Build a big and broad chest with the Smith machine bench press
Do you want to maximise the size and strength of your chest? Use my tried-and-tested guide to the Smith machine bench press to sculpt the big, broad and defined chest you want, says New Body Plan editor Joe Warner
To make a muscle bigger and stronger you need to outsmart it. It’s true. Muscles don’t want to get too big or strong.
So to overcome their reluctance to grow in size and strength you need to train smart. You have to put them to work in new and innovate ways. Why? To stimulate the big-muscle response you want.
And the Smith machine is one of the best spots on the gym floor to do just that. There’s few better exercises to develop a big, broad and impressive chest than the Smith machine bench press. Here’s how to use this muscle-building lift the smarter way to build the defined pecs you want!
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What is a Smith machine?
The Smith machine is a clever bit of gym kit that offers many of the advantages of barbell lifting but with added safety features. That’s because the Smith machine barbell is fixed in a vertical plane along two rails. You can move the bar directly up and down only. It can’t move forwards or backwards.
The barbell also has a “catch” on each end. And the rails have evenly-placed hooks along them. This means you can re-rack the bar at any point. This is very useful safety feature if you can’t complete a rep.
What is the Smith machine bench press?
The Smith machine bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press performed in the Smith machine. Position a flat bench in the machine, set the bar at the right height with weight plates on each side. Lie on the bench, grip the bar, rotate it to un-rack it from the hooks then start your set. You can find a detailed form guide, with bonus tips, below.
What muscles does the Smith machine bench press work?
The main muscles worked in the Smith machine bench press are the same ones trained in all upper body chest pressing movements. The chest muscles – also known as the pectorals – are the primarily muscles involved. The front of the shoulders (anterior delts) and triceps (the muscle group on the back of your upper arm) are the other two main muscle involved in the lift.
How do I do the Smith machine bench press?
• Position a flat bench in the Smith machine – it should be placed so that when you lie flat on it and lower the barbell to your chest it is at around nipple level – and adjust the bar to the right height.
• Add the desired weight plates to each end of the barbell.
• Lie flat on the bench with your feet planted on the floor and grip the bar with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip on the bar.
• Rotate your wrists to unrack the barbell then slowly lower it down to your chest by bending your elbows. Try to take at least two seconds to lower the bar.
• Pause briefly in this bottom position (to prevent “bouncing” the bar back up) the press the bar back up powerfully until your arms are almost straight (don’t fully lock-out your elbows to keep more tension on your chest to work it harder).
• That’s one rep. For strength gains do three to five sets of three to five reps, resting for up to three minutes between sets. For muscle size gains do three to four sets of eight to 12 reps, resting 60 to 120 seconds between sets.
Why is the Smith machine bench press so good?
The Smith machine offers a couple of advantages over other types of bench pressing. The first is safer lifting. That’s because the catches and hooks allow you to re-rack the bar at any time.
About to fail a rep because your muscles are too tired? Just rotate your wrists to rack the bar and climb out of the machine. If you fail a rep on the barbell bench press you’ll get stuck under the bar. (Unless you have a spotter, or bench in a squat rack and set safety bars at the right height.) This means you can use the Smith machine for more advanced muscle-building training tactics, such as rest-pause sets.
The other main benefit is because the barbell is fixed in a vertical plan it can only move up and down. It can’t move forwards or backwards, like a barbell can. So you don’t need to recruit as many stabilising muscles to control the path of the bar. This allows you to lift heavier more safely to work towards increasing your max barbell bench press lift.
Is the Smith machine bench press better than the barbell bench press?
It’s not the case that one exercise is necessarily better than another. When wanting to build a big chest you need to use a variety of exercises that work your muscles in different ways to elicit the results you want. The barbell bench press should feature in any good muscle-building plan or strength-building training programme. As should the landmine chest press. As should the Smith machine bench press.
Is the Smith machine bench press better than the dumbbell bench press?
The dumbbell bench press offers two key advantages over all barbell bench presses, including those done on the Smith machine. One is that you train each side of your upper body independently. So your dominant and stronger side can’t do more of the heavy lifting.
The other main benefit is that dumbbells allow a greater range of motion. In the case of the dumbbell bench press, you can lower the weights down to chest, or even slightly below, chest level. This induces a greater stretch in your pec muscles. And it works them through a wider movement range. Both of these benefits can stimulate fast muscle growth.
These reasons are why it’s so important to include dumbbell variations of the key lifts, such as the dumbbell lat raise or dumbbell biceps curl, in your training plan. It ensure you develop new muscles evenly on both sides of your body. Here’s the best dumbbell chest exercises.
Is the Smith machine bench press better than the machine chest press?
The machine chest press is arguably the safest way to train your chest. That’s because the movement path of the machine is completely fixed. You can simply release your hands from the handles when the weight gets too much.
Most people can also lift far heavier on the chest press machine than for any other bench press variation. But only ever doing the machine chest press won’t maximise the size and strength of your chest. To achieve that you need to do the best chest moves that work your chest in a variety of different ways.
What are the best variations of the Smith machine bench press?
You can use the Smith machine to do all the main variations of the lift you can do with a barbell.
Smith machine narrow bench press
This arms-building variation, also called the close-grip bench press, utilises a hand grip on the bar that’s more narrow than the traditional lift. Place your hands on the bar shoulder-width apart to shift more of the workload on to your triceps and away from your chest.
Smith machine incline bench press
Lying on an incline bench, as you would the incline dumbell bench press, targets the upper part of your chest muscles more than in the traditional lift.
Smith machine decline bench press
Lying on a decline bench, with your head lower than your feet, is similar to the decline barbell bench press because it works the lower part of your chest harder.
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