Your How-To Smith Machine Bench Press Guide – Why, Form and Tips

Young fit woman performing Smith Machine Bench Press in a blue top and red shorts.

The Smith Machine Bench Press is an excellent way to isolate your pectoral muscles (chest). One of the reasons I like the Smith Machine is I can quickly work my entire chest. Because I can adjust the bench under the bar and maintain the same weight, I can use the machine to hit all parts of the chest (upper, middle and lower), through rapidly working from the incline, flat, to decline. Additionally, the Smith Machine is also nice if you are lifting alone, the machine has built-in safety guards that can be used to serve as your spotter. Since you have a built-in spotter, you can push yourself further than you might otherwise by adding heavier weight or going for additional reps.

The Smith Machine Bench Press can also be great if you have a shoulder injury. Using the Smith Machine provides the same level of activation of your Pectoralis Major as doing the regular bench press. Although, you have reduced activation of your deltoids and other stabilizing muscles (1).

Smith Machine Bench Press Summary 

  • Primary Muscles Worked: Chest; Pectoralis Major and Sternal
  • Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Deltoids and Triceps
  • Equipment: Smith Machine and Flat Bench
  • Mechanics Type: Compound
  • Force: Push
  • Utility: Basic

How to Properly Execute The Smith Machine Bench Press

  • Lie down on a properly positioned flat bench. You should center the bench perpendicular to the bar. You should position the bench should so when the bar comes down it touches your chest and would rest across the middle of the chest (nipples)
  • Plant your feet flat on the floor, and your back and butt firmly on the bench.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. You want the line from your elbows to your hands to be vertical when in the down position.
  • You want to roll your wrist before you unlock the bar so that you have a proper grip after you unlock the bar. You want the bar resting on your palms after you have unlocked the bar.
  • Inhale and lower the bar to the middle of your chest.
  • Exhale while driving weight straight up over chest until your elbows are almost locked.
  • Squeeze your chest at the top.
  • Slowly lower the weight back down to the middle of your chest and do it again.

How to Perform Smith Machine Bench Press

This video is from “MyTrainingApp”, it is not My Training App, even though the app looks good it has too many bells and whistles for me. I use Gym Log+, which is a simple app that I can add my workouts to, it shows me what I did last time and graphs my progress. Although this is the best video on the smith machine bench press I could find.

Smith Machine Bench Press - Chest Exercise

Muscles Trained With The Smith Machine Bench

Target (Agonist) Muscles

  • Pectoralis Major, Sternal

Synergist Muscles

  • Pectoralis Major, Clavicular
  • Deltoid, Anterior
  • Triceps Brachii

Stabilizers Muscles

  • Biceps Brachii, Short Head

Antagonist Stabilizers

  • None

5. Tips for Performing The Bench Press

  1. Work on Form and Control. Starting with this exercise, or any lift you have not performed before, use light weight until you have the full range of movement. Once you can lift with proper extension and contraction, you can begin to push your limits. Having a full range of motion is essential for you to to fully develop your muscles.
  2. Come to a Complete Stop. The bar should always come to a complete stop when it touches your chest. It is vital that you don’t compromise your workout bouncing or jerking the weight up using momentum. Using momentum will take the emphasis off the chest muscles.
  3. Use Proper Grip Width. Recommended grip width is when elbows are same height/plane as shoulders, and subtle deviations can by be used (i.e. 1″ closer or wider). The proper grip will keep the exercise focused on the targeted muscle.
  4. Keep Butt Firmly Planted. Keep your butt planted on the bench and limit the arch in your back throughout the lift. Proper form, not weight, is the key to this exercise.
  5. Do Not Lock Your Elbows. Do not lock your elbows at the top of the movement to avoid injury and stress.

