By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT ProSource
Add size to lagging pecs without the almighty barbell bench press
Goal: Size, Strength
Everyone worth his salt in the gym will tell you that you need to bench to get bigger pecs. Loading big plates on a bar and defeating gravity for rep after grueling rep is, after all, a fantastic way to overload the target muscles. But is it the only way? For your consideration, we submit the Smith machine bench press as the best potential mass-builder for your chest.
Virtue of the Smith. The Smith machine falls into the "machine" category because it is, well, a machine. But only in that it is comprised of metal and a fixed range of motion. When compared to other mechanical training implements, the Smith far outranks most of its brethren in that it so closely mimics the linear motion that you seek when squatting or bench pressing. We know -- those movements aren't 100 percent perpendicular. But we can all agree that moving the weight up and down with the greatest economy of motion is the key to building strength on either the squat or the bench. The Smith locks you in so that you can safely handle heavy weights on these moves -- no need to worry about balance or to have a spotter nearby to help out. If the weight gets too heavy, you can easily re-rack the bar with a gentle roll of the wrist.
Science doesn't lie. If someone told you that you could be 15% stronger today, would you believe them? Probably not. But the truth is that by bench pressing in the Smith machine, you can see that kind of uptick in strength -- instantly. A study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that lifters were about 4% stronger on the Smith-machine squat and 15% stronger on the Smith bench press than their free weight counterparts. Without having to rely too heavily on stabilizer muscles, your pecs -- and to a lesser extent, your delts and triceps -- can go about the business of pressing, safer and more efficiently than with a traditional bench press.
Build it in. We don't hate stabilizer muscles -- they're important, too. But forcing them to carry the burden too often can be counterproductive to your big muscle agenda. Instead of starting every bench routine with the flat-bench press, try mixing in the Smith version every other week, going heavier than you would normally (about 10-15% heavier is a good start). This accumulation of poundage will pay big dividends down the road.
Mix it in. Instead of an all-Smith bench day, you can simply mix in this fixed range of motion exercise by dividing the workload. If you typically perform four sets of bench presses to start your chest routine, try doing the first two traditional, then head over to the Smith for two. Keep the weight loads heavy to take advantage of all the Smith has to offer.