How to Use a Chest Press Machine: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Targets: Pectoral muscles (chest)

Equipment Needed: Chest press machine

Level: Beginner

The chest press helps build the pectoral muscles while also working the biceps, deltoids, and latissimus dorsi. The seated chest press is an upright version of the lying bench press and a great addition to an upper-body strength workout. Here is what you need to know about performing the seated chest press using a chest press machine.

How to Do a Seated Chest Press

man doing seated chest press

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After setting the chest press machine at the desired weight, sit with your feet firmly on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. If the seat is adjustable, ensure that its position allows your arms to be horizontal when fully extended. Here is how to perform the exercise.

  1. Grasp the handles with a full grip, your thumb circled around the handle.
  2. Maintain a neutral wrist position with your wrists in line with your forearms.
  3. Exhale and push outward until your arms are fully extended (don't lock the elbows).
  4. Keep your head steady against the back support during this movement and your neck still. You should feel resistance against the horizontal push.
  5. Pause briefly at full extension.
  6. Bend your elbows and return to the starting position, breathing in during this recovery.

If this is your first time using a chest press machine, place a lighter load on the weight carriage. If you are unfamiliar with a particular machine, don't hesitate to ask a trainer or gym attendant for help.

Benefits of the Seated Chest Press

This exercise targets the pectorals, the main muscles of the chest. These are the same muscles you use when pushing a grocery cart or to get up off the floor.

Developing the pecs is an aesthetic goal for many people. It's also important because strength in these muscles decreases with age, potentially increasing your injury risk while decreasing your mobility and quality of life.

The chest press machine also recruits the biceps and the big muscles of the shoulders and back. That makes this exercise especially beneficial for those who participate in sports that involve the swinging of a bat, racket, or club.

Seated Chest Press vs. Bench Press

The seated chest press machine removes the recruitment of stabilizing muscles that are required to keep your body steady when performing the bench press. This means, you are targeting the chest muscles, but not the muscles that work with the chest to perform pressing movements. For functional fitness, this could be less desirable.

However, if you want to add more volume to your chest workout without tiring additional muscles and managing overall fatigue, the seated chest press is a good choice. Additionally, the bench press recruits more overall muscle fibers in the chest than the machine.

Other Variations of a Seated Chest Press

You are somewhat limited in the different ways you can perform a seated chest press on a machine, but there are a couple of modifications you can make.

No Weights for Beginners

If you are new to this exercise, begin with no weight until you learn proper form. Then add small increments of weight until you reach the amount you can press for eight to 12 reps with good form. As you build muscle, you will be able to increase the weights used.

Single-Arm Seated Chest Press

You can make the seated chest press more difficult by pressing one arm at a time. Follow the same steps as you do for both arms but just use your right or left arm to push the weight. Remember to do the same on the other side to keep your muscles balanced.

Seated Chest Press With Different Equipment

The same exercise can be performed on a bench using either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, as well as on a cable machine or suspension trainer. As each will have a slightly different action, changing up your equipment is a good way to vary your chest press routine.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to get the most benefit from this exercise and avoid injury.

Elbows Too Far Back

Don't stress your shoulder joint by extending your elbows too far back when grasping the handles. A little extension is OK, but the handgrips should always be in front of your body line.

Injuries can easily occur if you hyperextend the shoulder while bearing even moderate weight. Oftentimes, the machine is designed so it has a catch that won't allow this overextension. Ensure that it has been set correctly or ask a gym attendant to check this for you.

Explosive Movement

When pushing the bar, your movement should never be explosive. Keep your movements steady and controlled, both as you push and release. If needed, count "one-two" when pushing, pause, and then count "one-two" as you release. Never rush.

Arching Back

Keep your back and shoulder blades against the back support. If you find yourself arching your back when you push, you are pressing too much weight. Reduce the weight so that you can push with effort but without arching the back.

Safety and Precautions

Talk to a healthcare provider or physical therapist about whether this exercise is appropriate for you if you have had an injury to or recent surgery involving your chest muscles or shoulders. If at any time you feel pain in your arms, shoulders, or chest, end the exercise.

Be sure to take the time to adjust the machine to fit your torso and arm length. Ensure that you have set the levers to prevent overextending your elbows and shoulders. Check the weights selected so you aren't lifting too much.

To begin, try three sets of 10 reps. Start with less if you have to, always listening to your body to avoid injury. Try different weights until you are able to push and release slowly for about 10 repetitions. The last repetition should always feel a bit difficult. Rest for a few minutes between sets.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Parrino R, Strand K, Hockman A, Signorile J. Leg press and chest press strength normative values by half-decades in older persons. Exp Gerontol. 2021;150:111401. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2021.111401

  2. American Council on Exercise. Chest Isolation Exercises: 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises

  3. Smereck JA, Papafilippaki A, Sudarshan S. Acute chest pain after bench press exercise in a healthy young adultOpen Access Emerg Med. 2016;8:73–76. doi:10.2147/OAEM.S114310

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.