How to Bench Press

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 15, 2022

The bench press is a popular exercise among fitness enthusiasts. It helps build strength and stamina and increases muscle mass. It requires a barbell with weight discs and is inexpensive. Bench press is simple to learn for people beginning their fitness journey. It is also part of competitive powerlifting, which needs specialized training and care. Bench press requires attention to safety to get its benefits without injuries.

What Is a Bench Press?

Bench press is a muscle-strengthening activity. Strong muscles enable you to do heavy work and make it easier to accomplish daily tasks without tiring. These exercises also build strong bones and help keep your blood pressure and blood sugar normal. Bench press also helps maintain a healthy weight.

The bench press is popular for enhancing upper body strength as well as endurance, power, and muscle size. It uses a bench for you to lie flat on and a barbell to which you can add weights as you progress. It is a multi-joint exercise that works many muscles of the chest, shoulder, and arms. With proper guidance, bench press can be done by beginners as well as advanced fitness seekers.

What Muscles Does Bench Press Work?

Bench press consists of lifting weights while lying flat on a bench. The muscles worked are mainly your chest muscles (pectorals), shoulder muscles, and those in your arms.

Pectoralis major. This muscle originates from the sternum (breastbone), ribs, and clavicle (collar bone) and is attached to the upper part of the arm bone (humerus). It is involved in flexing and internally rotating the arm at the shoulder. Keeping the bench flat mainly involves the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major (the part of the muscle attached to the chest and ribs). If the bench is inclined, the clavicular head (the part attached to the collar bone) of the muscle is more involved.

Anterior deltoid. The deltoid muscle originates from the clavicle and scapula (shoulder blade) and attaches to the humerus. This muscle moves the arm forward as well as to the side. It also stabilizes the shoulder joint during these actions. 

Triceps. This muscle lies on the back of your arm and provides most of the bulk of the arm. It originates from the scapula and humerus and attaches to the ulna (one of the two bones of the forearm). It is a strong muscle and straightens and stabilizes the elbow. It also moves your arm backward at the shoulder.

Biceps. This is the muscle in the front of the arm. It originates from the scapula and attaches to the radius (one of the two bones of the forearm). It flexes the arm at the shoulder and the forearm at the elbow. 

Some muscles like the abdominals, supraspinatus, teres minor, and others don't play an active role in the bench press. But they help by stabilizing the trunk and shoulder.

How to Do a Bench Press

Follow these steps to get the benefits of bench press safely:

  1. Lie down on the bench with feet flat on the floor. Your head, shoulder blades, glutes, and feet should all be on the bench or floor. 
  2. Grasp the barbell with thumbs wrapped around the bar. Your hands should be as far apart as your shoulder width.
  3. Draw in your abdomen to stabilize your spine. Bring your shoulder blades closer together. Your wrists should be directly under the bar to avoid hyperextending them.
  4. Lower the barbell towards your chest, keeping your back straight and your head on the bench. Stop when you feel a stretch in your pectoral muscles.
  5. Now raise the barbell by extending the elbows and contracting the chest muscles.
  6. Inhale when lowering the barbell, and let your breath out (exhale) when lifting the barbell.
  7. Aim for two or three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions (reps). If you can easily do 12 reps, increase the weight.

Some points to remember when bench pressing:

  • Pull shoulders down and back
  • Pull elbows in
  • Drive feet into the ground
  • Always have a spotter

Bench Press Adaptations

Apart from the traditional types of bench press exercises, there are some adaptations. These adaptations increase the difficulty level or work different muscles. Some of them are:

  • Incline bench press
  • Decline bench press
  • Close grip bench press
  • Wide grip bench press
  • Dumbbell chest press
  • Reverse grip bench press
  • Bench press with resistance bands

The inclined bench has greater activation of the biceps compared to the flat and declined bench. The narrow or close grip on the barbell has lower activity of the biceps compared to the wide or medium grips.

If your feet don't reach the floor when lying on the bench, place stable weight rings on the floor and put your feet on them. You can also lift your feet onto the bench so that your hips are flexed at 45 degrees and knees at 90 degrees.

Bench Press Benefits

Strength training is beneficial for your overall health. The bench press is a great way to work your upper body muscles and make them stronger:

  • Improved muscle mass and strength. It also enhances your endurance for daily activities
  • Stronger bones. Keeping your bones healthy is important to be physically active.
  • Burn more calories. Bench press is a strenuous exercise and uses calories. 
  • Mental health benefits. Regular physical exercise improves mood and quality of life. It also improves sleep and reduces anxiety.
  • Fights obesity. Working out with weights increases muscle mass, reduces fat, firms your body, and boosts metabolism by as much as 15 percent. All these effects help in controlling your weight long term.

Bench Press Mistakes to Avoid

Proper form is essential for bench press safety. Working with heavy weights in a careless way can injure you. Always work with a trainer or coach for the first few days to learn the correct way of bench pressing. If you have a health condition like high blood pressure, seizures, or heart problems, ask your doctor before starting strength training.

Work with a bar without weights to learn the correct technique. Once you've mastered the movements, add weights gradually. The weights should allow you to do 8 to 12 repetitions (reps). Always warm up before bench pressing and do static stretching after finishing. Have a gap of at least a day between two bench press sessions.

Having a spotter is also safe practice. Even if you are fit and strong, the last rep may be too much for you. Since you are lifting a heavy barbell above your chest, you can't just let it fall. A spotter standing with you can help you lift the barbell safely to its rest.

Show Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Benefits of Physical Activity," "Growing Stronger."
International Journal of Exercise Science: "Effects of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Adaptations in Untrained Young Men."
Journal of Human Kinetics: "The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance."
National Academy of Sports Medicine: "Bench Press Targeted Muscles, Grips, And Movement Patterns."
National Health Service: "Types of exercise."
National High School Strength Coaches Association: "Upper Body Exercise: Bench Press."

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