Have you heard? Strong is sexy!
If you’re reading this, I’m making the assumption that your either a beginner or just starting your fitness journey. So, first of all, you’re making one of the best decisions you’ll ever make by choosing a life of health and fitness.
As you probably are aware, there are a ton of different machines and exercises for each body part.
In this article, I’m going to explain the differences between a chest press machine vs bench press. I”ll also discuss the pros and cons of each, and provide information so you can make an informed decision about which exercise works for you. They both have advantages and disadvantages, so depending on your goals, or your level of experience, one might be better for you than the other.
The Bench Press
The bench press is usually listed as one of the best upper body exercises you can do. What the squats are for the legs, the bench press is for the upper half of your body. It’s a compound exercise, meaning it engages multiple muscles to perform the lift.
The major muscles involved are the chest, arms, shoulders, and core. It’s also a very functional and practical exercise. Throughout your daily routine, you’re using muscles to accomplish tasks.
From taking out the trash to carrying groceries, or kids, to finally crawling back into bed. When you do these tasks, your engaging multiple muscles. When you do compound exercises like the bench press, your utilizing and growing muscles you use every day, not just muscles you use at the gym.
The bench press will benefit you by making you stronger in your everyday life.
Benefit #1 of Bench Press
One advantage of the bench press is the core workout you get. Many if not all fitness pros will tell you the importance of having a strong core. Without a strong core, you’re susceptible to many injuries, and it makes exercise incredibly difficult.
Once you lift the weight off the rack, you immediately engage your core muscles to prevent you from tipping from side to side. The bench press is using gravity and the weight to create the up and down workout, but the only thing stopping you from falling to the side is your feet planted firmly to the ground and your core muscles stabilizing you.
Trust me, if someone accidentally bumped into your bench press, it would be difficult to keep from falling over. I don’t’ say this to scare you, but for you to realize all the muscles being used during the exercise. This isn’t much of a concern with a chest press machine.
Benefit #2 of Bench Press
If you haven’t noticed already, there are flat bench presses, incline presses, and decline presses. Each angle provides a different level of engagement from different parts of the chest muscle and shoulder muscles. They may look similar because you’re laying on your back and pushing the weight away from your body, but each angle targets the muscle differently. These variations provide a well-rounded physique and a stronger upper body.
Benefit #3 of Bench Press
Since the bench press engages so many different muscles, it helps prevent muscle imbalances. When you do isolation exercises, meaning exercises that mainly focus on one muscle, you can miss hitting other complementary muscles.
This can bite you in the bum if you’re looking to maintain strength and definition or tone.
Imagine doing a bunch of arm workouts but not many shoulder workouts. Once you get on the bench press, if your shoulders can’t help complete the lift because they’re weak or they haven’t been worked, your entire bench press strength goes out the door. Doing the bench press regularly will work a lot of muscles at once.
It saves time too!
So what are the disadvantages of the bench press? Well, only a couple come to mind, and here they are.
Disadvantage #1 of Bench Press
Imagine you’re getting to your last few reps and you realize you can’t get the weight back up…What do you do? Well, the good thing is, every time I’ve seen this happen to someone, another gym goer quickly jumps in to assist.
I’ve done it several times throughout my life, and the person doing the lift is a mixture of relieved and embarrassed. Needless to say, you should be using a spotter when you’re lifting heavy or just starting out. A spotter can help you get that last rep up, which works the muscle to complete fatigue and they can encourage you.
Disadvantage #2 of Bench Press
Needing nearly perfect form on the bench press is critical to preventing injury. Many muscles have been torn, and many shoulders have suffered debilitating injuries because the person was either lifting too much or they weren’t using good form.
Either way, when you injure yourself, it can mean weeks of being out of the gym. This time away is tough both physically and mentally. If you’re just starting out, be sure your form is near perfection. This will ensure a long life of healthy lifting.
The Chest Press Machine
The chest press is a machine alternative to the bench press. Dumbbells and barbell exercises are considered “free weight” exercises, while the machines can go by other names. You may also hear them being called seated chest press or chest press machine.
Regardless, instead of laying on your back, you sit upright and push away from, vs pushing straight up. Some of the machines also have footpegs or foot placements.
The muscles worked during the chest press, I would say are identical to the bench press.
There is some back and forth regarding secondary or stabilizing muscles being engaged, but I contend, you use more secondary and core muscles on the bench press. I’m open to proof one way or another. My contention is based solely on my experience.
So, for the benefits of the chest press.
Benefit #1 of Chest Press
The chest press is a machine guided exercise. The weight resistance is pushing back towards you as your sitting there, so there isn’t weight hanging above you, like on the bench press. If you select a weight that is too heavy or you can’t complete the repetition, you simply relax the weight back to it’s starting position. No spotter needed on the chest press. This can be good if your lifting by yourself or the bench presses are all being used.
Benefit #2 of Chest Press
At some point, you’re going to be sore, or you’re going to be a little hurt from some activity. For this reason, the chest press machine is great. Machines are great for rehabilitating or nursing an injury, while still doing light weights.
Some people like to do a heavy chest day and then later in the week, do a lighter chest day. You can do heavy weights on the chest press machines, but some are limited to the amount of weight you can do.
For those intermediate or advanced lifters, this may come into play. Machines are great for doing more reps with lighter weights.
Benefit #3 of Chest Press
Safety and form are less of a concern with chest press machines. The arms of the machines typically only go one way, so you’re forced to use a form that is compatible with using the machine.
If you’re going to get injured on a chest press machine, it’s most likely due to using too much weight vs incorrect form. Additionally, virtually every machine has instructions on the machine telling you exactly how to perform the lift.
It may not be as good as a personal trainer, but it’s pretty close. For this reason alone, a lot of beginners use the machines when first starting out.
Now for what I and most people don’t like about the chest press machine.
As mentioned above the machines force you to lift in a certain plane. Whether it be height or functionality, sometimes the preprogrammed plane the machine forces you to use can be uncomfortable or even difficult to perform.
The bench press is a free weight so it allows you to use a plane that is conducive to you and your body. The chest press can sometimes be limiting in this regard.
Availability is big. There’s nothing worse than waiting around for a machine. Gyms typically have two or more bench presses. it’s just the way it is. This makes the bench press more accessible, whereas gyms don’t typically have a lot of the same machines.
My current gym has 4 bench press machines, two inclines, and one decline. They also only have one chest press, one incline chest press, and one decline chest press. And this is pretty typical of gyms I’ve belonged to in the past.
If you’re lucky, your gym will have multiple of the same machine, in which case, this won’t be an issue. The other limiting factor can be the weight. Again, if you’re an advanced lifter or just naturally strong, the weights only go so high on the machines.
Which is better? The bench press or chest press machine.
If you know any lawyers and ask them questions, they’ll commonly respond with “it depends.” For the aforementioned question, I would have to say “it depends.” If you’re looking to gain serious muscle mass, the bench press is a tried and true staple.
As long as your form is good and you use progressive overload with time under tension, you’ll see gains.
If you’re looking to stay fit, add some muscle and avoid the chance of getting stuck under too much weight, the chest press might be your best option. Ideally, you work them both into your workout, but your goals will determine which is your primary chest exercise.