Smith Machine Bench Press (Multi-Power Bench Press)
Chest presses can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, a machine, or a Smith machine. A Smith machine can be a good compromise between a barbell and a convergent machine, yet safer than free weights for a beginner. The advantage of a Smith machine bench press is that you do not have to balance the weight, which reduces the need for a partner. Furthermore, the Smith machine has supports where you can place the bar if you get tired. On the other hand, the Smith machine bench press involves a potentially dangerous, unnatural linear trajectory rather than a slightly circular arc, as it does with free weights (barbells and dumbbells) and with most good machines. This might bother some people’s shoulders.
Perfect Smith Machine Bench Press Technique
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Position a flat exercise bench in a Smith machine. Lie faceup on a bench so that the bar lines up with your lower chest (where your nipples are), with your feet set on the floor and your hands a bit wider than shoulder width apart. Grip the bar vertically above your chest with an overhand grip. Take the bar off its support (release the safety hooks) and twist with your hands so that the machine will not lock as you bring the bar down.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Slowly and under control lower the bar down to touch the center of your chest. Press the bar back up along the predetermined path of motion to the arms-extended position without locking out your elbows.
Smith Machine Bench Press Additional Tips & Key Points
- Keep your elbows perpendicular to and away from your body.
- A grip slightly wider than shoulder width will assure maximum effort from all areas of the chest.
- Stabilise by ensuring that your shoulders, head, and hips remain in contact with the bench at all times.
- Do not bounce the bar off your chest or arch your back – this reduces the amount of chest work and risks injury to the chest muscles.
- Avoid dropping the weight quickly.
- After the desired number of reps, rerack the bar.
Replacement Exercises (Substitutes)
To add variety to your chest workout routine, replace the Smith machine bench press with a different exercise that works the same muscles. In other words, you can use dumbbells, cables, barbells, a gym machine or your own body weight to perform the chest press exercise without a barbell. Ideally, the modification or alternative exercise will still work the same type of motion or movement pattern (pressing movement) but in a slightly different manner. This will ensure that your body still gains strength in a certain move, but the exercise is different enough to spur huge gains.
- Flat barbell bench press
- Flat bench dumbbell press
- (Seated) machine chest press
- (Lying) machine bench press
- Chest push-ups
Muscles Engaged in Smith Machine Bench Press
The primary muscles involved in the Smith machine bench press are the pectoralis major, triceps and anterior deltoid (front shoulder).
Main muscles: pectoralis major, triceps, deltoids (anterior)
Secondary muscles: coracobrachialis, serratus anterior, subscapularis
Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids (posterior)
The main advantage of the Smith machine is that it allows you to take the weight from above (unlike the machine bench press), stop at any time in the set (by twisting the bar to lock the machine) and vary the incline of the bench used. The main disadvantage is that there isn’t a need to balance the bar with the Smith Machine and that will lead to underdevelopment in your muscles or lack of development of stabilizing muscles (you are not working and strengthening your muscles responsible for stabilization). Because the Smith machine takes a one-size-fits-all approach, there is additional strain placed on joints, tendons and ligaments to accommodate the straight vertical path. Over time, this can create discomfort or even injury. The second disadvantage is dragging a flat exercise bench under the Smith machine and finding the right position because you have to make sure that the bench is centered in the machine so as not to favor either side.