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What is a Chest Press?

By D. Messmer
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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A chest press is any compound weightlifting exercise that requires the athlete to use his or her arms to push weight away from his chest. These types of exercises benefit the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles and are at the core of most chest-building regimens. Bench presses are the most common type of chest press, but there are many variations that depend on the equipment available and the specific needs and abilities of the athlete.

Regardless of the variation, all chest press exercises share the same basic motion. The athlete begins by holding the weight and with his or her arms bent at the elbow until the hands are level with the chest. Then, in a smooth and controlled motion, he or she pushes the weight away from the chest until the arms are completely straight. Then he or she slowly returns the arms to their original position.

The first variable that differentiates various forms of chest press exercises is the means of resistance. Athletes can perform these exercises using various free weights, such as barbells or dumbbells. These tend to allow for a greater range of motion than most machines and thus provide a better workout for the stabilizer muscles. Chest presses with free weights require the athlete to hold the weight directly above his or her body, so free weights can be dangerous if a spotter isn't available.

Another option is for the athlete to use one of the many varieties of weight machines to perform chest presses. Many of these machines do not allow for the same range of motion as free weights, but the machine will not allow the weight to fall on the athlete, thus eliminating the need for a spotter. There are some machines, such as cable chest press machines, that do allow for a wide range of motion. These machines often allow the athlete to sit up and perform a vertical chest press, because resistance is created with a pulley system rather than gravity.

A second important variable in chest press exercises is the type and angle of support. Most chest presses involve some kind of weight bench, and these exercises are all a form of the bench press. The angle of the bench in regard to both the ground and the motion of the weight determines the type of chest press and its benefits. An incline bench, for instance, raises the angle of the athlete so that when he or she presses the weight away from his or her chest, the arms move at an angle somewhere between that of a standard chest press and a military press. This puts more stress on the upper part of the chest, giving it a more intense workout.

There are many variations of chest presses that do not use any bench at all. Some vertical chest press exercises that use cables do not require any support; the athlete uses the legs and body to brace himself or herself and to provide the necessary leverage for the exercise. Other variations involve placing the upper back on a balance ball with the feet on the floor to provide stability.

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