August 28, 2021 9 min read
The bench press is a standard part of every powerlifter’s, bodybuilder’s, and weightlifter’s program, and is one of the most important lifts in competitions and meets.
Having a good bench press gives you a lot of cred in the lifting world. Because of this, many people spend a lot of time working on their bench press, often with a lot of struggle.
Sure, your squat and deadlift are important, but many lifters would likely say bench press is their top lift of focus for growth and improvement.
Even if you do bench presses regularly, you may not actually be aware of the mechanics and specifics of the movement. Having adequate knowledge about a movement is important in doing the exercise correctly and effectively. Knowing which muscles are used in a bench press may be alone enough to boost your awareness and overall ability during the lift.
Bench presses are typically a barbell exercise, although there are variations done with dumbbells and even kettlebells. Of course, as the name suggests, bench presses are done using a weight bench. The weight bench is typically a flat bench. However, there are variations of the movement done with angled benches such as a decline bench.
Bench presses, while popular in powerlifting, are also utilized by those in bodybuilding, CrossFit training, and even just general fitness and strength training. They can also be helpful to those interested in cardio as any muscular power can help support drive and explosive power.
Like many exercises, bench presses can be varied and changed to become more efficient and specific to your own needs. However, you should aim to master the traditional form before moving onto anything more complex.
While some muscles that the bench press works may seem obvious, there are several other muscles that may surprise you. Bench presses work an array of upper body muscles, including:
If you’re on the fence about integrating bench presses into your program, that is understandable. They are intimidating and, quite frankly, very difficult. However, there are many benefits to bench pressing outside of getting jacked and looking like a badass. Once you get your bench presses down, you’ll open up a whole world of fitness potential. With bench presses, you can look forward to:
Whether you’re familiar with bench presses or are completely new to the movement, form is always important. If you find yourself stuck with your bench press progress, your form may be to blame.
Doing your bench presses with the correct form is just one piece, albeit a large piece, to the puzzle of success. There are a few other aspects of this lift that can help you reach your fitness goals.
The great thing about barbell presses is that there are many variations if you’re limited or simply bored with the movement. Here are some of the best bench press variations to keep your muscles on their toes:
While powerlifters commonly choose a wider grip, you can use a close grip to target your triceps if desired. To do this, simply grip the bar slightly inside shoulder width and be sure to pay attention to excess elbow flaring.
Not everyone has an Olympic barbell laying around. The good news is you can still effectively bench press with just two dumbbells. Just hold one dumbbell in each hand and utilize much of the same form for a barbell press. This time, however, you will not need a weight rack and may find yourself unable to lift as much weight because of this.
Working your muscles from several angles is key in overall and well-rounded development. This is exactly what decline bench presses aim to achieve as your chest muscles will have to work in different and new ways to properly lift the weight. You can also do this exercise with dumbbells rather than a barbell.
Like the decline bench press, incline bench presses are another way to work your muscles from a different perspective. Try an array of bench angles to see which suits you most.
Building your upper chest can be difficult, but reverse-grip bench presses may be your solution. However, be careful when performing this movement as a reverse-grip is very unnatural. Be sure to have a spotter and lift less than you would with a traditional overhand grip.
If you have a lot of issues with form when doing presses, try using the floor instead of a bench.
This movement reduces your range of motion, which makes the overall lift much easier. You can do this for a while before moving onto a regular bench.
If you’re new to the movement or have an especially underdeveloped chest, no worries! You can still perform bench presses, adding a pause at the bottom of each movement. Simply pause for a few seconds once the barbell reaches your chest, then finish out the movement.
Sometimes, moving one arm at a time is best for focusing on form as well as targeting imbalances. It is not uncommon for one side of our bodies to naturally become more developed than the other when strength training. Being aware of these discrepancies through these simpler movements like the alternating dumbbell bench press is great for really honing in on these issues.
If you’re worried about your bench press, you’re not alone. Benching huge numbers is impressive, but you won’t get there without proper instruction and direction. Being sure to prioritize form, and even nutrition, over heavy weight and ego, is essential to reaching your goals.
However, don’t be intimidated if you’re just starting on your benching journey. Sure, the form can seem daunting and you may feel a ways off from your goals, but remember that even the greatest athletes, such as fitness legend CT Fletcher, all started somewhere.