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Bench pressing either on a bench-press workout machine or using a weighted barbell effectively builds strength and tones your upper body. There are advantages and disadvantages to both the bench-press machine and the barbell. Which one you should do depends on your training level and fitness goals.
The bench press, regardless if you're using a barbell or a machine, primarily targets the pectoralis major muscle in your chest. The pectoralis major is the largest muscle in the chest. When you're doing bench presses, the pectoralis major squeezes your upper arms together towards the center of your body. The bench press also develops the front of your deltoids, which are the major muscles in your shoulder. Your triceps brachii in your arm is responsible for straightening your elbow.
Most fitness facilities offer a couple of different bench-press machines. There's a version where you sit upright and grasp a pair of handles that are set just outside the width of your chest. Adjust the seat so that the handles line up with your chest and be sure your feet are placed firmly on the floor. Push the handles out and away from you until your arms are straight and then control the handles back to starting position. There's also a back-lying machine, which more closely mimics the bench press with a barbell. Lie on your back on a flat bench and adjust yourself so that the lever bar is positioned above your chest. Grip the handles and push them up towards the ceiling until your arms are straight and then lower them back to your upper chest.
Bench pressing with a barbell is considered a free-weight exercise. Instead of the machine dictating the pathway of movement, your own muscles are responsible for coordinating where the weight travels. Lie supine on a flat bench so that the racked barbell is set at eye level. Reach up and grip the bar so that your hands are positioned just outside your shoulders. Dismount the barbell by pushing it off the rack and hold the barbell over the line of your chest with your arms straight. Lower the bar to your chest, stopping it just short of touching, and then push the bar back up to starting position.
If you're just beginning weight training, doing bench presses on a machine will allow you to safely get acquainted with the exercise. Elderly individuals may feel more comfortable on the machine because they don't have to worry about losing control of the bar. Free-weight exercises, like the barbell bench press, are ideal for most serious lifters because they require your surrounding, stabilizing muscles to become involved in order to coordinate the movement. In spite of these stabilizers, there is still a risk that you will lose control of the bar. Therefore, a spotter is recommended when completing barbell bench presses.