Today’s gyms are equipped with a multitude of machines which allow the trainer to hit the various areas of the pectorals (chest muscles) with relatively no pain or balance. You can hop on any device in the gym and pump, pump, pump to your heart’s content. The problem is that you’re probably not going to build that much muscle as a result. You’re going to fill it with blood, and you’re going to feel like the strongest man in the gym inserting that pin and moving the stack.
But the bodybuilder across the gym repping out with 225 on the bench press is going to be making better gains.
Chest machines are highlighted as a safe, efficient way to build a chest. There is a problem with that. They are safe, but not nearly as effective, no matter host much better they may feel than free weights. The pain and balance are the two factors in training that lead to the most raw muscle growth. The easier an exercise is, the less you are going to grow. The tougher an exercise – the more pain you experience – the more you are forcing your muscle fibers to grow.
Let’s get started on a standard chest workout. You may be initially drawn to the wide variety of machines your gym offers. Exercises such as wide grip push press and incline 90 degree machine flyes might sound exciting, innovative, and revolutionary. The truth is, they are nothing more than a set resistance along a certain path. Researchers can work to find a better path for the muscles to take to facilitate growth, but the bottom line is that you’re doing less work, by definition.
How is this possible? Well, when you train with standard weights, your body is forced to balance and control the weight for the entire movement.
Failure to do so can result in serious injury. An ability to do so requires you to control the weight, which activates stabilizer muscles not utilized during your machine exercises. This is where the difference lies. Heavy weights require muscle activation not seen with machine movements, which leads to growth you don’t see with these same machine exercises.
A standard chest workout – if you’re looking to get back to basics and train using good old fashioned hard work – is going to be located mainly in the free weight area. You’re going to start with some sort of presses (incline, flat or decline) with some sort of free weight (dumbbells or free weights). After eight sets of full presses using two exercises, you’ll move on to some fly variety. These can be incline, flat or dumbbell as well.
Finally, your fourth exercise will consist of a pullover or other movement which will allow you to utilize higher repetitions.
It’s acceptable to use these exercises – comparatively painless and certainly quite safe – at the conclusion of a training day when you’re just looking to keep blood in the muscle group after completing a grueling workout. However, to spend your early sets of a workout on a machine is foolish, and something you’ll never see a champion bodybuilding doing.
Be smart – train using the basics to build up the most possible chest mass.