If I rack my brain for long enough, I can think of literally hundreds of different Smith machine exercises. However, out of the countless Smith machine chest exercises that come to mind, none are more hotly debated the than Smith machine bench press.
In fact, the way that some people argue over its merits, you'd think that the exercise was a candidate for prime minister or something...
But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter whether you opt for the Smith bench press or stick to the free weight version. What matters is that you train consistently and progressively.
Now, that said, there are some crucial Smith machine vs free weight distinctions that you need to keep in mind. But, before we get into the controversy, let's take a look at how to perform the Smith-machine bench press for the fastest and best results...
No, this isn't a joke—I'm actually telling you to rest longer. You see, I care about your gains, and I wouldn't want you missing out on any wonderful muscle growth.
Specifically, you should aim to rest at least 3 minutes between sets of Smith machine chest press.
But don't take my word for it—trust the scientists instead. They took ten Brazilian men and made each of them perform 5 sets of Smith machine flat bench press at 60% of their respective one-rep maxes (poor sods). The catch is that one group only got 90 seconds rest, while the other group received a full 3 minutes of recovery time. 
Unsurprisingly, the lads who got 3 minutes of rest were much stronger on their subsequent Smith machine barbell press sets than those who only got 90 seconds. Plus, they showed far fewer signs of fatigue. 
So, the moral of this scientific story is to rest at least 3 minutes while using the Smith machine for bench press. Otherwise, you're probably leaving a lot of upper body gains on the table.
Ok, so unless you're Eddie Hall, then you probably can't pull the bar apart in a literal sense.
But you should try to. Why?
Well, let me ask you this: if you were building a big, medieval-style castle, would you rather construct it on solid foundations, or on shaky foundations?
Since you're smart enough to operate a smartphone or computer, I'm going to presume that you went with strong foundations. Am I right?
Ok, good stuff. Well, did you know that a strong foundation is just as important for the Smith-machine bench press as it is for your hypothetical castle?
If you bench without a strong foundation (tight upper back) then (1) you'll be weaker because you'll have to lower the bar further, and (2) you'll strain your rotator cuffs, because they won't have as much room in their socket to move about .
But, when you actively try to pull the bar apart, something magical happens—your pressing foundation turns rock-solid.
Go on, try it! Raise your arms out in front of you as if you were gripping a barbell. Then, actively try to bend that bar in half with all of your might.
Let me guess. Your upper back got tighter, and your elbows naturally became tucked?
That—right there—is the power of proper technique. Expect your Smith machine chest press strength to go through the roof if you haven't been consciously using this cue.
If you had one opportunity to punch your arch-enemy in the face with no repercussions, would you hit them with a bent wrist, or would you hit them with a straight wrist?
Now, I don't condone violence of any kind (yes, even if they stole your pencil sharpener in year 7), but I think we both know that the answer is the later—the straight wrist blow.
So, why not use the same technique for your Smith machine bench presses? After all, the exercise is essentially a two-handed punch.
Not only do you leak precious power by bending your wrists while pressing on a Smith bench machine, but you also place your wrist joints under tremendous strain. Don't do it.
Whether you use a Smith machine or free weights for bench pressing, you'll still work the same muscles. So here's a list of all the muscles worked in a bench press from most active to least active:
Performing the bench press Smith machine style is the safest ways to blast your chest without a spotter because you can re-rack the bar at any point during a rep with a simple wrist turn.
Also, being able to do the bench press on Smith machine stations is extremely helpful for beginners because there's no risk of getting pinned under a loaded barbell. Novices can learn the proper bench form with complete peace of mind, enabling them to train harder.
Training to failure is one of the fastest ways to accelerate your muscle growth naturally because it recruits all of your motor units (the cells that make a muscle contract).
However, the barbell bench press isn't suited to failure training unless you have a sturdy power rack. After all, you could easily get stuck under the barbell or wreck your rotator cuffs by veering away from your initial bar path (and that's to say nothing of the pain that dropping a barbell onto your chest would cause you).
But with the Smith machine, you'll naturally develop a sculpted chest in less time because you can train to failure in complete confidence.
Can't lock out that final rep? No worries, the bar hooks—all 10 of them—are there for you.
Accidently drop the barbell? Don't panic; the safety catches have got your back.
So, as you can see, benching on Smith machine systems in not only safe but also very effective.
This one's interesting. Some research shows that lifters have a higher one-rep max on the barbell bench press than on the Smith-machine bench press. However, this study only used 12 people. So who knows, maybe these lads were just used to doing free weight bench presses?
Now, this strength disparity could equally be down to the fact that the triceps become more active when you arc the bar backwards slightly during a bench press, which is another so-called best-practise. Obviously, this isn't possible unless you perform an angled Smith machine bench press, which doesn't have much of a benefit if you ask me.
How about my bench press strength?
In fact, when I first switched over to the flat bench Smith machine press, my one-rep max shot up by a full 10kg, and my chest started to fill out more. The size gains were probably due to the stronger mind-muscle connection that I always seem to get from bench press machine exercises.
As mentioned, some lifters naturally have a lower one-rep max when they bench on Smith machine systems than when they bench press with barbells. Therefore, it's worth testing your strength on both exercises to see which you're more suited to.
However, just bear in mind that, if like most people, you're used to performing the barbell bench press, then you might not be able to record a true one-rep max on the Smith machine version right away. This is simply because your body isn't accustomed to the exercise. But give it a few weeks, and you'll likely see some significant strength gains.
