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July 08, 2021 8 min read

The bench press is one of the most important exercises in powerlifting, bodybuilding, and weight lifting in general, and there are many bench press variations out there.

But there is one variation that can help you develop incredible power and explosive strength out of the bottom position of the bench press.

It's called the pin press and it is a type of dead bench press, where the barbell starts from a dead stop on safety pins placed slightly above your chest. The pin press removes the negative portion of the movement and as a result, teaches you to remain tight in the bottom of the movement and generate force from that position.

Because there is no stored tension in your body that you can use to bounce the bar off of your chest, you're not able to use momentum out of the bottom position to help you lift the weight.

Most of us have sticking points in our bench press

This is generally where you get 'stuck' and you can't lift the weight. For some of us it's at the bottom, and for others it's closer to lockout at the top of the movement. Once you pinpoint your sticking point or weakness in the bench press, start your press from that point in the range of motion. Essentially, the pin press allows you to target those spots and improve your strength and explosiveness from those positions.

If you're a lifter who's trying to increase your maximum bench press load, then consider the pin press your new best friend.

male athlete bench press at powerlifting competition

Muscles Worked From the Pin Press

As a bench press variation, the pin press targets the same muscles as the regular bench press, including several upper body muscle groups. However, it also puts more emphasis on some of the supplementary muscles of the bench press.

This added emphasis improves your overall strength and power in the bench press.

Here are the primary muscles worked by the pin press:

  • Triceps: In the pin press, the triceps are the primary muscles being used to move the weight. Because you don't have to worry about the weight falling on you, this exercise provides the opportunity to overload them with heavy weight.
  • Pectorals: Your pectoral muscles include upper and lower sections. They are some of the largest muscles in your upper body and help connect your chest to your upper arms. When performing a regular bench press, the pecs are the primary muscles being worked, but with the pin press, they take on a supplementary, stabilizing role.

  • Shoulders: Several different shoulder muscles get worked during the pin press, including the anterior deltoid, scapula, and scapular stabilizers. They play both the primary lifter and supplementary stabilizing roles. 

Pros of Pin Pressing

The pros of pin press have to do with helping improve one's maximum regular bench press load. More specifically, the pin press targets common bench press weaknesses and aims to eliminate them.

Here are the key benefits of adding the pin press to your workout routine:

  1. Helps build power: Many lifters struggle with the power out of the bottom of their bench press. The pin press addresses this lack of power by making you start from a dead stop position where the lift is usually the hardest. By starting the lift from a sticking point where the range of motion is the most difficult, the pin press trains you to remain tight and develop power to press up into the lockout.
  1. Builds bigger triceps: In the regular bench press, the triceps are often the Achilles' heel for many lifters. But with the pin press, the triceps do the work. The pin press targets that weakness by making the triceps stronger. When the triceps strengthen, they come up to par with the primary mover muscles in the regular bench press. Thus, the Achilles' heel is no longer the weak point. 
  1. Improves the bench press lockout: The pin press allows you to set your pins up to whatever height is most challenging in your range of motion. If that is near your lockout range, you can place the pins up higher to  isolate that lockout movement. Even better, the lockout emphasizes more pressure on your triceps than at most other points in the lift. So, by isolating the top 1/3 of your press, you get the benefit of improving that lockout range of motion while working your tricep muscles extra hard.

Cons of Pin Pressing

While the pin press is a fantastic bench press variation, it does come with some cons. Thankfully, you can avoid many of these potential cons by practicing good form.

Here are the potential cons of pin presses:

  1. Injuries: Most pin press-related injuries stem from improper elbow form. Unlike in the bench press, your elbows stay closer to your core to add extra pressure on the triceps. While this is great for strengthening the triceps, some people aren't prepared to take on that extra tricep pressure. As a result, they injure themselves. Therefore, don't jump straight to your max load when first starting the pin press. See what your triceps can handle, then progressively overload them. That way, you maintain that good form and avoid those common injuries.
  1. Range of motion: Because the starting position is a dead stop, you won't perform the exercise through the full range of motion. If you're struggling to reach the lockout from the dead stop, lower your barbell load. Focus on correctly doing the exercise, then move on to adding more weight to the bar.
  1. The chest muscles aren't the prime movers: The primary mover muscles in the bench press are the pecs. However, the pin press only uses the pecs as supplementary muscles. But that's ok, because this exercise is used to improve triceps strength and form so that you can take these improvements to the regular bench press and lift more weight.

How to Do the Pin Press With Proper Form With Extra Tips

Ready to get started with the pin press?

Here's what you'll need: A flat bench, a barbell, a set of safety pins, and a power rack. 

Once you've got your equipment, it's time to get started.

