Chest Press Vs Bench Press (Best For Muscle Building)

Developing a strong-looking chest is the desire of most weight lifters. Two of the best ways to achieve this are the chest press and bench press. Both movements develop the chest muscles, increasing muscle mass while developing upper body strength.

But, when comparing chest press vs bench press, which one comes out on top? In this article, I’ll show you all you need to know about both exercises and when to use each one.  

The chest press is a fantastic chest building exercise suitable for all experience levels. It mainly targets the pecs, triceps, anterior and posterior deltoids, and several other minor muscles.

It’s popular among beginners as it has a lower starting weight and is a fixed movement. Traditionally it’s performed on a chest press machine but has many variations such as the following: 

Standing Chest Press 

Standing chest press helps target your stabilizer muscles while improving your balance. Muscles such as the rotator cuffs, erector spinae, and abs are engaged.  

This is performed the same as regular chest press but while standing.  

Plate-Loaded Chest Press 

The plate loaded chest press is the traditional way to perform this movement.

It’s brilliant for beginners as it’s safer than a bench press and has a much lower starting weight.

This movement is also great for building strength to improve your barbell bench press. It also allows for iso-lateral movements, so you can work both sides of your chest and improve muscle imbalances.

To perform this movement, sit on the chest press machine and push the handles away from your chest, then return. 

Learn more - Plate Loaded Versus Selectorized

man using a plate loaded chest press machine

Incline Chest Press 

The incline chest press machine is similar to the standard chest press, but the machine is placed at an incline. This is brilliant for targeting the upper chest muscles and triceps.

The incline chest press movement is performed the same as the regular chest press exercise.

Cable Chest Press 

The cable chest press is one of my favorite chest exercises; it creates constant tension across the chest and has a large range of motion.  

The cable chest press exercise is performed the same way as a standard chest press, using resistance cables instead of fixed handles and pressing them forward.  

Seated Chest Press (Stack loaded) 

You can perform the chest press on a machine that uses a weighted stack rather than relying on plate-loaded resistance. This variation is easy for beginners and doesn’t require Olympic plates.

You perform this movement as you would with a plate loaded chest press.  

TRX Chest Press 

TRX chest press uses your body weight as the resistance, allowing you to move in a slow and controlled manner for maximal muscle activation.  

You can adjust the resistance easily by changing the angle of your body to the floor, making the TRX chest press perfect for beginners.

If you're into body weight movements, check out our favorite suspension trainers along with the popular TRX model.

trx chest press

Where The Chest Press Excels & Fails (Pros & Cons)

The chest press is a brilliant way for any gym-goer to add volume to their chest workout without worrying about using a spotter. This allows you to take your chest to complete failure, resulting in muscle growth.

It’s suitable for all experience levels, making it a brilliant exercise to place into most workout routines.  

Pros

  • Lower starting weight is great for beginners
  • Suitable for anyone with shoulder issues
  • Allows you to go to failure without needing a spotter
  • You can use the chest press machine iso-laterally (one arm at a time)
  • Quicker to change weight as you only need to move the pin from one weight to the next

Cons

  • It doesn’t activate stabilizer muscles as much as free weight movements do
  • Requires chest press machine 
  • Generally has a shorter range of motion

Bench Press (Overview &Variations) 

The bench press exercise is one of the most popular movements around. If you mention you lift, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is, "how much do you bench?" It's popular because it’s highly effective at growing the chest muscles.  

There are many variations of the chest press; the most popular are: 

Barbell Bench Press 

The standard of all bench press movements is the barbell bench press. It’s a simple movement that packs one hell of a punch, stimulating the chest muscles and priming them for growth.

You’ll also work your triceps, shoulders, and many other stabilizing muscles.  

Simply lie down on a bench, lift the bar above your chest (in line with your nipples) and press it up and down.

Close Grip Barbell Bench Press 

The close grip barbell bench press lowers the reliance on the chest muscles while increasing the load placed onto the triceps. This is a great way to increase triceps development, such as strength or size.  

