Chest training tips: chest press vs bench press

It is important to strength train the entire body—front of your body and back of your body as well as the top and the bottom to help. When turning to the chest, lifters usually turn to two of the most common exercises for building a stronger upper body, the bench press and the chest press.

However, these compound upper body exercises aren’t just for men. They also are beneficial for building the pectoral muscles of a woman’s chest, decreasing your bust size and giving a natural lift to your breasts.

Chest press vs bench press

What’s the main difference in how they are performed?

  • Chest press: a machine exercise
  • Bench press: free weights exercise

Machine chest press

The chest press machine is a great option to training your pectorals. The machine balances the weight for you and helps you with correct form.

chest press vs bench press. which to use to train chest?

How to perform

  1. Adjust the seat so that the handles are resting at your chest level.
  2. Keep your feet firmly on the floor while pressing your upper back into the bench.
  3. Press the handles forward until your arms are straight.
  4. With control, lower the handles back into the starting position.


  • Focus on the muscles worked. Since the chest press machine takes care of the stabilization, you are free to focus on your worked muscles.
  • No spotter needed. It’s safer to have a spotter when bench pressing in case you can’t complete a rep. Using a machine chest press eliminates the risk of injury.
  • Lower starting weight. You can start at a lower weight than when doing barbell bench presses where the lightest barbell is typically 45 lbs.

Machine press variations

Smith machine bench press

The Smith bench press machine has the same movement as the Olympic variation, you move the bar up and down. It can help you break through training plateaus, strengthen the pecs and lift heavy loads without a spotter.

You also can train with heavier weights alone because of the safety function of the Smith machine.

Bench press

The bench press is a common strength training exercise that can help develop your chest’s mass and strength. The bench press also works the anterior deltoids (shoulders) and triceps. When performed correctly, the lats, lower back and glutes are also activated.

woman pushing up in flat bench press

How to perform flat bench press

  1. Lay back on the bench press with your feet firmly planted on the floor
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width, and lift it out from the rack.
  3. Lower it down to your chest with control.
  4. Press it back up to straight arms.

You can use dumbbells or a barbell for bench presses. Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion and require greater stability.


  • Allows for free range of motion. Contrary to the machine chest press, the barbell is a free weight with unrestricted movement. This means that you can adapt the movement path to your own body, and almost everyone can find a technique that suits them.
  • Stabilization training. It is up to you to stabilize the bar, which means that you will get extra work for all the stabilizing musculature of your arms, shoulders, and core.


  • Not as beginner friendly. The bench press is more complex than the chest press which means that it has a higher barrier to entry. Also, the thought of getting pinned under the bar can intimidate beginners. In the hands of an experienced personal trainer, however, most people can learn how to bench press with proper form within their first training session.
  • Risk of injury. To mitigate the risks, use safety racks which you can put the bar down on if you can’t complete each rep or you don’t have a spotter to take the bar. Avoid bench pressing heavy weight alone without safety racks set at the proper height.

Bench press variations

woman on incline bench press

You can improve and strengthen your chest muscles and how the bench press benefits your overall upper body strength.

Incline bench press

Incline bench presses focus on the upper chest. It is performed like the flat bench press except the bench is placed on an angle. When performing your reps, focus on squeezing your upper chest together. Instead of touching the bar below your nipples like the flat bench press, touch it between your collarbone and nipples.

This variation engages the front delts (shoulders), triceps and stabilizer muscles.

Decline bench press

Decline bench presses focus on the lower chest. It is performed like the traditional bench press but the top of the bench is angled downwards in the range of 15 to 30 degrees.

This variation also works the triceps and front delts. The decline barbell bench press is a great way to add variation and extra volume to a standard chest routine without compromising the shoulders.

Floor press

A floor press with dumbbells or push ups are good options if you are working out at home and do not have a bench press or a chest press machine.

Benefits of strength training your chest

When you do chest exercises, you activate the muscles underneath your breasts. Doing chest exercises on a consistent schedule builds strength, endurance and definition in your pectoral region.

Building muscle in this area helps lift your entire bust line and keeps it looking perky. As you lose weight, you might notice your breasts getting smaller. By adding a regular strength-training routine, you can help tighten and lift your breasts.

Train additional muscles

When you strength train your chest, you are also training additional muscles like your triceps and shoulders.

Helps with functional fitness

Your chest is involved in every type of pushing movement you do, from pushing a door open to lifting your child or an object from the floor. Training your chest will make you stronger in these everyday activities.

Improve your figure

Chest training will strengthen and tone your shoulders and triceps since all three muscle groups are involved in upper body pushing exercises. It will make your upper body appear to have more shape when you wear tank tops, dresses and athletic wear.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should I lift?

If you are a new lifter, I would do some lighter weights or as many pushups as possible two times per week for a couple weeks, increasing weight and reps as you go. Once you are able to do several 15lb dumbbell bench press reps or 3-5 full pushups (not knee pushups), you’re ready to start with the bar. 

How often should I train chest?

According to the American Council of Exercise, you should train major muscle groups two times a week.

Should I use a barbell or a dumbbell for chest workouts?

Both are beneficial. But if you can only do one, the dumbbell bench press is your best option for developing a powerful chest that’s thoroughly developed — and in the safest manner possible. 

Wrap Up

The chest press and bench press are popular exercises used by novice and advanced lifters to improve their chest and for muscle growth. By incorporating different variations, you are working different angles of your chest, which is a major muscle group.

On chest day, you can use dumbbells or a barbell for chest workouts. Both will help in building muscle, improving your physique, your posture and confidence.

If you are working out at home and do not have machines, you can use bodyweight with push ups as a starting point.

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