Chest Press Machine 101: Steps, Proper Form, And Common Mistakes

chest press machine - Fitzabout
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Updated: January 26, 2023

The chest press machine is just one tool that can be used to target the upper pectoral muscles.

Incorporating other exercises, such as push-ups, dips, or bench press exercises using dumbbells or a barbell, can also help to strengthen and tone the upper pecs.

Muscle worked

The chest press machine primarily targets the chest muscles, specifically the pectoralis major and minor. The pectoralis major is the larger muscle that covers the majority of the chest and is responsible for pushing movements, while the pectoralis minor is a smaller muscle located beneath the pectoralis major and is responsible for pulling movements.

In addition to the chest muscles, the chest press machine also works several other muscle groups as well. These include:

  • Triceps: The triceps are located on the back of the upper arm and are responsible for extending the elbow. They are heavily engaged during the pressing motion of the chest press machine.
  • Shoulders: The shoulders, specifically the deltoids, are also engaged during the chest press machine. The deltoids are responsible for lifting and stabilizing the arm.
  • Core: The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, are engaged to stabilize the body during the press motion.

What is a chest press machine?

chest press machine exercise - fitzabout

A chest press machine is a type of exercise equipment that is used to strengthen the muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders. It typically consists of a weight stack, a bench, and a set of handles or press bars. To use the machine, you lie on the bench and push the handles or press bars away from your body, using the strength of your chest and arm muscles. The resistance provided by the weight stack can be adjusted to increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise. Some chest press machines also have adjustable seats and backrests to accommodate people of different sizes and to allow for different angles of movement.

Other than the weight loading mechanism, most chest press machines, either selected or plate loaded, operate almost identically.

The main difference would be that the handles of the plate-loaded version would usually move independently of each other, while the selected version would usually have both handles attached to a single cam so that they could move simultaneously.

Is it isolation or compound exercise?

The chest press machine is considered to be a compound exercise.

Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time.

As you know, the chest press machine primarily targets the chest muscles (pectorals), but also works the triceps, shoulders and core muscles as secondary muscle groups.

On the other hand, isolation exercises are exercises that target a specific muscle group. Examples of isolation exercises for the chest include flyes, cable crossovers, and pec deck machine.

Compound exercises like the chest press machine are generally considered to be more effective for building overall strength and muscle mass, because they allow you to use heavier weights and work multiple muscle groups at once.

This can be more time-efficient for those who are short on time, or for those who want to focus on overall fitness.

However, isolation exercises can also be effective for targeting specific areas or for injury recovery or rehabilitation, allowing the person to focus on a specific muscle group and perform the exercise with proper form and technique.

Benefits of chest press machine

Here are a few scientific benefits of using a chest press machine:

Improved muscle strength and endurance

  • Chest press machine exercises can help to increase muscle strength and endurance in the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
  • In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that using a chest press machine led to significant increases in muscle strength and endurance in young, healthy adults. 1 2 3 4

Enhanced muscle definition

  • By building muscle mass, chest press machine exercises can help to define and shape the muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
  • In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that using a chest press machine led to significant increases in muscle size and strength in young, healthy adults. 5 6 7

Improved bone density

  • Resistance training exercises like those performed on a chest press machine can help to increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • In a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, researchers found that using a chest press machine led to significant increases in bone density in postmenopausal women. 8
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Improved cardiovascular health

  • Chest press machine exercises can also provide a cardiovascular workout, helping to improve heart health and increase endurance.
  • In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that using a chest press machine led to significant improvements in cardiovascular fitness in young, healthy adults. 9

Greater flexibility

  • Using a chest press machine can help to improve range of motion, improves lower limb power and strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance in the shoulders and upper body.
  • In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that using a chest press machine led to significant increases in flexibility in young, healthy adults. 10

How to do chest press machine?

Some chest press machines have adjustable seats and backrests that allow you to change the angle of the exercise. Some will even allow you to change the starting point of the handle.

Experiment with different angles to target different parts of your chest and triceps.

The weight stack is a set of weights that provides the resistance for the exercise. The weight stack can be adjusted to increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise.

The handles or press bars are the parts of the machine that you push away from your body to perform the exercise. They are typically designed to be grasped with an overhand grip (palms facing away from your body).

The pulleys are the mechanical components that connect the weight stack to the handles or press bars. They help to guide the movement of the weight and keep it under control.

Chest press machines may have various adjustment mechanisms to allow you to customize the exercise to your needs. These may include seat and backrest adjustments, handle or press bar adjustments, and weight stack adjustments.

Adjust the seat height, so the handles are in line with your mid-chest, about 2-inches below your armpits. If the handles themselves are adjustable, set them to a starting point where you feel a slight stretch in the chest/shoulders, but not so much that you feel like you’re pushing the weight up.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the equipment and the adjustments before starting your chest press machine workout. Make sure to adjust the seat and backrest to a comfortable position and choose a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level.

