Finding a good gym that will help you meet your training goals is key to achieving the body you strive for.
During your gym training sessions, you don’t want external limiting factors coming into play like inadequate equipment. If the gym isn’t well-equipped enough for your training needs – then it will limit your progress.
You may have all the will in the world, but what good will it do, if the gym you go to, doesn’t even have a proper bench press? You won’t get the results you want with a gym that doesn’t have the essential chest workout equipment.
Machines or Free Weights?
A good gym will have both – but free-weights are essential. If possible, avoid joining gyms that are ‘machine-biased’ with only a small free-weight area – typically this will be a token dumbbell rack with a modest selection of dumbbells and maybe the odd barbell and EZ-bar.
These aren’t ‘proper’ gyms. They are generally ok for maintaining fitness and strength levels – but you need to push beyond that – and getting great pecs isn’t going to happen without access to proper bench presses and free weights.
A gym with a lack of benches creates hassle for you – the gym user – especially if you train during peak hours.
More competition for the available benches – especially the bench press – means more waiting. If people are hogging the bench – you might not even get on it. When you do eventually get on it, you’ll get others asking to share it with you.
This may not be a problem, but for some – this can be a great distraction and frustrate. It depends on your character and gym etiquette.
During your sets, you may feel you can’t move away from the bench – even for a few seconds – because the likelihood of someone else jumping on. These sorts of distractions are almost unavoidable in gyms, but will be greatly reduced in a spacious well-equipped gym.
NO BENCH HOPPING
With a lack of benches, your training dynamics will be reduced.
Say you want to do the following superset: a set of flat-bench presses and then jump straight onto an incline bench for a set of dumbbell presses.
Are you going to be able to do that easily, in a small, modestly equipped gym?
You could, but it’s likely you’ll end up ‘hogging’ the limited equipment available, and possibly annoying other gym users as well.
Few benches, probably means moving the available bench or two around, which may be impractical (depending on the set-up of the gym).
It can also be hard work.
You can expend a lot of energy moving adjustable benches around a gym – you really want to conserve as much energy as possible for your training and just hop on a bench and start your sets.
Must-Have Gym Equipment for Effective Chest Training
When you check out a gym for the first time, look out for the important pieces of equipment. To train your chest to its maximum – you will need access to the following equipment, listed below:
Flat Bench Press (Racked With Olympic Barbell)
The bench press – it cannot be overstated that it is a fundamental piece of equipment for training the chest.
Ideally, there should be more than one of them in your chosen gym. Everyone wants to get on the bench press; and the more there are, the less waiting time for you. Also make sure there are plenty of weight plates for the Olympic bar.
Incline Bench Press (Racked With Olympic Barbell)
Crucial for upper chest development. This should be a separate piece of equipment and not part of an adjustable flat/incline bench press set-up – or there will be too much messing around with the rack, in order to adjust the bar height, and the relative position of the bench to the bar.
Dumbbell Rack With Large Range Of Dumbbells
The dumbbells in your chosen gym, must go up to a high enough weight, so that you will always be able to progress. As you get stronger, you will eventually need heavier dumbbells to move to the next level in your training and maintain gains in muscle.
Stand-Alone Flat Benches For Dumbbell Work
Away from the flat bench press, you will use stand-alone benches a lot for your dumbbell presses and flys.
Benches come in different widths, but a narrow bench will always allow your elbows and upper arms to come down below the horizontal and really stretch the chest muscles on each rep.
If your shoulders are not that broad, a wider bench can slightly restrict the range of motion of your rear deltoids when performing dumbbell presses and flys.
If this applies to you, then you’ll feel the benefit of using a bench that tapers to a narrower width – like the one shown here.
Adjustable Incline/Decline Bench For Dumbbell Work
Essential for working the upper chest at different angles. The bench should have an adjustable seat, that can be raised upwards at an angle for incline sets – this is to keep your pelvis stable.
The decline position is useful for targeting the lower pecs. If the bench has no decline position, then you’ll have to improvise – by placing a box under one end of the bench and creating the desired angle.
Additional Gym Equipment for Training Chest
Ideally, the gym should have some of the following equipment, in addition to the above. These are loosely listed in order of importance from a chest-training-perspective:
These are bars that already have weight plates on them – and you cannot remove or add weight to them.
These are great for just grabbing and blasting out some reps without the hassle of loading the bar with plates. Especially good for warm-up sets, barbell pull-overs, and drop sets – you can quickly drop the weight by switching to another bar, without having to remove the collars and plates.
Cable Crossover Machine
Another common piece of gym equipment. Use it towards the end of your chest workouts, as a finishing exercise, to really pump the chest and work the pecs at different angles. The flexibility of the cables allows you to target the upper, middle, lower, and inner area of the chest.
Almost a standard piece of gym equipment. Although this machine doesn’t build mass on the chest, it does give you a great pump. You can really contract the pecs intensely and get an excellent stretch in the muscles. Perfect for the end of your chest workout.
This is mainly used for chest exercises, and squats for legs, but with the added security of a guided bar. Great for targeting the inner pecs by using a narrow hand-grip.
One negative: It can be tricky and time-consuming, getting the bench aligned in the correct position, relative to the bar. Each time you change the angle of the incline, you need to move the bench accordingly, so that the bar comes down to a comfortable position over your chest – it’s trial and error until you nail it.
Chest Press Machine
Not an absolute-must, but can be useful for warm-up exercises, or as an alternative to the bench press if it’s already in use. This machine comes in two variations: sitting upright and lying down.
Decline Bench Press (Racked With Olympic Barbell)
Use this for lower-pec development. However, many gyms won’t have these as a stand-alone piece of equipment – but it’s nice if it’s there.
Normally used for working the triceps, but you can also use them to work your lower chest, by angling your body forwards as you perform the dips. If you’re strong, use a weight belt to hang a plate between your legs to increase the intensity of the exercise.