Smith Machine Decline Press


Smith Machine Decline Press

Smith machine decline press is another very valuable lower chest exercise. The movement in the Smith machine decline press is the same as in the basic exercise (Smith machine bench press), but the bench is set at an decline of around 20 to 40-degrees. As in the case of the decline press with free weight (barbell, dumbbells), the pectoral muscle remains in demand, but the work is shifted to the lower (sternal head) fibers and the shoulders.

The advantage of the Smith machine (multi-power machine) is that it removes the problem of balancing the barbell or dumbbells, which can affect the success of the workout. This makes the multi-power variant enormously effective, especially for beginners.

A Smith machine decline press is extremely valuable exercise, however, since it lets you develop your lower pecs far better than you can with a flat or incline bench. You will be slightly stronger in a decline press than in a regular bench press, in large part because the range of motion is smaller in a decline press. You will be the weakest during an incline press because the angle of attack for the chest is not as favorable, and the triceps are recruited less. Decline presses are similar to dips in that they work the lower, outer chest region. They are a good substitute if you find your front delts doing most of the work during flat bench presses.

Smith Machine Decline Press Technique – Proper Form

STARTING (INITIAL) POSITION: Position yourself (lie faceup) on a decline bench (set to about 20 to 45 degrees) that is positioned in a Smith machine so that the bar lines up with the lower part of your chest. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip that is slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Release the safety hooks and lift the bar off the supports and hold it over (above) your lower chest with your arms straight (extended). Secure your feet underneath the ankle pads.

Smith Machine Decline Press

MOVEMENT (ACTION): Bend your elbows to slowly lower the bar to your chest. The bar should nearly touch your lower chest. Press the bar up to full arm extension, stopping just short of elbow lockout. Your forearms should move perpendicular to the ground, and you should keep your elbows away from your trunk.

Muscles Engaged

The primary muscles involved in the Smith machine decline bench press are the pectoralis major (sternal fibers), triceps and anterior deltoid (front shoulder).

  • Main muscles: pectoralis major (lower part – sternal head), triceps, deltoids (anterior)
  • Secondary muscles: pectoralis minor, coracobrachialis, serratus anterior, subscapularis
  • Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids (posterior)

Smith Machine Decline Press Additional Tips & Key Points

  • Lie back on bench with head at a thirty-degree decline. Avoid increasing the angle (or the tilt) to prevent overloading the shoulder joint.
  • The head lies on the bench. Avoid letting the body slide down. Place the feet on the bench for a greater feeling of stability at high loads, or flex the knees in the air above the navel. Do not lift your head up and do not bridge or arch.
  • Hold the bar in a wide closed overhand grip at slightly more than shoulder width. A wide grip works more on the chest muscles, while a narrow grip focuses work more on the triceps because the dominant joint is the elbow and not the shoulder.
  • The lower pectoral is best targeted at a decline of 20 to 40 degrees to the floor. Steeper declines shift the focus from the chest to the triceps.
  • The greater the decline angle, the more weight you’ll be able to use (to a point) due to the decreasing range of motion.
  • Range of motion and performance: Extend elbows and lower the bar in a slow, controlled movement. Avoid hyperarching lumbar lordosis.  Body position does not change while performing the exercise. Lower the bar to about a centimetre above the upper part of the thorax without letting the bar touch the chest. Lower the bar to a 6-count while inhaling, and raise it back up to a 4-count while exhaling, until arms are straight.


  • Bench should never be set at a decline of more than about 35 degree.
  • It is not advisable to work out intensely for prolonged periods with the head below the level of the heart (this is because the human body is not designed for effort in an inverted posture).

Substitutes (Replacement Exercises)

Decline press can be done with a bar (barbell), dumbbells, a machine, or a Smith machine (shown in this post). You need to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each version to choose the version (or versions) that will work best for you. 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.

Closing Thoughts

Smith machines are great for building functional strength in your chest muscles. They seems to be a safer way of performing the decline press than the regular way because you are able to disengage the bar safely at the end of each set.

The main advantage of a Smith machine decline 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 decline 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.

Exercises performed on the Smith machine can encompass all parts of the pectoral muscle by adjusting the back rest to the desired angle (decline/incline/flat). Performing a chest press at an incline or decline involves the same muscle groups, and movement analyses are similar. The difference lies in the load distribution on the various motor units (nerve and muscle fibers) in each muscle group. A chest-press at a positive (upwards) angle concentrates on the superior pectoral fibers (clavicular head). A chest-press at a negative (downwards) angle emphasizes the inferior pectoral fibres (sternal head).


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