Pec Deck vs. Chest Press

Male arms raising barbell, athlete doing bench press exercise, fitness club

Don't waste your time training your chest with less-than-effective exercises. Push-ups are great when you have no equipment or space, but if you're looking for real muscle-building, choose either the pec deck or the chest press.

The pec deck has the convenience and stability of a machine while the chest press is an old standby. The differences between the two don't end with execution. The pec deck is an isolation exercise, working just one joint, while the bench press is compound, which means it utilizes multiple joints.

The one you choose depends on the goals of your particular workout. Both offer great benefits, though, so it's hard to go wrong with either.

Muscle Activation

The pec deck looks like a pillar to which a seat, back rest and levers are attached. You sit in it and pull the levers to you with bent elbows or straight arms.

Handsome young man using the pec deck machine to work on his muscles at the gym

The chest press is one of the best ways to train your chest.

This exercise uses just your shoulder joint for movement, so it really isolates the pectoralis major — particularly the middle and lower region, known as the sternal head. The pec minor, a smaller chest muscle that lies under the pec major, and the serratus anterior, mucles along the upper rib cage, assist. But, the move primarily just targets the chest.

The chest press has you lie on your back on a workout bench and press dumbbells or a barbell up and down above your upper ribs. This move requires your chest to do some serious work, but also involves the triceps at the back of your upper arms and the fronts of the shoulders. Unlike the pec deck, your shoulders and elbows are working, making it a compound exercise that targets more than one muscle.

When Your Chest is Your Priority

When your chest is your No. 1 priority, either move will benefit you. The chest press was deemed the "best" activator of the pectoralis major in a study published by the American Council on Exercise in 2012. But, the pec deck followed closely, with 98 percent as much effectiveness in targeting this muscle.

Ideally, on a chest workout day, you'd include both moves as well as a decline press to target the lower chest and incline flyes to target the upper portion of the chest.

Handsome young man doing Dumbbell Incline Bench Press workout in gym

The chest press is one of the best ways to train your chest.

Comprehensive Workouts

If you're interested in building your chest, but also want to work the rest of your major muscles in one complete workout and have minimal time, stick to the chest press. For good health and muscle tone, you can get away with just two total body strength-training workouts weekly.

At these workouts, you do eight to 12 reps of a move for every major muscle, including the chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs, hips and abs. Because you've got a lot of ground to cover, you want moves that give you the best coverage in the shortest amount of time.

Multi-joint, or compound, moves such as the chest press are ideal. You stimulate more muscle growth by engaging the most muscles possible in one move. Other compound exercises to include in a total body routine are squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and bench dips.