench press, you can always add more plates. But with the chest press machine, once you max out at the highest weight, there’s nothing else you can do.

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