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Build a big, strong and defined chest with the chest press machine

The chest press machine can be found in any half-decent gym. But are you making the most of this muscle-building machine to build the bigger, stronger and broader chest you want? Use these chest press machine tips from New Body Plan fitness editor Joe Warner to maximise the size, strength and definition of your chest!

Pretty much every guy who sets foot in the gym wants to build a bigger chest. And that’s why pretty much every guy who sets foot in the gym would benefit from using the chest press machine.

Sure, the barbell bench press and dumbbell bench press gets almost all of the pec-sculpting credit. But there’s a huge amount of muscle-building mileage to be derived from the chest press machine. Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of the big-impact move!

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What is the chest press?

It’s is one of the most popular items of gym weight-training equipment. It mainly works the muscles of the chest. But, as with all pressing weight-lifting movements (in which you push the weight away from your body) it also works the front of your shoulders and your triceps.

And as many gym machines, including the shoulder press machine, it uses a fixed path of movement. That means it comparatively easy to use. This is in contrast to free-weight moves (those that use dumbbells and barbells) where the movement path is free, and so requires the involvement of your small, stabilising muscles to control the movement.

What muscles does the chest press work?

The primary muscle group that’s worked is your chest muscles, which are also known as your pecs. It also works your triceps – the muscles on the back of your upper arms. It will also recruit your front shoulders.

Should I use the chest press?

Anyone can use a chest press machine but it is particularly useful for beginners. That’s because you move in a fixed plane of movement. The machine basically dictates where you go, so there’s no real scope for movement error. That doesn’t mean it is only suitable for beginners. More experienced exercisers can also get a lot of value out of the machine, especially when training to maximise the size of the chest muscles.

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What makes the chest press so good?

If you’re new to lifting weights it is useful because it is easy to use. If you’ve been training a while, you can use it to go to failure safely. If you’re training on your own, you don’t necessarily want to fail on a barbell bench press. If you do, you might get trapped under the bar. But if you fail while using a chest press machine all that happens is you don’t complete the rep. So, if you want to avoid being the subject of a comedy YouTube workout clip, the chest press machine is a good option.

What are the disadvantages of the chest press?

The chest press machine won’t do much to develop your stabilising muscles. When you’re constrained by a fixed path, there’s less need for your stabilising muscles to be activated. They tend to be recruited more when you’re using free weights, such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or cables. That doesn’t mean you should avoid it. It just means that you’ll need to include other chest moves in your plans that do work your stabilising muscles, such as the incline dumbbell bench press, the lying dumbbell pullover, or the standing cable flye.

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What are the different types of chest press machines?

There are two main types of chest press. The first is plate loaded, where you add plates onto the machine’s arms. The second uses a weight stack. All you need to do is stick a pin in the weight you want to lift. For that reason, these machines make it quicker and easier to adjust the weight if a set is too light or too heavy, or you’re doing drop sets.

How many sets and reps should I do?

Your set and rep selection when using the chest press should be determined by your experience and goals. Experienced lifters will tend to do more than beginners because they have developed a greater work capacity. You’d probably steer away from very low reps. After all, no one will ever ask you for your chest press machine one-rep-max. So go for anything between, say, 6-25 reps. Lower reps are good for strength. Mid-range reps are good for building muscle. High-rep sets are good for really pushing yourself and getting a good pump.

When should I use a chest press machine?

You could use the machine as your final exercise in a chest workout. Because you can safely go to failure, you can grip the handles, grit your teeth and go for it. A classic chest-building exercise set could be a bench press variation, cable crossover and then the chest press machine. You could use it once or twice a week. It doesn’t have to appear in every plan but it’s difficult to find a substitute that’s as safe to use.

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How to use the chest press machine

• Sit in the machine according to the instructions.
• Set the seat height so that the handles are level with your chest.
• Plant your feet on the floor and push your head and shoulders into the back rest.
• Press the weight with your elbows level with your wrists until your arms are straight.
• Slowly return to the start position without letting the weights hit the weight stack and repeat the exercise.

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The best chest press exercise variations

Decline chest press machine

This is very similar to the standard chest press machine. The differences is that the back rest is angled back. This mimics the angle that you’d create when doing a decline barbell bench press. It’s good for lower chest muscle development.

Incline chest press machine

This is also similar to the chest press machine. Like the decline variations, the back rest is typically angled back. The difference is that you press the handles vertically, rather than horizontally. It’s good for upper chest muscle development.

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