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 improve chest development while developing upper body strength.

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.  

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.

Man Doing Close Grip barbell Bench Press At The Gym

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. 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 [1]. 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.


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.  

Chest Press Overview

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

The chest press machine allows lifters to load up heavier weight with more confidence and without the need for someone to spot them in case of failure. This machine is also perfect to end you upper body training day with high-reps to fatigue your chest in the pursuit of muscle development.

I have seen great results from doing the chest press regularly as part of my upper body training, and I have found that clients also see good benefits.

When Should You Do The Chest Press Exercise?

to strengthen your upper body

When your upper body is strong, everything in life is easier. Whether that is daily movement and lifting objects, playing sports or improving other lifts in the gym. 

The chest press is very effective in recruiting big muscles in the shoulders and back. By keeping your upper body strong you're likely to reduce chance of injuries. 

Improvements to aesthetics

The chest press machine keeps you securely in a stable position and reduces recruitment of stabilizer muscles. If you want to add more volume to your chest workout with the goal of improving chest size, with low risk of injury, the chest press is a great option.

Related Article - Best Upper Chest Exercises To Round Out Your Pecs

If you're a beginner

When you're new to the gym, free weights can be daunting. If you are lacking in strength and are new to training, the chest press is a great place to start.

Once your strength and confidence grows, you'll be ready to move onto the more challenging bench press exercise. 

When You Shouldn't Do The Chest Press?

You want to improve your bench press

If you're training in the sport of Powerlifting or you need an exercise that recruits stabilizer muscles, then the chest press may not be the most beneficial exercise for you.

Your time is better spent doing the movements you want to improve and get stronger at. 

Functional fitness

The chest press machine removes the recruitment of stabilizing muscles that are required to keep your body steady when performing the bench press. 

Whilst the chest press does target the pecs, the small muscles that work with the pushing movement are not being activated, so if functional fitness improvement is your goal then this might be one to miss.

Pros & Cons Of Chest Press Exercise

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.  


  • 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


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

6 Chest Press Variations To Try

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: 

1. 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 [2].  

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

2. Plate-Loaded Chest Press 

man using a plate loaded chest press machine

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. 

3. 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.

4. 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.  

5. 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.  

6. 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 best suspension trainers along with the popular TRX model.

man doing trx chest press exercise

Benefits Of Chest Press

The chest press is one of the best machines to build upper body strength. This machine effectively targets your pectorals, deltoids, and triceps, building muscle tissue and strength.

An added bonus is it also works your serratus anterior and biceps. 

The chest press machine places you in a safer position to improve muscular hypertrophy. If you want to exhaust the muscles and manage overall fatigue, but not open yourself up to any bad injury, this exercise is an excellent choice.

To sum up, the main benefits are:

  • Effectively targets large muscles in your upper body
  • Places you in a safer position for high volume
  • Great for beginners
  • Increases chest and shoulder size.

Bench Press Overview

The bench press exercise is one of the most popular compound movements around. If you mention you lift, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is, "how much do you bench?"

Making up one of the big 3 lifts used in Powerlifting, bench press isn't only for those in pursuit of lifting as much weight as they can. It's also a great exercise for increasing the size of your pecs, shoulders and triceps. 

The bench press is also a versatile exercise as well, you can switch up your grip and the angle of the bench to target different areas of your upper body, giving you a large amount of options to target any weaknesses.

When Should You Do The Bench Press


If you train in the sport Powerlifting the bench press is one of the three lifts you train to lift as much weight as you possibly can.

When it comes to training specificity, you want to spend the most time at the thing you're trying to get good at. Want to work on your strength for Bench? Do plenty of it!

Build explosive pushing strength for sport

Bench press has a good carry over to sports performance, not just for Powerlifting.

Those who participate in sports that involve throwing power, like baseball and football, will see improvements by incorporating bench press into their strength routine. 

Related Article - Best Chest Accessory Exercises

Chest Muscular Hypertrophy

The Bench Press is one of the best exercises for building bigger pecs, due to the high muscle activation and stress the muscles are placed under during this exercise.

Studies show that strength in the bench press and chest size has a strong positive correlation between them [3].

Pros & Cons Of Doing The Bench Press

The bench press is a must do 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. 

I always advise people 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 spotters.


  • 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


  • 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

6 Best Bench Press Variations

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

1. 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.

woman performing barbell bench press

2. 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. 

3. 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.  

4. 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. 

5. 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.  

6. 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

Benefits Of The Bench Press Exercise

There are countless benefits to incorporating the bench press or one of its variants into your workout routine.

The bench press is by far the most effective way to build muscle in your chest and shoulders. This will help improve other pushing exercises such as overhead press.

The bench press can also be modified by changing the bench angle or your grip to target a range of muscles and to improve weaknesses.

Benefits of the bench press include: 

  • Increases pecs, tricep and shoulder size  
  • Builds a more powerful upper body
  • Defined delts 
  • Improved blood flow and bone health 
  • Improvements to sports performance

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is chest press easier than bench press? 

Chest press can be easier than bench press, 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 for the bar to touch your chest while bench pressing, 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. 


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. The bench press is the undisputed king when developing the chest, primarily due to the greater muscle activation and greater range of motion. 





Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website