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Do you want to change the shape of your body through exercise? Or maybe you’re an athlete who wants to improve your swing or throw. If so, building your chest muscles can help achieve these results.

But with so many different types of equipment, what is the best one to target this specific part of your body?

While it’s often a matter of personal preference, some people have had great results using a pec deck.

A pec deck is a machine designed to increase strength and muscle mass in the chest. It’s so effective that the American Council on Exercise ranked it as one of the best exercises for building chest muscles.

“The pec deck works both your chest and its supporting muscles, primarily your pectoralis major, which is the muscle that allows you to swing and bring your arms together,” explains Caleb Backe, a certified personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics.

“This strengthens your torso and stabilizes your shoulder blades. Meanwhile, your supporting muscles, like the serratus anterior, are also activated during a pec deck. It opens up and strengthens the backs of your shoulders to allow you to complete the exercise.”

Even though a pec deck isn’t the only exercise for chest muscles, one reason it ranks high is its ability to provide an intense chest workout.

“It’s superior to other exercises that only work the chest as an added bonus,” Backe says. “The pec deck’s primary function is to activate the chest muscles, which can strengthen your overall core and arms.”

Understanding the proper technique can help you avoid muscle injury.

  1. Select the weight for the machine.
  2. Sit on the platform. Press your back firmly against the back of the platform with your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Grab one handle of the machine with each hand. Depending on the model, the pec deck may have a resting pad. If so, place your forearms on each pad. Bend your arms at a 90° angle and keep your elbows at chest level.
  4. Gripping the pec deck handles, pull your arms toward your body while contracting your pectoral muscles. Bring the handles or arm pads in front of your chest, hold the position for a couple of seconds, and then slowly release back to starting position.
  5. Repeat the desired number of reps.

Safety is important while using a pec deck machine. This includes knowing proper breathing techniques to ensure your muscles receive enough oxygen.

Pec deck tips

  • Exhale as you pull the handles toward your chest and inhale as you bring the handles back to starting position.
  • If the workout is too intense, lower the amount of the weight to prevent injury.
  • Your last rep should be difficult to complete, but not so difficult that your body sways or rocks.

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Although pec deck and fly machines work the same muscle groups, and the names are sometimes used interchangeably, there are subtle differences, notes Nick Rizzo, a training director at RunRepeat.com, an athletic shoe review site.

“What’s different is the angle of the elbows,” he says. “With a fly machine, your elbows are significantly straighter than when using a pec deck. This places weight as far out to the sides as possible, meaning, in order to stabilize and move this weight, your body has to recruit a greater amount of muscle fibers from your inner chest.”

Another noticeable difference with these machines is the starting position of your arms, which are wider with the fly machine.

Rizzo also explains that fly machines produce a significantly deep stretch of the muscle, making it more effective at producing muscle mass than a pec deck.

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While a pec deck provides an excellent workout for targeting the chest muscles, you don’t need this machine to build stronger muscles in this part of your body.

Rizzo notes that to work out your chest, you only need two main exercises: a chest fly or a chest press, which you can do with a cable or free weights at a decline, flat, or incline.

Using a cable pulley machine

  1. Stand in between the cable with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold one end of the cable in each hand. Keep your arms fully extended with a slight bend to your elbows.
  3. Next, slowly bring your arms toward the center of your chest. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then return to your starting position.
  4. Repeat the desired reps.

Using dumbbells

  1. Hold one weight in each hand and then lie on a flat bench. Your head, shoulders, and back should be on the bench.
  2. With your feet flat on the floor, extend your arms toward the ceiling. Keep your elbows slightly bent with your palms facing each other.
  3. Slowly pull your arms out and down until they’re parallel with the floor.
  4. Pause for a couple of seconds, and then raise your arms back to starting position.
  5. Repeat the desired number of reps.

Other workouts that target the major chest muscles include a bench press and cable crossover.

A pec deck machine provides a fairly simple and effective workout for building your major chest muscles. You can adjust the weight based on your fitness level. Along with increasing muscle mass in your chest, this exercise can also strengthen your shoulders and core.

If a pec deck isn’t available, free weights or a fly machine can provide similar results, as these work the same muscle groups.

Regardless of the chosen equipment, correct form is important to prevent muscle injury. If you’ve had a previous muscle injury, speak with a doctor or physio professional about guidance before beginning a new strength training exercise.