Which achievement would you most like to accomplish, developing a thick, muscular chest, or building up an impressive bench press one-rep max?
If, like me, your main goal is gaining size, then don't worry about the Smith-machine bench press's relatively poor free weight carryover. Why?
Well, if you examine the chest routines of many of the world's best bodybuilders, you'll discover that many of them don't actually perform the barbell bench press at all.
Since their sole physique aim is to get as big as humanly possible, they simply do the exercises that provide the most potent stimulation for their pecs.
As if adding up the weight on each side of the bar wasn't difficult enough for a meathead, modern Smith machine manufactures are now forcing him to factor the bar weight into his calculations!
Figuring out the true Smith machine to free weight conversion is hard at the best of times— but it's near impossible when your Smith machine doesn't list its actual bar weight, which, in my experience can be anywhere from 3kg-25kg.
As a result, you can quickly gain a false sense of strength if you simply presume that the bar weighs 20kg, like an Olympic barbell.
This inflated confidence could then cause you to attempt the same weight on the barbell bench press and potentially injure yourself since it's unlikely that you'd have developed enough stability to create a perfect 1:1 Smith machine free weight conversion.
But don't tell our meathead friend any of this. Otherwise, the poor lad will fly into a fit of roid rage!
Performing the incline Smith machine press is the best way to improve a lagging upper chest because you can devote 100% of your attention to the working muscle.
Unlike the barbell version, you don't need to waste valuable energy stabilising the weight, and you most certainly don't need to burden yourself with an incompetent spotter— you simply unrack the bar and lift.
Building a big upper chest has never been easier.
If you want a fun and challenging exercise to finish off your pecs after a chest workout, then give Smith machine push ups a try. Here's what I'll typically do: I'll start out with the bar low, rep out to failure, and then keep increasing the bar height until my pecs are thoroughly pumped, or until I'm basically just pushing in a vertical position.
You can also wear a weighted vest to make this extended drop set even more effective.
Is your chest lacking that critical mass and thickness? If so, you might want to take the decline Smith machine press for a spin and see how you like it. You can lift very heavy weights on this exercise (more than on any other bench press variation), and it's excellent for adding a foundation of muscle to your pecs. I always do a few sets of decline (at least) whenever I bench press with Smith machine systems or free weights.
Now it's time for the ultimate fitness face-off: Smith machine vs free weight bench press—which is better and why?
Ok, let's start from the ground up. If you're a beginner—and your main goal is to gain muscle mass—then the Smith machine bench press is better than the free weight barbell bench press because you don't have to stabilise the bar. This makes it easier to learn the proper form and also enables you to lift safely without a spotter.
It's is definitely one of the biggest Smith machine bench press benefits that I can think of for a novice.
If you're an intermediate or advanced lifter whose primary goal is also to gain muscle mass, then I'd say that the Smith machine bench press is still the best choice because you can focus 100% on hammering your chest—no need to waste valuable energy on stabilising the weight .
Ok, now let's address the elephant in the room: which is safer?
Many people argue that the Smith-machine bench press is unsafe because it forces your body into so-called "unnatural positions". While I don't think the Smith bench press is bad for your joints, I'll definitely agree that it's unnatural. But so is every other bench press variation!
After all, what exactly is "natural" about lowering a heavy barbell over your head and chest in an attempt to grow bigger pectoral muscles for no other purpose than to impress people?
So, neither exercise is particularly natural. However, the Smith machine bench press is much safer than the barbell bench press because you can re-rack the bar at virtually any point during a set with a simple turn of the wrist. Also, you can't accidentally bring the bar too far forwards or backwards and mess up your rotator cuffs.
The only way that a free weight bench press is superior to a Smith machine chest press is if you're a powerlifter.
Is doing the chest press Smith machine style really a good idea? What's the true Smith machine bench press conversion? I'll answer these questions—and many more—in my Smith machine and bench press FAQ.
The Smith machine bench press is a machine-based upper body exercise that primarily works your chest, shoulders and triceps muscles.
No, if you deploy the safety catches and use proper form, the Smith bench press machine isn't bad.
Yes, there are many amazing Smith machine bench press benefits such as enhanced safety, increased muscle stretch and quicker chest development.
Some people like to think of the Smith machine flat bench press as an "assisted bench press". However, I don't personally see the exercise as an assisted bench press because you're the only person who's lifting the weight—the machine won't do it for you.
It's hard to come up with an exact Smith machine bench press equivalent because some lifters are actually stronger with free weights. Personally, though, I find that I'm about 10kg stronger while benching on a Smith machine. See above for an in-depth smith machines vs free weights comparison.
For me, yes. However, if you're used to free weight bench pressing, then there's a very high chance that you'll be stronger on the barbell version. Check out my Smith machine vs bench press weight comparison above for more info.
I'd say that the ratio is roughly 1:1 for most people. So if you can lift 100kg on the Smith machine, then you can probably lift 100kg with free weights, +/- about 5%. So no need to use a fancy Smith machine bench press calculator (if one exists) or anything like that.
When you consider the Smith machine bench press bodybuilding wise, it's one of the most effective chest builders out there because it enables you to focus purely on the working muscle.
Slightly wider than shoulder-width is the optimal bench press grip if it's chest development that you're after—but don't go any wider than that. Because studies show that gripping wider than 1.5x shoulder-width can increase your injury risk—and then you won't be doing any bench pressing .
When I'm performing the bench press Smith machine style, I like to use a horizontal angle or a slight incline (about 15°). These angles enable me to keep the majority of the tension on my chest and prevent my shoulders from taking over the movement.