The Difference Between a Chest Press Machine & a Bench Press

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The chest press and bench press are very similar exercises and target basically the same muscles. However, some key differences exist that make the chest press more effective for some individuals and the bench press more so for others. Both exercises can be part of a well-rounded resistance training program if utilized properly.

Body Position

The main difference between the chest press machine and a bench press is the body position in which the exercise is performed. The chest press is performed from a seated position while the bench press is performed lying down. The rule of specificity of training suggests that weightlifting maneuvers closely replicate movements you perform in real life. While both exercises are performed in the same plane of motion, very few real-life movements require pushing weight off your chest from a supine position, as in the bench press. Many activities and sports, however, require the forward motion of the chest press.


A chest press machine guides the movement of your arms along a fixed path, helping to promote proper technique. A bench press, on the other hand, requires sufficient strength in the smaller dynamic stabilizer muscles in the shoulders to help balance the bar and support the weight.


The bench press is a much riskier weightlifting movement, as the bar is held directly over the chest and neck area. The chest press does not require any weight to be held above the body, and there is little risk of injury in this exercise. Without a spotter, the bench press is not advised. You may recall an incident involving University of Southern California football player Stafon Johnson dropping a barbell on his neck and crushing his larynx, causing him to miss the 2009 season.

Musculoskeletal Adaptations

According to "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning" by Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, free-weight exercises such as the bench press produce better muscular and skeletal adaptations than machine exercises such as the chest press. The greater demand placed on the stabilizer muscles and skeletal system to support the weight in the eccentric phase of the bench press causes both improved muscular strength and stronger bones. As the machine supports the weight in the eccentric phase of the chest press, you will lose some of these musculoskeletal gains.