There are a lot of ridiculous things going on in gyms out there, things I feel compelled to speak out about, and against. This week’s rant will focus on the ridiculousness that is the seated chest and shoulder press, in all inefficient iterations.

First of all, anyone who has been a regular (or even semi-regular) visitor to the site knows that I am not a big fan of machine-based exercises. They are inefficient and ineffective and in every way inferior to their free-weight and body-weight exercise brethren. Name a “weight-stack machine” and I’ll give you a better machine-less exercise.

And while not all exercise machines are equally putrid, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with worse exercises than the seated chest and shoulder press machines. Next time you’re in the gym take a minute and watch someone use these exercise machines. A quick set of 10-repetitions followed by a rest period that invariably is too long, repeated over and over. Not a very “exercisey” looking experience.

And then there’s the element of form. Most people figure that since it’s a machine, all you have to do is sit in it and let ‘er rip. There’s no need for any pesky technique or proper form, right? That’s why exercise machines were invented, so there’s no need to worry about form, right again? Wrong, I say, very wrong.

People (read “guys”) rarely have the seat in the proper position, which puts unnatural and excess stress on everything from the wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, etc; rarely work through a proper, full range of motion; almost always have way too much weight on the machine. Whether a weight stack or a plate loaded variety, the seated chest and shoulder press, just like most exercise machines, encourage people (read “guys”) to pile more weight on the machine than is necessary.

In between sets on these machines you see people (read “guys”) going through the whole “my-shoulders-are-killing-me-so-I-have-to-stretch-them-out” routine. Windmilling, pulling the elbows back and stretching the chest, and holding on to something while straightening out the arm and turning away. Gee, do you think the exercises might have something to do with the shoulder pain?

If you want to bench press, use dumbbells, and do proper push-ups. If you want to do shoulder presses, stand-up and use dumbbells. For both of these exercises you can perform one- and two-handed variations, which will have a wide-range of developmental benefits.

The excess weight combined with overall crappy form makes for a worthless exercise. Not to mention the absurd notion that sitting down while pressing your arms out perpendicular from the body is in some way building meaningful strength and developing muscle. The seated chest and shoulder press machines are a lesson in fitness futility.


  1. ditto! I remember when i was competing for a figure competition, someone at the gym asked me my advice on how much weight and reps to do for the shoulder press machine. I told her that I never used the machines.
    It aggravates me to no end to see people use these machines. I’m a personal trainer myself and when I started working at the gym I inherited all these clients that had routines that were exclusively done on machines like the darn chest press. GRR!!! I had alot of work to do, since all these clients had been brainwashed that machines were best.
    I remember one of my clients who had been working out with this trainer for 4 years still couldn’t do a SQUAT or a pushup. Not even a knee pushup!
    I wish these machines would just go away.

  2. Ha Ha, I always thought the same thing. I don’t like machines in general, I believe machines are not very dynamic when it comes to developing beautiful muscle.

  3. So the whole point of this story is to state that generally people don’t set up the chest press/ shoulder press correctly which therefore leads to poor form and potential aggravation of the joints? I would clearly argue that there isn’t a more effective exercise for targeting the Pectorals than a machine based rotary chest exercise like a Pec Dec. When it comes to machines that are set up correctly they are a much more effective and efficient way of targeting a muscle group. Barbell and dumbbell are advanced exercises that require a lot of stabilisation that removes the stimulus from the targeted muscle, an effective advancement but certainly not the be all and end all of exercise.

    • This is so wrong, it’s embarrassing. Targeting muscle groups is a waste of time. Our nervous system is wired to recognize movements, not individual muscles. The stabilization that is required in order to properly perform dumbbell and barbell exercises, standing, is precisely the kind of stimulus every body needs.


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