To perform this movement, take a narrower hand position on the bar and tuck the elbows into your sides as you bring the bar to your chest.  

Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press 

A wide grip barbell bench press is an excellent variation for focusing on the pecs. Less emphasis is placed on the shoulders and triceps, allowing maximal chest development.

Perform this movement as a regular press, but with a wider grip.  

Related Article - Close Grip or Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns - Which Is Best?

Decline Barbell Bench Press 

Decline bench press focuses on the lower pecs, giving you great looking chest muscle development.  

You can perform this movement by setting up a decline bench and performing the bench press exercise in the decline position. 

Incline Barbell Bench Press 

Incline bench press targets the upper pecs primarily. Upper pec development gives you a barrel-like chest and looks impressive.  

You need an incline bench (15-30 degrees) and press the barbell as you would during a normal bench press to perform this variation.  

TRX Bench Press

This movement is the same as the TRX chest press; the name is often interchangeable. See the previous section for more information.

Want more options to consider? Compare Barbell Vs Dumbbell Bench Press

woman performing barbell bench press

Where The Bench Press Excels & Fails (Pros & Cons)

The bench press is the staple for anyone looking to develop their chest muscles. Not only can you lift a lot of weight, but you’ll have a greater range of motion. But I advise you to use a spotter during this lift as it can be dangerous. The last thing you want is to be stuck under a bar with 220lbs resting on your chest.  

To make sure you stay safe while lifting, review our guide on which lifts require a spotter here.

Pros

  • Wider range of motion compared to chest press machine
  • You can lift a large amount of weight
  • Engages more muscle fibers 
  • Uses many other smaller muscles for stabilization
  • It’s more impressive. Nobody asks how much you can chest press

Cons

  • It takes longer to learn the technique
  • More time-consuming, adding plates, etc.
  • Requires a spotter if you want to max out on the bench press

Chest Press Vs Bench Press: Key Differences Compared

Physical Equipment  

A quick look at the chest press machine vs bench press, and you’ll notice the equipment is somewhat different.

The chest press machine generally provides resistance via a weight stack or is plate loaded and consists of two free moving handles and a fixed back pad. Whereas the bench press consists of an Olympic barbell and a flat workout bench with supports for the barbell to rest on.

The chest press machine moves along a fixed range of motion that doesn’t allow you to deviate from the set movement path. This is great for beginners as they can quickly learn the correct form for the chest press without needing too much guidance.  

It also allows you to fully tax the chest muscles and work them to complete failure without risking injury or getting stuck under a heavy barbell.  

But due to the chest press machine’s fixed movement pattern, your body won’t be required to activate some of the stabilizing muscles. While this isn’t always bad, some users may wish to strengthen the stabilizers for sport-specific movements.  

On the other hand, the bench press is classed as a free weight movement; it moves along the path your body dictates and requires huge amounts of stabilization to perform the exercise correctly. You’ll also need to stop short of failure to reduce the risk of being stuck under the barbell... which is never good.

Close Grip barbell Bench Press

For Muscle Growth & Activation 

If you're looking for muscle growth, then you need to stimulate your muscle fibers enough for them to grow. Both the bench press and the chest press can be used to develop a brilliant-looking chest.

The chest press primarily uses your pectoral muscles and engages your triceps and deltoids. However, because the chest press is machine-based, your body’s stabilizing muscles aren’t involved as they would be for the bench press.  

When performing the bench press movement, your pecs are the primary muscle being worked. However, depending on your incline, grip width, and the depth of your press, you’ll hit other areas such as your triceps and shoulders.

To perform the bench press effectively, your body requires stabilization from smaller muscle groups so that you can expect your abs, rhomboids, forearms, and other muscle groups to be activated.

2010 study found that performing free weight bench press activated more muscle fibers than a fixed movement chest press using a smith machine. While it's not a direct comparison, it demonstrates the effectiveness of using free weights such as flat bench presses.

