Barbell Bench Press Overview
The barbell bench press is a classic exercise popular among all weight lifting circles. From bodybuilders to powerlifters, the bench press is a staple chest exercise in nearly every workout program.
For powerlifters, it is known as one of the “big three” lifts which includes the squat, deadlift, and bench press. For athletes, 1 rep max on bench press is a good indicator for on field/court performance. And for bodybuilders, the bench press is a compound exercise that targets many of the muscles in your upper body.
By performing the bench press, you primarily work your pectoralis major (your chest). Other muscles which assist in moving the barbell during a bench press are other muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
Not everyone is built to perform the traditional barbell bench press, so several variations have been created to ensure people can train this crucial movement pattern in a safe and comfortable way.
Some of these variations include:
- Incline bench press
- Decline bench press,
- Dumbbell bench press
- Dumbbell incline bench press
- Dumbbell decline bench press
- Smith machine bench press
Those with shoulder injuries can also utilize many of the alternative barbells out there that place less pressure on the shoulder to bench press. Some of these variations include hex bar bench press, football bar bench press, and Swiss bar bench press.
Barbell Bench Press Instructions
- Lie flat on a bench and set your hands just outside of shoulder width.
- Set your shoulder blades by pinching them together and driving them into the bench.
- Take a deep breath and allow your spotter to help you with the lift off in order to maintain tightness through your upper back.
- Let the weight settle and ensure your upper back remains tight after lift off.
- Inhale and allow the bar to descend slowly by unlocking the elbows.
- Lower the bar in a straight line to the base of the sternum (breastbone) and touch the chest.
- Push the bar back up in a straight line by pressing yourself into the bench, driving your feet into the floor for leg drive, and extending the elbows.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Barbell Bench Press Tips
- Technique first, weight second - no one cares how much you bench if you get injured.
- Keep the bar in line with your wrist and elbows and ensure it travels in a straight line. In order to keep the wrist straight, try to position the bar as low in the palm as possible while still being able to wrap the thumb.
- If you want to keep more tension through the triceps and chest, stop each repetition just short of lockout at the top.
- Don’t worry about tucking the elbows excessively, much of this advice is from geared lifters using suits. A slight tuck on the way down may be advisable for some lifters but other lifters can use an excellent cue from Greg Nuckols that will accomplish the same thing: “Flare and push”.
- Arching may be advisable depending upon your goals but ensure that most of the arch comes from the mid to upper back and not your lower back. If your lower back is cramping as you set up for the lift, you’re out of position and putting yourself at risk for potential injury.
- The bar should touch your chest with every single repetition. If you want to overload specific ranges of motion, look into board presses or accommodating resistance with chains or bands.
- As the bar descends, aim for your sternum (breastbone) or slightly below depending upon the length of your upper arm in order to promote a linear bar path.
- Intermediate and advanced lifters may use a thumbless or “suicide” grip but for the majority of lifters, it would be wiser to learn how to bench with the thumb wrapped around the bar at first.
- Fight to the urge to allow the wrists to roll back into extension, think about rolling your knuckles toward the ceiling.
- Experiment with grip width - if your have longer arms you may need to use a slightly wider grip. However, if you’re feeling pressure in the front of the shoulder during the exercise, you may need to widen your grip, improve scapular retraction, or slightly lessen the range of motion via exercises such as floor or board presses.
- Squeeze the bar as tightly as possible to help enhance shoulder stability.
- Some lifters prefer to tuck their toes while other prefer to keep the feet flat in order to optimize leg drive - experiment with both and see which one feels and allows for greater power production.
- Ensure the shoulder blades remain retracted and don’t allow them to change position as you press.
- The bar should descend under control and touch the lifter’s chest - no bouncing or excess momentum.
- Think about trying to push yourself away from the bar instead of pushing the bar off of you.
- Tightness through the upper back should be one of your main priorities throughout the course of the lift.
- Ideally, use a spotter to help assist with the lift off in order to maintain tension through the upper back.
- Keep the feet quiet throughout the lift and utilize leg drive by pushing your feet into the floor and squeezing your glutes to stabilize the pelvis.
- Focus on pulling the bar apart or trying to “bend the bar” in order to activate some of the intrinsic stabilizers in the shoulder.
- The glutes and shoulder blades should maintain contact with the bench throughout the entirety of the movement.
- If you want to learn more about about the intricacies of benching, Dave Tate’s benching bible is a great place to start.