Even though it is perhaps the most cliche exercise of the gym, the bench press is a very powerful exercise used to strengthen your upper body. While it is important to do the bench press to continue your strength progression, I highly recommend being able to do 10-20 push ups before starting the bench press, especially if you’re new to strength training. Below I will discuss the correct way to bench press, common mistakes, variations,
Proper Form – Technique Is Key
You may think the bench press is as easy as lying down on a bench, lifting up the bar, and pressing it. Well, it is actually. However, there are several specific details you absolutely must pay attention to if you want to perform the bench press correctly. Here is how you do the bench press.
- First things first, you need a bench and bar. If you have a gym membership, you should be good, because all gyms should have bench press stations. If your gym does NOT have a bench press station, then you need a better gym.
- Once you’re at your bench press station, the first thing you want to do is lie down on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar.
- Feet flat on the floor, about as wide as your shoulders. Your feet will stay on the ground throughout the setup and execution of the bench press.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and create an arch in your back. When creating the arch keep your butt on the bench, and the arch only needs to be big enough to slide a hand through.
- Grab the bar, with your hands grasping the bar just outside of shoulder width. Use the little rings on the bar as guides and the center of the bar to ensure one side isn’t getting more weight than the other.
Now that you’re all setup, it’s time to execute a repetition:
- Lift the bar until it is directly over your chest. This is the starting position.
- Lower the bar until you lightly tap your chest. Aim for the middle of your chest, using your nipples as a guide. You want to lower the bar in a slow and controlled manner.
- After you lightly tap your chest, explode up back to the starting position. Be sure to keep your form, and don’t let your butt leave the bench or your feet leave the ground!
Congrats! You just performed a rep on bench press.
The bench press is a compound exercise, which means it works multiple muscles at once. Here is a breakdown of the muscles that get worked while doing the bench press.
- Pectoralis Major, or the chest muscles
- This should be a no brainer. The bench press is the staple for a big and strong chest.
- While most people think the bicep is the major arm muscle, it’s actually the triceps that gives an arm a strong look.
- Anterior deltoid, or the front shoulder muscle
- Your deltoids are the muscles that make up your shoulders. The bench press works the anterior part of the deltoid, which is the front shoulder muscle.
- Latissimus dorsi, or the lats
- The lats are what give you that wide appearance. The lats help drive the bar off the chest when you’re at the bottom of the rep.
Mistakes To Avoid
As with every exercise, you can really mess up your strength gains if you’re not practicing good technique. Here are some common mistakes made while performing the bench press.
- Flaring out your elbows
- You can really mess up your shoulders by allowing your elbows to flare out. You can tell when your elbows are flaring out if your arms are perpendicular to your body at the bottom of the rep. You can fix this by ensuring that when you lower the bar, your’re tapping the middle of your chest and not too close to your neck. Use your nipples as a guide to know if it’s the middle of your chest.
- Bad grip
- There are two types of grips: full grip and thumbless grip. The full grip is the preferred grip because you are completely wrapping your fingers around the bar, with your four fingers going over and the thumb underneath. However, many people do use the thumbless grip. The problem with the thumbless grip is that if the bar were to slide out of your hands, your thumbs would not be there to catch it, resulting in a serious injury on your chest, neck, or head.
- Bouncing the bar off your chest
- The main reason this is a mistake is because you can really hurt yourself if you bounce the bar off your chest too hard. Eventually you’re going to get stronger and the weight will get heavier, and your sternum or ribs could break after the pounding they’re both taking. Also, I don’t count it as an actual rep if you’re using your chest as momentum!
Different angles target different areas of the chest when bench pressing. Here the two most common variations of the bench press.
- Incline bench press
- The incline bench press gives the upper pecs more work than the regular bench press. You’ll be sitting at an incline, which will make it tougher to lift heavier weight. The only difference is you need to find an adjustable bench and angle it between 30 and 45 degree at an incline. Other than that, setup and execution is practically the same. Be sure to push the bar straight up and not allow it to go forward since you’re at an angle.
- Decline bench press
- The decline bench press targets the lower chest more than the regular bench press. Since you’re sitting at a decline, it’ll be easier to lift heavier weight. Set an adjustable bench between 30 and 45 degrees at a decline, or use a decline station. Setup and execution is the same as the regular bench press, except your feet won’t touch the ground due to the decline, so use the pads at the end of the bench to stabilize your feet. Don’t allow the bench to move backward as you’re pushing up.
Now You’re The Bench Press Expert
If you’re looking for the next step to building a stronger chest, then the bench press is that next step. Not only will you grow stronger, but your muscles will grow too and give you that strong, powerful look. Always remember that without proper technique, you are slowing down your strength progression and can potentially injure yourself. But as long as you follow the technique, avoid the common mistakes, and continue to push yourself, you’ll see your strength skyrocket in no time!
I hope this article helps you on your fitness journey! Leave a comment below.