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Smith machine chest exercises and workouts for bigger, fuller pecs

By Lee Thomas
Last Updated on 8th July 2020

Is there anything more satisfying than building a chest so thick that your pecs bulge through your shirt?

Certainly not if you're a bodybuilding enthusiast. After all, bulging pecs and charisma are what made Arnold famous. But is the Smith machine good for chest?

No, the Smith machine is not good for the chest—it's excellent for developing the chest.

young woman bench pressing at the gym

Just think about it for a second. Since you don't have to stabilise the bar, you can devote 100% of your attention to pumping up your pecs. Naturally, this focus leads to a stronger mind-muscle connection. And with a good enough diet, more muscle growth.

So what exercises constitute the ultimate Smith machine workouts for chest?

Let's find out!

Top 7 Smith machine chest exercises

1. Bench press

Why? Because the Smith machine bench press adds mass to your chest more reliably than virtually any other exercise. It's also harder the free weight version (yeah really).

Step 1: Lie on the bench and position the bar so that it's hovering over your lower chest.

Step 2: Squeeze your shoulder blades together, puff your chest out and arch your lower back slightly. Then grip the bar with an overhand grip, a little wider than shoulder-width.

Step 3: Inhale and lower the bar until it almost touches your chest. Your upper arms should make (roughly) a 90-degree angle with your torso.

Step 4: Push the weight back up forcefully by driving your fists towards the ceiling. Fully lock your elbows out and exhale—repeat for 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps.

Tip: Train with the Sling Shot Original if you want to improve your bench press strength while simultaneously reinforcing the proper form [1].

"People talk so much about form—and form is important—but feeling the muscle work is just as important."
Chris Jones
Pump Chasers CEO

2. Incline press

Why? Because the Smith machine incline press removes the balance factor from the equation and allows you to focus purely on hammering your upper chest.

Step 1: Set an adjustable bench to between 15 and 30 degrees—try both positions and see which you prefer.

Step 2: Lie on the bench and then stick your chest out by retracting your scapula.

Step 3: Grab the bar just outside shoulder width and lower it to the middle of your chest. Keep your elbows tucked in at a 45-degree angle as you lower the bar.

Step 4: Descend until your upper arms and torso form a 90-degree angle.

Step 5: Push the bar up explosively and think about driving your elbows together as you lock out the weight. This internal cue—drive your elbows together—will naturally activate more of your inner chest muscle fibres, which’ll also make your pecs appear more proportional.

Step 6: Repeat for sets of 6-12 reps.

Tip: Wear some sturdy wrist wraps if you're lifting heavy. Most people's wrist joints simply cannot keep up with their pressing strength.

3. Decline press

Why? The Smith machine decline press allows you to overload your pecs with more resistance than any other chest exercise.

Step 1: Set the decline bench to a negative 10-15-degree angle and secure your feet by hooking them under the footpads.

Step 2: Grab the bar with a wider than shoulder-width grip and row it down (engage those lats) to your lower chest/upper ab area. Make sure that you’ve got a slight arch in your upper back before beginning the first rep.

Step 3: Lower the bar until it touches your body and then immediately press it back up by punching your fists upwards. Stop just shy of lockout to keep the tension on your chest, and repeat for 3-6 sets of 8-15 reps.

Tip: Only attempt this exercise if your gym has a decline bench with footpads. Otherwise, you'll slide off the bench and potentially cause yourself some serious injury.

"If you are trying to build a bigger upper chest, the reverse-grip barbell bench press is 6x more effective than the barbell incline bench press."
Scott Herman
Fitness Model & Personal Trainer

4. Reverse-grip bench press

Why? Because research shows that the Smith machine reverse grip bench press activates 6x more muscle fibres than the regular incline bench press [2].

Step 1: Set the safety stoppers to just above chest height. You must do this for every exercise, but it's especially crucial for a movement like the reverse-grip bench press, where the form can often be challenging to grasp at first.

Step 2: Grab the bar with an underhand grip at roughly 1.5x shoulder width and ensure that your wrists are straight.

Step 3: Retract your scapula and then lower the bar to your chest while keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Step 4: Touch the bar to your chest and then drive the weight back up. Actively think about bringing your elbows together as this increases inner pec activation. Repeat for 3-6 sets of 8-12 reps.

Tip: Perform the reverse-grip bench press first in your Smith machine chest workout if your upper pecs are a weak point.

5. Push-ups

Why? Because Smith machine push ups add serious mass to your pecs while sparing your joints. If you need a visual reason to prioritise press ups, just look at the guys who do callisthenics. Jacked, aren't they?

