July 08, 2021 9 min read

The bench press is one of the most important exercises in powerlifting, bodybuilding, and weight lifting in general. Unfortunately, though, there aren't many bench press variations out there.

That is, except for the pin press. The pin press is a form of dead bench press, where the barbell starts from a dead stop on safety pins placed slightly above chest level.

If you're a lifter who's trying to up their maximum bench press load, then consider the pin press your new best friend. It'll pinpoint your weaknesses in the bench press so you can target those spots and improve your lifting.Here's everything you need to know about the pin press!

male athlete bench press at powerlifting competition

Muscles Worked From the Pin Press

As a bench press variation, the pin press targets some of 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 traditional bench press, the chest muscles are the primary lifter muscles, and the triceps are supplementary muscles. However, in the pin press, the triceps are the primary lifter muscles.Because the small triceps tend to get tired faster than other larger muscles, it's important to bring them up to par with those larger muscles. The last thing you want is for your triceps to be the muscle to give out during your bench press. Bring your triceps up to the level of your other muscle groups by strengthening them with the pin press.
  • Pectorals: Also known as the pics, 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. The pecs are the primary lifter muscles in the regular bench press. In the pin press, they take on a new supplementary, stabilizing role. Working them in a new way, in turn, makes them stronger for the bench press.

  • 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

Being a bench press variation, 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 muscle power: Many lifters struggle with the power out of the bottom of their bench press. The bottom of the press near the chest is obviously where the exercise is the most challenging.The pin press addresses this lack of power by making you start from a dead stop position where the lift is usually the hardest. Rather than starting from an easier near lockout position, you start from a common sticking point where the range of motion is the most difficult. Starting from this spot trains you to channel extra muscle power to press up into the lockout.
  1. Builds bigger triceps: As we mentioned above, the triceps work as the primary mover muscle in the pin press. But, in the regular bench press, the supplementary tricep muscles are often the Achilles' heel for many lifters. Meaning that they're one of the first muscles to tire and make the lifter want to quit the exercise.However, 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 gets knocked out. 
  1. Improves the bench press lockout: If the range of motion near your lockout position is the most challenging spot in the lift for you, then the pin press is a great exercise to practice.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 make your range of motion tighter and 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 double 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 are common: Pin press form is very intricate. Without that good form, it's easy to hurt yourself doing them.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. It's easy to cheat the full range of motion: Because the pin press starting position is a dead stop, it's easier to cheat the full range of motion. The dead stop is considered a sticking point, so it's easy to get tired right off the bat and not fully press into the lockout.Therefore, if you're struggling to reach the lockout from the dead stop, lower your barbell load. It's better to practice the exercise with its full range of motion than it is to add tons of weight to the barbell. Focus on correctly doing the exercise, then move on to adding more weight to the bar.
  1. It doesn't target the chest muscles: The primary mover muscles in the bench press are the pectoral chest muscles.  However, the pin press only uses the pecs as supplementary muscles.Therefore, the pin press is not a bench press variation that will help improve overall chest strength. If your goal is to strengthen your chest to increase your regular bench press max load, then the pin press won't help you with that. Instead, doing other chest-focused exercises would be more beneficial.

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

Ready to get started with the pin press? Let's waste no time.Start by gathering your equipment.  You'll need a flat bench, barbell, 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. Then, set your pins at a height between 3 and 5 inches above chest level if you were lying flat on the bench. Rest your barbell on the pins and lay flat underneath it.Setting the pins to this height will have it starting from a dead stop.  On the other hand, if you want to focus on your lockout strength, then place the pins higher up on the rack. 
  1. Get in position under the barbell: Laying underneath the bar, it should hover right above the center of your chest. Grip the bar overhand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  1. Unrack the barbell: With your glutes clenched, core braced, and elbows about 45-degrees away from your core, unrack the barbell and lower it closer to your chest. 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, then you should only have to drop it a couple of inches more for it to hover right above your chest. At the very bottom of your press, 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 like they would for a bench press. 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: While keeping your elbows pulled in, channel strength in your triceps to press the bar straight above the chest and into a lockout. Squeeze at the top of the lockout, then slowly lower the bar back down to chest level.
  1. Repeat: As the bar slowly makes its way back down to chest level, keep the movement flowing by dropping the bar and pressing right back up again. Only do as many reps as you can with good form! Once your form starts to break, call it quits.
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. 

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 Pin Press

The dumbbell press is the simplest alternative to the pin press. The only difference is that you use dumbbells rather than a barbell.There are several extra benefits to using dumbbells rather than a barbell. They require you to channel extra strength from your core and other stabilizing muscles.

And, they're easier to practice progressive overload with, which is essential for hypertrophy.Also, when doing the dumbbell pin press, you won't need a power rack. Instead, you'll need to start with the dumbbells hovering slightly above chest level before lowering to the bottom.

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.

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

Improve your bench press, strengthen your triceps, and build mass with the pin press. While it's one of the only bench press variations out there, it's sure to help you increase your maximum bench load.

With several fantastic pros including helping to build muscular power, strengthening the triceps, and improving your lockout, you can't go wrong with it. We highly suggest that you add the pin press to your regular workout routine!

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