Which is finest for constructing your pecs: Smith machine bench press or barbell bench press?

Some argue that benching on a Smith machine is simpler to study, helps you to raise heavier weights, and has a decrease threat of harm, all of that are higher for long-term positive factors.

The normal counterargument is that the Smith machine bench press doesn’t prepare as many muscular tissues because the free-weight variation and, thus, isn’t nearly as good for gaining upper-body muscle and power.

Who’s proper? 

That’s what scientists at California State College wished to analyze within the following research.

What Did the Researchers Do?

The researchers had 26 weightlifters do 2 separate exercises.

In a single exercise, the weightlifters carried out 2 reps of the flat bench press at 70% and 90% of their one-rep max. Within the different exercise, they adopted the identical rep and weight tips however changed the flat bench press with the bench press on the Smith machine.

Throughout each exercises, the researchers positioned electrodes on the weightlifters’ pecs, anterior (“entrance”) and lateral (“facet”) deltoids, and used electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activation throughout every set of every train.

What Have been the Research Outcomes?

Muscle activation was the identical within the pecs and entrance delts, however the barbell bench press elevated facet delt activation by 50% greater than the Smith machine bench press.

General, these outcomes again up what skilled lifters have been saying for years: 

The normal barbell bench press will increase muscle activation greater than the Smith machine bench press, particularly in smaller stabilizer muscular tissues that assist the chest and triceps when transferring heavy weights.

The explanation for that is easy.

Once you carry out the bench press on the Smith machine, the bar strikes on a set path all through your entire vary of movement, from the beginning place when your arms are totally prolonged in entrance of you till the bar touches your torso.

Conversely, once you do a barbell bench press (or every other free-weight train), you need to work onerous to maintain the bar from deviating too far in a single route or one other, and that requires many different small muscle teams to pitch in. 

Keep in mind, too, that the researchers solely measured three muscular tissues on this research. There are various different muscular tissues that additionally not directly work to assist stabilize your physique when bench urgent, together with your lats, legs, and even your abs.

The barbell bench press might also have brought on extra muscle activation in these muscle teams.

This research casts doubt on one other argument for benching on a Smith machine, which is that since you don’t need to stabilize the bar, you’ll be able to extra successfully overload the first muscular tissues, just like the pecs.

That’s not what occurred on this research.

The Smith machine didn’t trigger any extra muscle activation within the pecs or anterior delts, as you’ll be able to see on this graph of muscle activation within the weightlifters:

smith machine bench press

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What Does This Imply for You?

At first blush, these outcomes appear to suggest that the barbell bench press is best for constructing muscle than the Smith machine bench press. 

However this isn’t essentially true. 

EMG measurements solely inform us total ranges of muscle activation. Whereas it’s affordable to imagine workouts that activate muscular tissues to a excessive diploma will trigger extra muscle development over time, this isn’t all the time the case.

That mentioned, in case you needed to guess on which train was higher for muscle development primarily based on these outcomes, the good cash can be on the barbell bench press.

And that’s why investing time in studying methods to barbell bench press appropriately typically pays dividends in the long term.

None of this implies benching on a Smith machine is completely with out advantage.

The Smith machine bench press could be good for doing extra quantity (units) to your pecs after you’re already fatigued from doing heavy free-weight presses. It’s additionally helpful in case you’re coaching round an harm or in case you have no different tools accessible. 

In spite of everything, it trains a lot of the identical muscular tissues to an identical diploma, and it’s efficient at serving to you acquire upper-body power. 

Simply don’t make the error of prioritizing the Smith machine bench press over free-weight options, together with the flat barbell and dumbbell bench press and incline barbell and dumbbell bench press