After looking at chest press vs bench press, either exercise can be used to create muscle growth, but due to the heavy use of stabilizing muscles, I feel the bench press is the winner here.  

Upper Body Strength Development 

After comparing the chest press machine vs bench press for upper body strength development, I found that even though you can ignore your stabilizing muscles and work your chest on the chest press, it doesn't mean you should.  

Your body needs the stabilizing muscles, and without the correct development, you’re other lifts will suffer, and you’ll put yourself at risk of injury.  

Working out with free weight variations such as flat bench press, incline, and decline will help you develop excellent upper body strength that will carry over into many other lifts and sports.  

Even though you can develop great strength using the chest press machine, it doesn’t come close to what can be achieved using a bench press. However, it’s a great substitute if you’re in a position where you can’t train using a bench press.  

Proper Exercise Form  

Proper exercise form is crucial for all exercises; a poor form will almost always lead to injuries somewhere along the line, whether it’s chest press or bench press.  

However, due to the free weight nature of the bench press, you’re more likely to injure yourself than you would be using the incorrect form on the chest press machine.  

The weight you use is extremely important when it comes to proper exercise form. If you go too heavy, your form will suffer, too light, and you won’t work your muscles sufficiently.  

It’s worth considering that the bench press uses a 45lb barbell (unloaded), whereas the chest press will often have a much lower starting point. It’s easy to see why many beginners start building their chest muscles by using the chest press machine; the chest press is generally easier to use.

Safety 

When it comes to safety, the chest press is the safest option for you between the chest press machine vs bench press.  

This is mainly because you need to have a spotter for the bench press to ensure you don’t fail and get stuck under the barbell. While it doesn’t always happen, it can if you misjudge how fatigued your muscles are or if you’re lifting a heavier weight than usual.  

However, the handles are fixed to the machine with the chest press machine and pose no risk to you. If you fail, the handles will stay on the rests, and you don’t need a spotter to help you lift the barbell.  

Another aspect to consider is that the chest press machine doesn’t place as much stress on the shoulder joints. This is because you need less stabilization, but it’s useful for anyone carrying an injury.  

Even though the chest press machine is generally safer, you can still cause yourself harm if you use an incorrect form.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is chest press easier than bench press? 

It can be, but it’s all down to the user. The chest press has a lighter starting point, making it easier for beginners to use. But, as you progress to a more advanced state, you can use the chest press to take your chest muscles to total failure. 

Is bench press enough for the chest? 

The bench press is a brilliant exercise if you want to build muscle. However, I always recommend having a variation in your training. Using the bench press with other movements will add more volume to your workout. 

How do you chest press without a bench? 

The chest press is a machine based chest exercise that doesn’t require a bench but does require the chest press machine itself. But if you don’t have a machine or a bench, you can use a chest press variation such as standing chest press, cable chest press, or TRX chest press.  

You can also read our guide to dumbbell chest exercises without a bench here.

How to activate your chest during bench press? 

I’ve always found that retracting your shoulder blades and pushing them into the bench will help you activate your chest muscles. Make sure you take the bar through a full range of motion, squeeze the chest together at the top of the movement, and slowly bring the bar back toward the chest.  

Should the bar touch your chest when bench pressing? 

While it’s not 100% necessary, I would recommend it. Now I’m not talking about using your chest to bounce the weight off. But, you should be controlling the bar down to your chest, allowing for maximal stretch in the chest muscle fibers. 


Conclusion

After comparing chest press vs bench press, I've found both exercises have a place in your workout routine.  

If you work out alone, have an injury, or are strapped for time, the chest press is an excellent exercise to develop your chest muscles.

However, the bench press is the undisputed king when developing the chest, primarily due to the greater muscle activation and greater range of motion. But proceed with caution; always have a spotter close by to make sure you don’t get stuck under the bar.

Paul J