How to Safely Use the Chest Press Machine

We’ve all heard the expression “don’t skip leg day”, but you shouldn’t neglect your upper body either. Strong legs are only part of the picture.

Your workout should strengthen your full body to contribute to your overall shape, provide proper support for your bones and execute polished movements. Plus, it’s necessary to build and strengthen every muscle group for all-around balance.

People build their pectoral muscles for aesthetic purposes but there are other advantages. Having strong pectoral muscles is especially important for maintaining proper posture. And as a result, the shoulder blade muscles are strengthened, which increases movement in the shoulder joint. A stronger chest and core helps you avoid injuries in the upper limbs of your body.

To achieve that ripped upper body, follow our guide on how to safely use the chest press machine.

What is a chest press machine?

A chest press machine is a piece of exercise equipment that can be used to train your upper body. More specifically, it mainly works your chest, arm, and even shoulder muscles. The chest press machine consists of a seat and handles that are attached to a weight load.

An individual pushes the handlebars forward until the arms are straight. Then the person controls the handles as they return to their original position. Most machines have handlebars that can be moved one at time (isolateral chest press) to work each side of the upper body independently.

There are 3 types of machine chest presses that vary based on the positioning of the seat:

  • Seated machine chest press
    The seated machine chest press is the one you most commonly find at gyms and fitness centers. The seat is at an upright position and at about a 90 degree angle to your legs.
  • Incline chest press machine
    An incline chest press machine is similar to the seated chest press except it’s not quite in an upright position. Often, you can adjust the seat to angle at an incline between 105 to 120 degrees. And, some chest presses are already set up at a permanent incline.
  • Decline machine chest press
    The decline chest press machine has the seat back positioned at an even bigger angle to the floor. Your legs are higher up than your torso and the angle of the back of the seat is at around 200 degrees. While using this equipment, you’re basically almost upside down.

What muscles does a chest press machine work?

The seat position of this machine is key to working specific muscle groups.

The seated machine predominantly works your upper and lower pectoralis major, triceps and anterior and lateral deltoids.

Since you’re leaning back in the incline machine, the muscles targeted are the upper portion of the pectoral muscles, anterior and lateral deltoids and triceps.

With an incline chest press, you’re also not getting the full activation of both the upper and lower pectorals. And, because you’re not using all of your chest muscles, it’s a more difficult exercise. So, try not to overwhelm your body with a heavy weight load.

When your body is angled in a downwards position, the decline press machine works mainly on your lower pectorals, anterior and lateral deltoids and triceps. Again, you’re not getting the full pectoral workout as you would on a seated chest press machine.

Your choice of machine really depends on what part of the chest muscles you’re looking to focus on, and the availability of the equipment.

Using a machine chest press

Before settling into the chest press machine, to carry out the correct form and get the most out of your exercise, you need to ensure that the proper adjustments are made.

For both a seated and incline chest press machine, you should first adjust the seat so that the handlebars are at the middle of your chest. Next, figure out what kind of load the machine takes. Sometimes it’s weight plates, sometimes it’s weight stacks and there are even cable and pulley machines.

If you’re new to the machine chest press, it’s important not to overdo it on the weights. Try to start with about 1/4 of your body weight or less.

Your feet should be firmly placed on the floor, shoulder-width apart or on the provided foot rest. Ensure that the handlebars are always in front of your body and don’t extend your elbows too far back. Make sure your wrist is in line with your arms and that your head and back is in contact with the seat at all times.

Breathe out as you push the handlebars away from you without locking your elbows. The pushing and releasing movements should be smooth, slow and controlled. You can pause for a moment at the top of the range of motion, then inhale and release the handlebars back to your chest. Again, your spine should be in a neutral position against the seat. If you feel like you need to arch your back in order to push the weight load, it’s too heavy.

For the decline chest press machine, the instructions are the same except that your feet are secured in the footrests. This is to make sure you’re only using your upper body to push the weighted handlebars.

If you’re starting out, a good rule of thumb is to perform 3-4 sets of 10. Between each set, take a short break. After you complete a set of 10, you can slowly increase the weight to be challenged but comfortable. That way, you can determine what the optimal weight load is for you, to get the best results safely.

Before using a chest press machine, we do have some cautionary information for you. If you have any shoulder, chest or upper body injury, please consult your physician before attempting to use one. And, if you’re given the go-ahead, always start by lifting lighter weights.