Just before starting the exercise, tighten your upper back muscles by drawing your shoulder blades together and holding them for the entire set. This will stabilize the shoulder joint during the exercise.

During the exercise, keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. If you have any questions about the equipment or how to use it, don’t hesitate to ask a fitness professional or the staff at your gym.

1. Instructions

Here are step-by-step instructions for using a chest press machine:

  1. Adjust the seat and backrest of the machine to a comfortable position. The seat should be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the ground, and the backrest should be adjusted so that it supports your upper back and shoulders.
  2. Choose a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level. You should start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the resistance as you get stronger.
  3. Sit on the bench and grasp the handles or press bars with an overhand grip (palms facing away from your body). Your arms should be fully extended, and your elbows should be aligned with your shoulders.
  4. Take a deep breath and exhale as you push the handles or press bars away from your body. Keep your elbows close to your sides and your feet flat on the ground as you press.
  5. Slowly release the handles or press bars back to the starting position. Inhale as you lower the weight, and exhale as you press it back up.
  6. Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

2. Tips

Here are a few tips and techniques to help you get the most out of your chest press machine workout:

Use a full range of motion

Don’t just move the handles or press bars a short distance. Instead, fully extend your arms and push the weight away from your body until your elbows are almost locked. This will help you target your chest muscles more effectively.

Keep your feet flat on the ground

It’s important to keep your feet flat on the ground throughout the exercise to help you maintain balance and stability.

Don’t lock your elbows

Avoid locking your elbows at the top of the exercise. This can put unnecessary strain on your joints and may lead to injury. Instead, stop just short of fully extending your arms.

Use a slow, controlled motion

Don’t rush through the exercise. Instead, use a slow and controlled motion to help you focus on your form and engage your muscles more effectively.

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Vary your grip

To target different parts of your chest and triceps, try using different grip widths on the handles or press bars. A wider grip will target the outer part of your chest, while a narrower grip will target the inner part of your chest.

Mix up your workouts

To avoid boredom and keep your muscles guessing, try incorporating different exercises and workouts into your routine. This can help to prevent plateaus and keep your progress going.

3. Chest press machine common mistakes

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when using a chest press machine:

  • Lifting too much weight: It’s important to choose a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level. If you lift too much weight, you may struggle to maintain good form, which can lead to injury.
  • Locking your elbows: Avoid locking your elbows at the top of the exercise. This can put unnecessary strain on your joints and may lead to injury. Instead, stop just short of fully extending your arms.
  • Using momentum: Don’t swing the weight or use momentum to push the handles or press bars away from your body. Instead, use the strength of your chest and arm muscles to lift the weight in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Arching your back: Make sure to keep your back flat against the bench throughout the exercise to help you maintain proper form and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Neglecting your warm-up: Don’t forget to warm up before starting your chest press machine workout. A proper warm-up will help to prepare your muscles for the exercise and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Not using proper form: It’s important to maintain good form when using a chest press machine to avoid injury and to ensure that you are targeting the correct muscles. Make sure to keep your feet flat on the ground and your back flat against the bench throughout the exercise. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately and consult a healthcare professional.

4. When and how to incorporate it?

Chest press machines can be incorporated into a workout routine in a few different ways. One way is to use it as a standalone exercise, incorporating it into a chest workout.

A chest workout could consist of a few sets of chest press machine, followed by exercises such as dumbbell or barbell presses, flyes, and pull-ups or pulldowns to target the chest muscles from different angles.

Another way to incorporate chest press machines into a workout routine is to use it as a supplementary exercise to target specific areas of the chest. For example, if an individual wants to focus on their upper chest, they can do an incline press machine along with a decline press machine; but also they can pair it with other exercises such as incline dumbbell press, incline flyes, or pullovers, or decline press, decline flyes and pullovers.

The chest press machines should be used in conjunction with other exercises that target the chest, back, and shoulder muscles, in order to create a well-rounded workout program. It’s also important to use proper form and start with a weight that is manageable, gradually increasing the weight as strength and endurance improve.

5. Repetitions

Repetitions, or “reps” for short, refer to the number of times an exercise is performed consecutively.

When incorporating chest press machines into a workout routine, the number of reps will depend on the individual’s goals and fitness level.

For muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth, generally the recommended repetition ranges between 8–12 reps per set with a moderate to heavy weight that allows the person to reach muscle fatigue within that rep range.

For muscle endurance, the recommended repetition ranges between 12–20 reps per set with a light to moderate weight that allows the person to perform the exercise for a longer period of time.

For power, the recommended repetition ranges between 1–5 reps per set with a very heavy weight that allows the person to perform the exercise explosively.

It’s important to note that it’s also good to switch up the rep ranges from time to time to challenge the muscle in different ways, as well as using proper form and technique to prevent injury.

