Pec Deck vs. Chest Press

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

Don't waste your time training the muscle groups in 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 during the range of motion.

The one you choose depends on the goals of your particular workout. Both offer great benefits and are used by bodybuilders to build muscle so it's hard to go wrong with either.

Pec deck vs Chest Press Muscle Activation

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.

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

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, muscles along the upper rib cage, assist. But, the move primarily just targets the pectoral muscles.

The chest press has you lie on your back on a flat bench and press dumbbells, barbells, or other free weights 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 delts in the fronts of the shoulders, specifically the anterior deltoids. Unlike the pec deck, your shoulders and elbows are working, making it an upper body compound exercise that targets more than one muscle.

When Your Chest is Your Priority

Handsome young man doing Dumbbell Incline Bench Press workout in gym

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

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 of most effective chest exercises 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 chest fly with a fly machine to target the upper chest. You can also utilize a cable crossover

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 repetitions 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 barbell bench press, deadlifts, dumbbell flyes and bench dips. Before starting a workout routine, be sure to consult a personal trainer or physician.