8:15 PM EST, November 21, 2012
An independent study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise has found that barbell bench press, the pec deck machine and bent-forward cable crossovers are the most effective exercises for targeting the major muscles of the chest.
The study, conducted by a team of exercise scientists at the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, sought to determine which one of the most common strength-training exercises for the chest is most effective.
"We took nine of the most common chest exercises performed by men and women, and tested which one elicited the highest level of muscle activation," said American Council on Exercise Chief Science Officer Cedric Bryant. "Three exercises (barbell bench press, the pec deck machine and cable crossovers) were far and away the winners in terms of chest muscle activation."
Exercise physiologists began the study using a test group of 14 healthy males ranging in age from 19 to 30. All had prior experience in resistance training. To establish a baseline, a one-repetition max was determined for five moves: barbell bench press, bent-forward cable crossovers, seated chest press, incline dumbbell flys and the pec deck. They also did four exercises that rely solely on body weight for resistance: dips, suspended pushups, stability-ball pushups and standard pushups.
After a minimum of three days of rest, the subjects returned to perform five repetitions of each of the nine exercises, in random order. During each of the exercises, electromyography (EMG) electrodes monitored muscle activation of the pectoralis major muscles.
Compared to the top-performing barbell bench press, the pec deck machine had 98 percent of muscle activation and bent-forward cable crossovers had 93 percent.
All of the remaining exercises resulted in significantly lower muscle activation, with suspended pushups, stability ball pushups and standard pushups rounding out the lowest three.
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