Q: I’m a beginner. The only chest exercise I do is the flat-bench press. Should I add the pec deck? If so, which type of machine—the one that keeps the elbows bent and the arms flat against the pads, or the one that has long handles out wide?
A: You shouldn’t add the pec deck, at least not for a long while. Yes, most of the pros probably like the pec deck, and some love it. They know it has helped them improve their pecs—but that’s because of their exceptional responsiveness to training, which most people don’t have.
For typical bodybuilders the pec deck is a distraction from the chest exercises that are much more important. The bench press, low-incline bench press, incline-bench press and parallel bar dip are much more productive than the pec deck. The pros are all terrific at some (if not all) of the aforementioned exercises, and that is what developed almost all of their pec mass, not the pec deck.
Once you’ve built almost all the size you want, the pec deck may have value, but how many typical bodybuilders already have sufficient mass?
For example, if you know you have the bench press, incline dumbbell press and pec deck for your chest routine, it’s unlikely you’ll give your best effort to all three exercises. As a result, you won’t train hard enough to stimulate growth. While you train the bench press, you’ll consciously or subconsciously save something for the other two exercises. And even if you’re able to sustain a high level of effort across the three exercises, chances are that you’ll overtrain and still get little or no growth for your efforts.
For a beginner, choose just one chest exercise—the ones best suited to you are the bench press, incline press and parallel-bar dip
Once you have sufficient mass to qualify you to use the pec deck, try both types of machine to see which suits you best. Experiment with changes in the setup of the machines—seat position, primarily—to find the arrangement that best keeps the stress on the belly of the muscle and away from joints and tendons. Use smooth form—no sudden, jerky movements—and avoid excessive range of motion.
Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or www.Home-Gym.com.