Universal Chest Press vs. Free Weights


Exercises with the universal chest press target your chest, anterior deltoids and triceps. The free weight equivalents, the barbell or dumbbell bench press, work the same muscles. Each choice has distinct advantages and disadvantages. For example, the universal chest press allows you to safely use heavy weights without a spotter, while free weights help you get stronger faster and train tertiary muscles necessary to stabilize the weight during lifts. The option you choose should depend on your exercise goals, strength, abilities, safety and injury concerns.

Universal Chest Press

  • The universal chest press is a resistance machine with a stacked selectorized weight stack running along vertical guide rods. There are two handles in the front, with a flat bench set under them. Using the handles, you press the weight stack overhead in a similar motion as the barbell bench press. The weight is balanced by the machine and the guide rods limit your range of motion.

Free Weights

  • Free weight chest exercises, such as the barbell and dumbbell bench press, make you work harder as you stabilize and control the weights through the entire range of motion. According to a study reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, there is more muscle activity with free weights, and your deltoids kick in strongly as stabilizers. The greater recruitment of muscle fibers induces quicker muscle growth and strength gains.

Ease of Use

  • The comparative ease of use of the universal chest press makes it ideal if you are elderly, a beginner, or simply wish to improve your muscle-tone. The chest press is safer to use as there is little risk of losing control and dropping the weight. If you are recovering from injury, the chest press enables you to gradually work your way back without placing undue stress on your muscles.

Variable Resistance

  • Your muscle strength varies at different positions in the range of movement of an exercise. The universal chest press acknowledges this by providing dynamic variable resistance. This means the resistance varies as you go through different points in the range of motion of the exercise. The universal chest press is engineered so you encounter less resistance at points when your muscles cannot generate much power. It also provides proportionally greater resistance at points of greater muscle strength. This ensures the target muscles work equally hard through the full range of motion of the exercise. Free weights provide constant resistance through the range of motion.

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