Fitness Tips

Chest Press Vs Bench Press – What are the Differences? Which is Better?

Rock-like pectorals are one of the fundamentals of a strong and aesthetic physique. It is what separates the neophytes from the veterans, one could say. 

If you take a look at some of the greats from the disco decade, which also happened to be the golden era of bodybuilding, you’ll notice the incredible definition on their pectorals. 

Franco Colombo in particular had a visible cleft between the upper and lower pecs. 

Guess what? These guys could spend an entire day tied to the bench press cranking away.

Cut to today, there’s a fancier and easier way to build your pectorals. It’s called the machine chest press. 

The machine chest press may not give you the boasting rights that racking thrice your bodyweight on the bench press might do.

Why you might even get looked down upon by your fellow gym rats. 

But when it comes to adding definition to your pectorals, the chest press is no muck with the bat. 

The question is, which one’s better for building strength and adding mass, the chest press or the bench press?

Let’s find out. 

What is the Chest Press?

chest press vs bench press

The chest press is an alternative to the bench press which is performed on a machine as opposed to a bench with a barbell. 

The machine, which is usually a hammer strength chest press, can either be called ‘machine press’ or a ‘seated chest press’ or any other random name. It’s one and the same thing. 

As implied by the name, you perform the exercise seated in an upright position. 

The chest press machine typically has multiple angled-handles and the user can select one that they are most comfortable with. 

Apart from comfort, this also allows someone with injury to avoid additional strain on an injured muscle group.

For example, the shoulder.

How To Use the Chest Press

If this is the first time you’ve stepped off the bench, then here’s a brief to-the-point guide on how to do the chest press correctly.

  • Load a comfortable weight. The advantage of the machine is that you can always lift more than what you can do with free weights. It’s safer and you don’t need a spotter. 
  • Sit comfortably on the seat with your back pressed against the backrest and your feet placed flat on the foot rest. 
  • Grab a handle that you are comfortable with and press it forward extending your hands until they are straight. Wait for one second before returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat.

What About Bench Press – What is it?

bench press vs chest press

The bench press is the granddaddy of all chest exercises. It is a compound, upper body movement that involves multiple muscle groups. But it predominantly works your upper and lower pectorals. 

Along with your chest, it requires your lats, your shoulders, your arms and your core to work in synergy. So executing it with good form takes a fair amount of strength and practice. 

Keep in mind, if you have a shoulder injury, doing the bench press may exacerbate the pain. 

But if you are just starting off with weight lifting, the bench press is one exercise that must be included in your workout routine. By using progressive overload and constantly exerting tension on your pectorals, you will be able to build great strength in your arms and add size-able muscle mass to your chest. 

The bench press can be performed either with the barbell or with dumbbells. The barbell version is the more advanced one of the two. 

Different muscle heads can be targeted by altering the angle of the bench. 

The incline bench press, in which the bench is angled at a 45-degree incline, targets the upper portion of the pectorals. 

The decline bench press, in which the bench is angled at a 30-degree decline places you in a downward sloping position. This helps you to target the lower pectorals. 

The flat bench press is the most basic version which targets both upper and lower pecs of the pectoralis major muscle. 

What are the Benefits of using the Chest Press over the Bench Press?

chest press vs bench press

A common argument thrown by detractors of machines is that they do not allow the stabilizer muscles to kick-in.

We’re sure that you might have read something similar on the internet and if you haven’t, now you have.

Well, the fact is that the stabilizer is not a specific category of muscle. It is a catchall phrase used to describe a secondary muscle group that may also be involved in executing an exercise. 

In a barbell squat for example, the entire girdle of the core acts as a stabilizer to stabilize the weight of the bar.

In a bench press, there is no stabilizer muscle per se that comes into play, except for your triceps and your shoulders. 

So any argument that says that a bench press is more effective than a chest press does not hold water. At least not until they can back it up with scientific studies that support this. 

In fact, there are quite a few advantages to using chest press over the bench press. 

  • There’s no learning curve to it. Even a rank beginner can sit on a machine and start working out the pecs. 
  • There’s no set up time. Just load the weight and get going. 
  • It offers better isolation of the pectorals. You can choose the right handle and your shoulder muscles are not even involved in the movement. It’s great for someone with a shoulder injury. 
  • The movement is controlled. You are less likely to cheat. 

What are the Benefits of using Bench Press over Chest Press?

There’s no denying that there’s something cool about walking over to the bench and racking a metric ton of weight and moving it. 

It’s old school and it works great irrespective of whether you are looking to add strength for powerlifting, or for hypertrophy.

Unlike a machine, you are not forced to lift in a strict plane. Moreover, since you can move the barbell all the way until your hands are fully extended, it may contract and flex your pectorals slightly more. Throw in a lot of weight and even that slight advantage can make a huge difference in the results that you are able to achieve. 

Some bodybuilders also believe that free weights better replicate real life, functional movements. 

All said and done, it’s not the be-all, end-all of a strong, aesthetic chest. So if you feel that you are not up to it, you can give it a miss by all means.

Which is Best for Building Size, Chest Press or Bench Press?

bench press or chest press to build size

There’s very little to choose between the two. But we’d go with the bench press purely because it’s more tried and tested than the chest press machine. 

Moreover, you get more angles with the incline and decline variations to target specific parts of the pectoral muscles. 

Another strategy used a lot by bodybuilders these days is to mix the two. They use the bench press as the primary lift for hypertrophy and progressive overload. And then they follow it up with the chest press as a supplemental lift for isolation. 

This way, you aren’t missing out on the benefits of either one and you are combining the two for crazy muscle growth.

My Strength is Low on Bench, but high Chest Press, why is this?

bench press or chest press

According to universally accepted bench press standards (Unofficial), you must be able to bench twice your body weight for your 1 rep max. 

But many fitness buffs discover that they lack the strength needed to lift even close to that number.

On a chest press machine though, they are able to lift a lot more.

What gives? Why are people stronger on the chest press machine than on the bench?

Well, there can be so many reasons for this.

Related: Bench Pressing More Than You’re Squatting?

Is Your Bench Press Form Correct

Your bench press form could be off or totally wrong. Make sure your form is correct.

Chest Press Is Naturally Easier

The very design of the chest press machine makes it easier to use as compared to free weights on the bench.

Ever notice how the weight of the smith machine bar is significantly lighter than the weight of the bench press bar? Same thing applies here, the chest press machine is a guided motion and is attached to the machine. 

Weighs less, not affected as much by gravity, and is a set range of motion.

Chest Pressing more often than Bench Pressing

You might be spending more time on the chest press than on the bench. There are studies that show that if you predominantly lift on the machines, you will gain more strength on the machine than on free weights.

Are You Limiting Yourself

You might have an underlying, undetected shoulder injury that may be limiting your lifts on the bench. 

Which is Better? Chest Press Vs Bench Press

This all depends on what your goals are and where you’re at in your training. Are you trying to become a size monster? If so, then bench pressing is going to be your best friend for building that monster chest.

But what if you are just training to look good, stay fit, and rather not jump on the bench press? Then chest press is going to be the best exercise for your goals. And yes, just chest pressing as long as your intensity is high will be more than enough to grow your chest.

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Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page

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