Step 1: Set the barbell to knee height and then bend over and grab it with a shoulder-width grip.

Step 2: Shuffle your feet backwards and then tuck your elbows in at a 45-degree angle. Your back and neck should be completely flat (look down, not forwards).

Step 3: Descend until your lower chest touches the bar. Pause for a split second and then press yourself back up by pushing your hands into the bar. You must keep your wrists straight throughout the entire set. Otherwise, you might get joint pain.

Step 4: Repeat for 3-5 sets of anywhere between 8-30 reps—push-ups work like gangbusters at any rep range.

Tip: Wear a simple weighted vest to increase the resistance. Weighted push-ups are the most underrated chest exercise. And, in my opinion, they're actually better than bench presses for size gains (yeah, really).

6. Bench throw

Why? Because the Smith machine bench press throw increases your explosiveness, which in turn increases your bench press one-rep max. This strength then allows you to overload your chest with more weight and stimulate new muscle growth. Works like a charm for gaining size.

Step 1: Set the safety stoppers to just above chest height.

Step 2: Lie on the bench and grab the bar with a thumbless overhand grip.

Step 3: Lower the bar to your chest like you would in a standard bench press, but as you push the bar off your chest, press it out of your hands as high (and as explosively) as you can.

Step 4: Catch the bar in the top position and re-rack the weight. Rest 20-40 seconds and then do another rep. Perform between 8-12 reps in total.

Tip: Research shows that resting between every rep maximises power development. However, you can achieve similar results by performing sets of 3-5 consecutive reps and resting a full 2 minutes between each set [3].

7. Guillotine press

Why? I don't actually recommend the Smith machine guillotine press. It's a terrible exercise. But since I know that some ego-driven people can't help but take a needless risk, here's how to perform the exercise somewhat "safely".

Step 1: Set the safety stops ABOVE chest height. Do not skip this step. Otherwise, the bar could easily crush your throat.

Step 2: Grab the bar with a wider than shoulder-width grip and flare your elbows out at a 90-degree angle (yes, your rotator cuffs will hurt).

Step 3: Lower the barbell (I can't believe I'm saying this) to your upper chest/neck area.

Step 4: Push the bar back up while driving your elbows together. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps—if you insist.

Tip: Avoid this death wish of an exercise. Do the reverse grip bench press instead. It's much more effective for building your upper chest.

Smith machine chest workout routines

Workout 1: Overall mass

ripped bodybuilder flexing his upper body muscles

Performing this chest workout Smith machine style leads to faster muscle growth than doing it free weighted because you don't need to waste precious energy stabilising the bar. As a result, your actual pecs will receive more of the tension, which means that they'll naturally get bigger in less time.

Bench press: 4 x 6-8 reps

Incline press: 4 x 8-10 reps

Decline press: 3 x 12-15 reps

Push up ladder: 1 round

Workout 2: Upper chest specialisation

muscular man performing a bench press with a barbell

This Smith machine upper chest workout focuses on the 2 most proven exercises for bringing up the clavicular head of your pecs—the incline press and the reverse-grip bench press.

We'll finish this simple yet effective routine with some high-rep pump work to ensure that all of the fast and slow-twitch muscle fibres get fully stimulated [4].

Incline press: 5 x 6-8 reps

Reverse-grip bench press: 5 x 8-10 reps

Flat bench press: 3 x 12-15 reps

Workout 3: Strength

male athlete bench pressing at powerlifting competition

As mentioned, if you can increase your chest strength, then you can also increase your chest size. This explosive workout will help you do just that.

Bench press throws: 3 x 3-5 reps

Flat bench press: 4 x 6-8 reps

Incline press: 4 x 8-10 reps

What's the verdict on Smith machine chest exercises?

Using the Smith machine for chest is a great way to shock your pecs into new growth—especially if you've been prioritising the barbell bench press for years, like most people.

Since the pectorals are a fast-twitch muscle group, they respond exceptionally well to heavy weights, deep stretches and relatively low training volumes. So focus on quality sets rather than on blasting your pecs with every bench press variation under the sun.

Anyway, these are my favourite Smith machine chest exercises, and I think it's a pretty solid list if gaining mass is the goal. However, if you have some good suggestions from your time in the gym, then I'd love to hear them. And who knows, maybe I’ll even add them to the rundown!

Until next time.

Lee Thomas
Ey Up! I'm Lee, a Leeds-based strength and conditioning coach who's been helping serious trainees achieve their physical potential for the past 20 years. In my time, I've been a competitive physique athlete and a national powerlifter. I hope you enjoy my exercise guides.
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