Today, the bench press is among the most popular and widely used gym exercises. After all, what’s the first thing people ask when you tell them you lift? It’s probably some variation of “How much do you bench, bro?”
But, despite its popularity, the bench press can be challenging to master, and many trainees waste months, even years performing the movement sub-optimally.
To that end, we’ve put together this guide. In it, we’ll go over how to perform the bench press, what benefits it offers, variations, mistakes, and much more.
Let’s dive in.
How to Perform The Bench Press, Step-By-Step
Set the barbell at a height where you can reach it from a lying position without extending your elbows fully. Your arms should be slightly bent as you reach up to grab the bar before starting the repetition.
Lie on the bench, position your face underneath the bar, reach up, and grab it with a double overhand grip. Use your thumbs to envelop the bar firmly.
While holding the bar, bring your shoulder blades back, digging them into the bench.
Bring your feet in and close to the bench, digging the balls of your feet against the floor.
Take a breath, brace your entire body, and un-rack the barbell by extending your elbows.
Bring the barbell carefully over your chest.
Take a breath and lower the bar, aiming for it to land on your lower chest (nipple line). Don’t flare your elbows.
Touch your torso with the barbell lightly and press it back up as you extend your elbows fully. Exhale near the top.
Take another breath and lower the barbell again.
Once finished, bring the barbell carefully back over the safety pins and rest it gently.
Here is a great in-depth video by "Buff Dudes" on how to preform the bench press correctly:
Three Amazing Benefits Of The Bench Press
1. It Strengthens Multiple Major Muscles
A notable benefit of the bench press is that the exercise strengthens your chest (pectoralis major), triceps, shoulders (deltoids), and entire midsection. Instead of doing multiple activities for all muscle groups, you can do a few sets of the bench press to strengthen all of these muscles, grow effectively, and develop your pressing strength.
2. It Offers And Impressive Overloading Potential
The bench press is one of the best chest movements because of its overloading potential. You can keep increasing the load on the bar as you get stronger to continue making progress for a long time.
Movements like the chest fly and push-up are also beneficial in many ways, but one of their primary drawbacks is that inducing overload is more difficult. For example, the primary way to make push-ups more challenging is to increase the number of reps. The tactic can work well for a while, but most trainees eventually have to start doing 40, 50, even 60+ reps per set to challenge themselves.
In contrast, the bench press allows you to keep increasing the load and remain in a specific repetition range––say, 6 to 10 reps.
3. Numerous Excellent Variations to Pick From
When most people hear of the ‘bench press,’ they imagine the barbell version you perform on a flat bench. While that is undoubtedly one variation of the movement, you can pick from numerous others based on your available equipment and preferences.
A notable alternative to the classic bench press is the dumbbell press. Instead of using a barbell, you’re training with a pair of dumbbells. Doing so is beneficial for training both sides independently and reducing the risk of muscle imbalances. Dumbbells also allow you to train through a slightly longer range of motion, making each repetition more effective.
You can also change the incline to emphasize different portions of your chest. For example, an incline bench press develops your chest's upper (clavicular) part.
Four Fantastic Variations Of The Bench Press
1. Close-Grip Bench Press
The close-grip bench press is an effective variation you can perform to emphasize your triceps. Having your hands close together on the barbell places your chest muscles at a mechanical disadvantage, forcing your triceps to do more work.
To perform the movement correctly, have your hands shoulder-width apart. Anything more narrow would increase the risk of wrist discomfort.
2. Incline Bench Press
As mentioned above, training at an incline is beneficial for emphasizing the upper portion of the chest: the clavicular head. Adding an incline bench variation to your chest training is vital for developing your pectorals evenly.
The incline should be between 30 and 45 degrees. Increasing it more would shift the emphasis to your shoulders. In contrast, training at a smaller angle would prevent you from training the upper chest as effectively.
3. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is another fantastic variation with distinct benefits. Using dumbbells forces both sides of your body to work independently, leading to more balanced development. Dumbbells also allow you to train through a slightly longer range of motion, which is beneficial for stretching and contracting your chest muscles on each repetition.
Plus, an added benefit of using dumbbells is that you can throw them to your sides if you fail to complete a repetition.
4. Decline Bench Press
Similar to the incline bench press, changing the back support angle allows you to emphasize a specific portion of your chest. Decline pressing allows you to strengthen and develop the lower portion of the chest because the muscle fibers run horizontally and up. Pressing the weight opposite to the fiber direction allows you to recruit these motor units more effectively.
The Most Common Bench Press Mistakes to Know And Avoid
1. Flaring Your Elbows
Flaring your elbows is among the most common bench press mistakes you could make. It’s also among the most dangerous errors because doing so places significant stress on your shoulders. The more you perform the exercise that way, the higher your injury risk.
To avoid the error, you should tuck your elbows in. An excellent way to test if you’re tucking your elbows well is to observe your bar path. The barbell should be over your chest at the start of the repetition, and it should touch the nipple line when you lower it. Having it touch your middle or upper chest would mean that you’re flaring your elbows.
2. Shortening the Range of Motion
Shortening the range of motion is another common bench press error that often results from using too much weight. Trainees usually load the bar with a lot of weight and move it several inches up and down.
While pressing more weight might be great for your ego, shortening the range of motion makes each repetition less effective, regardless of the higher load. There are two reasons for that:
a) Not lowering the bar to your torso prevents you from causing an adequate stretch in your pectorals
b) Not pressing the bar to the top prevents you from squeezing your chest and triceps intensely at the top
Avoid the error by reducing the load you’re lifting and making an effort to perform each repetition with a full range of motion. Doing so might require you to leave your ego at the door, but you’ll be able to reap greater benefits from the movement and build more strength in the long run.
3. Lifting Your Buttocks Off The Bench
Lifting your buttocks off the bench during a set is another standard error and signifies two things:
You’re not using leg drive properly
You’re attempting to lift weights you can’t handle yet
The issue with lifting your buttocks during a set is that you are placing excessive stress on your spine that can lead to pain and an injury.
When using leg drive properly, your buttock is planted firmly on the bench, and you can’t lift it, even if you drive your feet into the floor because you’re pushing yourself back instead of up. Similarly, you don’t have to resort to compensatory movement patterns when using a weight you can control.
So, the best ways to avoid the error are to learn how to use leg drive correctly and use weights within your limits. Have your feet in and close to the bench with your knees flexed beyond 90 degrees.
4. Not Retracting Your Shoulder Blades
The fourth common mistake with the bench press is lying flat on the bench and not retracting your shoulder blades. Doing so might not seem all that bad, but it creates three issues:
Not keeping your shoulders back leads to instability at the shoulder joint, making it more challenging to maintain your balance during the exercise and press heavy weights safely.
Having your back flat against the bench prevents you from placing your chest muscles at a mechanical advantage. As a result, you cannot activate your pecs as effectively, making the movement less effective.
Having your shoulders flat on the bench places them in a weaker and more compromised position, increasing the risk of an injury.
To avoid the error, you should lie on the bench, reach up, grab it evenly, and dig your shoulder blades into the back support. You should also bring your legs back and in to assist with the proper back position and help you achieve a tight position.
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