5. Common Mistakes While Performing The Bench Press 

  1. You Lift too Fast. If you perform the action both up and down too fast, it will not allow full usage of all muscle fibers. Using a partial range of motion can lead to bigger-looking muscles, but it can also lead to reduced flexibility and range of motion.
  2. You Grip is too Wide. Too wide of a grip will decrease your range of motion through the shoulders when your elbows are extended and through the elbows when your shoulders are in transverse extension or adduction. Many people do this to try to work the outer portion of the pectoralis. Unfortunately, the wide grip bench press is not as effective as flys for working your outer chest.
  3. Using Too Much Weight. A mistake for many lifters is trying to lift too much weight. Make sure to use a correct weight that will allow you to use proper form and the full range of motion. Do not lift the weight by helping with the hips or arching your back. Improper form (cheating) will not allow all your chest’s muscle fibers to be used.
  4. Bouncing. You should always come to a complete stop when the bar touches your chest. It is essential that you do not compromise your workout by using momentum to lift the weight or bounce it off your chest. For example, using momentum will take the emphases off your chest muscles and therefore defeating the purpose of the exercise.
  5. Limiting Your Range of Motion. Many lifters do not go all the way down or do not squeeze at the top of the movement. Subsequently, if you do not use the complete range of motion you will use fewer muscle fibers will experience less muscle growth.

Exercise Variations for the Smith Machine Bench Press

One of the benefits of the Smith Machine is that you can adjust the bench quickly under the bar. For that reason, you can perform multiple variations of the bench press quickly on the same equipment.

Additional Chest Exercises

  • Bench Press Machines. There are several bench press machines out there (i.e. Lever Chest Press, Lever Bench Press, Hammer Strength, etc.) that you can substitute the Smith Machine for. These machines also work the chest with a compound movement that targets the Pectoralis Major, Sternal muscle. Bench press machines are safe and will allow you to push heavy weight without the need of a spotter.
  • Barbell Bench Press. The Barbell Bench Press is a compound movement that targets the Pectoralis Major, Sternal. The Barbell Bench Press is a great variation exercise to the Smith Machine Press because as a free weight barbell exercise utilizes more muscle stabilizers required to balance and control the weight during exercise execution.
  • Dumbbell Bench Press. Dumbbell Bench Press has the same movements as detailed above but with dumbbells. Dumbbells recruit additional muscle when training because you need to stabilize the motion by yourself. Arms work independently of one another which can allow a deeper stretch at the bottom of the movement.
  • Cable Bench Press. Cable Bench Press is another compound movement exercise that targets Pectoralis Major, Sternal. This exercise is unique because it allows you to start with a wider grip and deeper stretch at the bottom of the movement and a closer grip for the squeeze at the top. The other pluses, your arms work independently of each other and on the negative part of the movement, you can hold the tension for more muscle development.

Good Exercises to Perform Supersets with the Smith Machine Bench Press

  • Incline Dumbbell Fly. The Incline Dumbbell Fly is a great complimentary exercise to the Smith Machine Bench Press because (1) it targets the upper part of the chest rather than the middle chest and (2) as a free weight exercise the movement utilizes more muscles to balance and control the weight.
  • Decline Barbell Bench Press. The Decline Barbell Bench Press is a compound movement exercise that is a great complimentary exercise to the Smith Machine Press because (1) it targets the lower chest as opposed to the middle chest and (2) as a free weight exercise it utilizes more muscle stabilizers required to balance and control the weight during exercise execution.
  • Dumbbell Pullover. The Dumbbell Pullover is an advanced movement that when performed properly will hit the chest at different angles and employ muscle fibers not normally recruited standard chest building movements like the Smith Machine Bench Press.
  • Dips. Dips work the lower and upper chest muscles. Dips are a push-up exercise done in a standing position with a wider grip bar used than when working the triceps. Dips can be completed with using your own body weight or adding a weight belt or dumbbell at the ankles. Even though the triceps, biceps, and shoulders get involved in this workout, following the right technique assures that the chest muscles get targeted.
  • Cable Crossovers. Cable crossover is an isolation movement directly targeting the Pectoralis Major, Sternal. Correct form using a hugging type of movement is essential when performing this exercise. Cable Crossovers has a great negative movement that employs more muscle fibers when returning to starting position. Like with most fly exercises it’s a lighter weighted isolation movement and should be performed after the heavier compound chest lifting exercises.

Training With The Smith Machine Bench Press

You should have the knowledge to know if the smith machine bench press is right for you. It is a great chest building exercise, but it did not make the cut for the Top 5 Chest Building Exercises. However, because the Smith Machine Bench Press has a controlled movement with safety locks you can use heavier weights and can be great when you are training alone. Why do you or don’t you train with the Smith Machine Bench Press?

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