  1. Set up your barbell: Place your flat bench inside of your power rack and adjust the pins to the height from which you want to begin the press. If the sticking point in your bench press is at the bottom of the movement, set your pins at a height between 3 and 5 inches above chest level if you are lying flat on the bench. On the other hand, if you want to improve your lockout strength at the top of the movement then place the pins higher up on the rack. Rest your barbell on the pins and lay flat underneath it to make sure its at the proper position for your goals. Once it's at the desired height you can add weight to the bar.
  1. Position yourself under the barbell: Laying underneath the bar, it should hover right above your chest. Grip the bar overhand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  1. Prepare to press: With your glutes clenched, core braced, and elbows about 45-degrees away from your core, there should be a slight arch in your lower back. If you're starting with the bar between 3 and 5 inches above your chest, you are starting at the very bottom of your press, so make sure that your back muscles are tight to keep you stable. Also, be sure that your elbows are not flailing out to the sides. Failure to pull your elbows in takes the pressure off of what should be your triceps and re-distributes it to your chest.
  1. Press the barbell up to the lockout position: While keeping your elbows pulled in, channel strength in your triceps to press the bar straight above the chest and into a lockout position. Squeeze at the top of the lockout, then slowly lower the bar back down to the rack.
  1. Repeat: Lower the bar slowly back down to the pins, and then reset yourself as you did in steps three and four above and press the bar back up again. Do 3 to 6 reps with good form. If your form starts to break down, call it quits.

By resetting the bar on the rack on each rep, you're forced to keep tension in the system as you don't have the benefit of the rebound at the bottom to move th

Weightlifter does an exercise with a barbell.

Alternative Exercises to the Pin Press

For some people, the pin press just isn't for them. Others love the pin press but want more options for bench press variations and tricep-strengthening exercises.

As we mentioned above, other than the pin press, there aren't many variations to the bench press. However, there are a couple, and we've included them below, along with other exercises that target the same muscles as the pin press. Here are the top pin press alternative exercises that provide many of the same benefits:

Overhead Press

The first alternative to the pin press is the overhead press. While the pin press primarily strengthens your triceps, the overhead press strengthens the shoulder muscles.

The overhead press is an alternative exercise to the pin press because it helps build that same upper body power.  Both require that you generate intense force to push the barbell up from a challenging sticking point position.

Additionally, you can also perform the original pin press like you would an overhead press. Rather than lying flat, you do the pin press while standing up and lifting the barbell over your head.

To do an overhead standing pin press, set your safety pins to forehead level and rest your barbell on them.  Then, grip the bar, point your elbows forward, and press the bar directly over your head. 

Pro tip: The pin press can be adapted to the overhead press. The concept is the same, the only difference is the pins are adjusted to shoulder height and you are pressing the weight from a standing position.

Board Press

The board press is a fun and unique way to work on your bench press.  It is an alternative to the pin press because it similarly helps strengthen your press at different points in the range of motion. ​​To do the board press, you'll need to get a stack of wooden 2x4's.

​​​Prepare just as you would for a bench press by laying on a flat bench and setting the bar over your chest near your lockout height. Place one of the 2x4s on your chest. Have a partner hold it in place so it doesn't slide.

When you're ready, unlock the bar and drop it down until it hits the 2x4. Then, press it up to the lockout. With each rep, have your partner add another 2x4 on top of the first one.  The idea is to have the stack get continuously taller with each repetition.  That way, you get to practice the press at different ranges of motion.

Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is the simplest alternative to the pin press. The difference is that you are laying on the floor and use dumbbells rather than a barbell. There are several benefits to the dumbbell floor press, the main being that by laying on the floor you completely remove your legs from the movement. This requires you to channel extra strength from your core and other stabilizing muscles.

Partial Rep Presses

With partial rep presses, you only lower your barbell for a portion of the full range of motion required for a bench press. They are an alternative to the pin press because they similarly challenge your strength at different ranges of motion.

To do them, all you need to do is perform a regular bench press with a smaller range of motion. To make the exercise the most effective, have the bottom of your press be one of your sticking points. That will help improve your strength at that particular spot on the regular bench press. Using a spotter is a good idea with this exercise as your triceps are under tension the entire time and may tire quickly.

Tricep Push-ups and Tricep Extensions

Last but not least, tricep push-ups and extensions help strengthen your triceps. And, as you already know, the triceps are the primary mover muscle in the pin press.

If you're looking for an exercise to help improve your pin press specifically, then do these exercises. The more you work on them, the more your pin press should improve.

Final Thoughts on the Pin Press

With several fantastic benefits including helping to build muscular power, strengthening the triceps, and improving your lockout, it's a great exercise to your regular workout routine and increase your maximum bench load.

Bonus tip:  The shoulder stabilizing muscles provide support during the pin press. Here are our favorite exercises for strengthening those shoulder stabilizers!