Is the cable crossover better than the pec deck for building chest muscles? Though the cable crossover and “pec deck” target the chest muscles, these two pieces of equipment have unique properties. I’m a certified personal trainer.
“When in doubt, go with cables over any machine,” says Juliet Deane, Elitefts staff member, Elitefts-sponsored figure athlete, personal trainer (NSCA) and co-owner of The Training Studio, NJ. “Cables allow for a more freestyle motion, which greatly increases your likelihood of avoiding imbalances, shabby lifting techniques, and a greater overall body awareness of the muscles being used.”
But be careful with the cable crossover; because it has more to offer than the pec deck, it also offers more potential for rotator cuff injury. Start with light weights; don’t dive in with super heavy stacks of weight, even if you can bench press heavy.
Deane continues, “It’s too easy on machines to push and shove and allow other body parts to come into play without realizing that you’re cheating in a sense.”
This is very true, especially with the pec deck. I can’t begin to tell you how often I see men of all ages cheating like mad on this machine. The most observed cheat move is when the man pitches his entire trunk forward in an attempt to move his arms towards each other to get that weight stack up.
He tricks himself into thinking that his chest is much stronger than it actually is, because ultimately, the weight stack gets up. But look at how he accomplished that: leaning way forward, rather than keeping his back fixed against the back support, and a secondary cheat move is bending his arms to 90 degrees (this depends on the equipment; this exaggerated bend is done on the machine that doubles as a posterior shoulder machine).
But regardless of a machine’s make and model, the big cheat move is pitching the torso way forward. This de-isolates the chest muscles and gets other muscles involved, and hence, Mr. Strongman can move up that big stack of weights.
“It is quite common on machines like the pec deck to keep the setting on the higher weight accommodating your strong side, but leaving your weaker side to struggle through and recruit other muscle groups to try and keep up,” says Deane.
“This enhances imbalances that can possibly surface as injuries later, but also cause a noticeable lack in symmetry if you ever decide to lean down and pursue a more intense goal such as a bodybuilding or figure show. Visual imbalances are common and take time, patience and consistency to work out. Better off playing it smart from the start and sticking with the cables, dumbbells and other natural, core encompassing tools, and really focusing on your form and body awareness of each exercise.”
This isn’t to say that the pec deck should be avoided. It’s a good machine for novices, and it’s a good machine to take a break from the cable crossover; you don’t want your muscles adapting too much. The pec deck is also useful when the cable systems are occupied, which they frequently are. But remember, don’t cheat on the pec deck!