Upper Body Training: The Chest

Model: Lim Ee Lin

It’s a Chest Day at the gym!

While pushups can be demotivating for beginners who struggle, using a chest press machine with adjustable weights that are light for a start, can boost confidence and avoid injuries.

Weight machines may not use everyday motion, thus making it less beneficial in some ways but it requires less control and form, hence it’s easier to build strength with less skills before moving to advanced free weights exercises.

Machines often have diagrams and yellow/red markers for ease of height/seat adjustment for beginners to follow.

How To Start

If you have never done any strength training before, after the first session, you may feel very sore but that is normal and it should subside in a few days. Take it really easy on your first attempt and gradually increase the intensity by adding more repetitions every other week.

The Plan

In the next six (6) issues of Running Malaysia Magazine, I will bring you to Chi Fitness Gym and cover strength training exercises for every other part of your body using machines.

  • Intensity: Always use the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion) from 1-10, one being the easiest and 10 the hardest. On your first few sessions, always keep the scale at 5-7, then progress gradually to 8 or max as you get stronger. Focus on 8-12 reps to fatigue of 3 sets per exercise for general fitness and after a few weeks, increase to 15-25 reps to fatigue to train on muscular endurance for running benefit.
  • Frequency: Twice a week will be a good start with some days of rest in between strength training days and after a few weeks you may do three sessions a week with a day of rest in between.
  • Caution: Stay away from strength training 2-3 days before your key races so that your muscles are not sore and fresh for the race. Focus on stretching instead.


Most machines make you execute ‘compound exercises’ where you use more than one muscle, i.e in a chest press machine: the main muscle (chest), secondary muscle (triceps) and the stabilizers (shoulders).

Chest Press

While seated, make sure the hand positions are at the center of your chest (nipple line) and NOT at shoulder height, otherwise find the seat height adjuster and make it right.

Start with the first or second stack of weight plates. Sit up straight with a proud chest and slightly lowered elbows.

Breathe out while pushing and remember NOT to lock your elbows at the end position. Always maintain a good slow form and engage the chest muscles by flexing them while performing the exercise.

Bench Press

Don’t be fooled by the bar itself that weighs 20kgs! This is an advanced exercise, which requires a lot of strength and stability to keep the bar above your chest. If needed, get an experienced spotter to help you.

While lying down with your feet up on the bench to prevent arching of the lower back, hold the bar just outside of your shoulder position and lift it out of the holder. Hold it steady, then lower it slowly to about 3-4 inches above your chest, and lift it up again. You may try just a few repetitions and move on to 12 or add weights once you have better control and are feeling stronger.

Chest Fly

This machine comes with an exercise for rear shoulders, hence the position of the ‘arms’ must be adjusted to the most forward lock for chest fly exercise.

Adjust the seats so that the hand positions are in the middle of the chest. Once ready, with the lightest ‘weight stack’ and arm position slightly bent at all times, bring your hand forward and meet in front. While the arms are in front, give a squeeze/flex of the chest muscle. Lower it back to start position slowly.


It’s easy to have more weights using machines but proper care and caution should be taken to start slow with light weights and progressively increasing the weights while you get stronger. Most machines have diagrams about the exercises for that particular machine, please read it carefully.

Cable Fly

Cable machines are in between a fixed machine (chest press above) and totally free weight (bench press). With cable, you may have a little more control and execute natural body movements.

Standing with one foot in front of the other and body slightly tilted forward, grabbing the handles with palms facing the front, pull the cable towards the front and meet both hands in front of you.

Remember to have a slight bent on the elbows with a proud chest at all times. Let go slowly, not passing your shoulders (hyperextend) behind you.
Breathe out while pulling to front for 2-3 seconds and breathe in while letting go slowly for 3-4 seconds.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the readers a Happy New Year! Fitness is a lifestyle that should be part of your life. Create the habit, stay healthy for life, and be youthful forever.

Founder of Mission Fit

Kannan Murugasan is a Personal Fitness Trainer with 16 years of experience and has accomplished 10 Ironman and 2 Ultraman Canada.