6. Who can’t perform?

There may be certain individuals who should not use a chest press machine or who should use it with caution. These may include people with:

Chronic back pain or spinal issues

Chest press machine exercises involve pressing a weight away from the body, which can put strain on the spine. If you have chronic back pain or spinal issues, you should consult with a healthcare professional before using a chest press machine.

Shoulder injuries

If you have a shoulder injury or chronic shoulder pain, you may need to avoid chest press machine exercises or use a modified version of the exercise. Consult with a healthcare professional for guidance.

Weak or imbalanced muscles

If you have weak or imbalanced muscles, you may struggle to maintain proper form when using a chest press machine. In this case, it may be helpful to work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to develop a strength training program that is tailored to your needs.

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Previous chest or shoulder surgery

If you have had surgery on your chest or shoulders, you should consult with a healthcare professional before starting a chest press machine exercise program.

Note:

It’s important to listen to your body and be aware of any pain or discomfort that you may experience while using a chest press machine. 11 If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the exercise immediately and consult with a healthcare professional. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Bottom line

The chest press machine is primarily used to target the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor), as well as the triceps and shoulders. The pectoralis muscles are the large muscles in the chest that are responsible for moving the arms and shoulders. The triceps are the muscles on the back of the upper arm that extend the elbow joint, and the shoulders (deltoid muscles) are responsible for lifting and rotating the arms.

To target these muscles effectively, it’s essential to use proper form and a full range of motion when using the chest press machine. Make sure to fully extend your arms and push the weight away from your body until your elbows are almost locked, and then slowly release the weight back to the starting position.

Varying your grip width and the resistance level can also help to target different parts of the chest and triceps.

To target different parts of your chest and triceps, try using different grip widths on the handles or press bars. A wider grip will target the outer part of your chest, while a narrower grip will target the inner part of your chest.

Gradually increasing the resistance level on the chest press machine can help to challenge your muscles and keep your progress going.

There are several variations of the chest press machine exercise that you can try, such as incline press, decline press, or cable cross-over exercises. These variations can help to target different muscle groups and provide a different challenge.

It’s important to mix up your workouts and try different exercises to avoid boredom and keep your muscles guessing. This can help to prevent plateaus and keep your progress going.

Sources

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  2. Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. “Specific prime movers’ excitation during free-weight bench press variations and chest press machine in competitive bodybuilders.” Eur J Sport Sci. 2020 Jun;20(5):571-579. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2019.1655101. Epub 2019 Aug 20. PMID: 31397215.[]
  3. Saeterbakken AH, Mo DA, Scott S, Andersen V. “The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance.” J Hum Kinet. 2017 Jun 22;57:61-71. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2017-0047. PMID: 28713459; PMCID: PMC5504579.[]
  4. Parrino R, Strand K, Hockman A, Signorile J. “Leg press and chest press strength normative values by half-decades in older persons.” Exp Gerontol. 2021;150:111401. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2021.111401.[]
  5. Thomas MH, Burns SP. “Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training.” Int J Exerc Sci. 2016 Apr 1;9(2):159-167. PMID: 27182422; PMCID: PMC4836564.[]
  6. Stastny P, Gołaś A, Blazek D, Maszczyk A, Wilk M, Pietraszewski P, Petr M, Uhlir P, Zając A. “A systematic review of surface electromyography analyses of the bench press movement task.” PLoS One. 2017 Feb 7;12(2):e0171632. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171632. PMID: 28170449; PMCID: PMC5295722.[]
  7. Whitnee Schanke, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Emmanuel Felix, Ph.D., Charles Hendrix, M.S. Ed., and Carl Foster, Ph.D. “ACE-Sponsored Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises.”[]
  8. Kerr D, Morton A, Dick I, Prince R. “Exercise effects on bone mass in postmenopausal women are site-specific and load-dependent.” J Bone Miner Res. 1996 Feb;11(2):218-25. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.5650110211. PMID: 8822346.[]
  9. Pérez-Bilbao T, García-González D, Martos-Bermúdez Á, Nieto S, Del Campo T, Pérez-Ruiz M, San Juan AF. “Effects of an Eight-Week Concurrent Training Program with Different Effort Character over Physical Fitness, Health-Related Quality of Life, and Lipid Profile among Hospital Workers: Preliminary Results.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Sep 3;18(17):9328. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18179328. PMID: 34501916; PMCID: PMC8430974.[]
  10. Behm D, Colado JC. “The effectiveness of resistance training using unstable surfaces and devices for rehabilitation.” Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012 Apr;7(2):226-41. PMID: 22530196; PMCID: PMC3325639.[]
  11. Smereck J, Papafilippaki A, Sudarshan S. “Acute chest pain after bench press exercise in a healthy young adult.” Open Access Emerg Med. 2016;8:73-76. doi: 10.2147/OAEM.S114310.[]

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