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A Comparison of Muscle Activation Between a Smith Machine and Free Weight Bench Press

Schick, Evan E; Coburn, Jared W; Brown, Lee E; Judelson, Daniel A; Khamoui, Andy V; Tran, Tai T; Uribe, Brandon P

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - pp 779-784
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc2237
Original Research

Schick, EE, Coburn, JW, Brown, LE, Judelson, DA, Khamoui, AV, Tran, TT, and Uribe, BP. A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. J Strength Cond Res 24(3): 779-784, 2010-The bench press exercise exists in multiple forms including the machine and free weight bench press. It is not clear though how each mode differs in its effect on muscle activation. The purpose of this study was to compare muscle activation of the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and pectoralis major during a Smith machine and free weight bench press at lower (70% 1 repetition maximum [1RM]) and higher (90% 1RM) intensities. Normalized electromyography amplitude values were used during the concentric phase of the bench press to compare muscle activity between a free weight and Smith machine bench press. Participants were classified as either experienced or inexperienced bench pressers. Two testing sessions were used, each of which entailed either all free weight or all Smith machine testing. In each testing session, each participant's 1RM was established followed by 2 repetitions at 70% of 1RM and 2 repetitions at 90% of 1RM. Results indicated greater activation of the medial deltoid on the free weight bench press than on the Smith machine bench press. Also, there was greater muscle activation at the 90% 1RM load than at the 70% 1RM load. The results of this study suggest that strength coaches should consider choosing the free weight bench press over the Smith machine bench press because of its potential for greater upper-body muscular development.

Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, California State University, Fullerton, California

Address correspondence to Jared W. Coburn, jcoburn@fullerton.edu.

© 2010 National Strength and Conditioning Association