Bench Press

Technique Summary

Lay on the bench-press bench, feet flat on the floor.  Grip the bar between elbow and shoulder width apart.  Lower the bar onto your chest, inhale, push out, exhale.

Exercise Type: Compound
Primary Muscle: Pectoralis Major (with emphasis on middle chest)
Secondary Muscle: Triceps Brachii and Anterior Deltoid

Technique Details

The bench press is one of the most commonly used chest exercises.  It is popular because it is very effective.  First, let’s get the basics out of the way.  Never lock out your elbows.  This will help you avoid tendonitis and keep pressure on your chest throughout the exercise.  Never rest the bar on your chest, or let the bar come in contact with your chest.  Way too many people bounce the weight off to help themselves lift.  Not only does that not help you develop your chest, but it is a pretty good way to hurt yourself.  For all intents and purposes, you may as well bounce the weight off your head.  

Depending on your body type you should bring the bar down to approximately one inch away from your chest.  If this is not comfortable, you can stop at the point where your upper arms are parallel to the floor.  You should lower the weight somewhere above your nipples and below your clavicular head.  Where you lower the bar will determine which part of your chest will work hardest.  Keep your shoulders pinned to the bench.  Do not bring them up as you lift the weight.  This detracts from your chest and may result in injury.

We strongly advise you to hold the bar with the thumb around the bar opposite of the rest of the fingers.  Many people perform the bench press with the thumb on the same side as the rest of the fingers. This almost guarantees injury at some point.  You work hard, you sweat, the bar can slip out.

The focus of the bench press will also vary with the width of your grip.  A wider grip isolates the lateral part of your chest; a shorter grip focuses on the central part.  You do not want to take a very narrow grip, because that turns the exercise into a tricep workout.  Whatever the grip, it should always be wider than shoulders width. 

The way you lay on the bench will also have an impact on your workout.  The classic way is with your whole body flat on the bench.  By arching your back, you will be able to bench press more weight.  This is because doing so will shift the focus onto your lower chest, generally the strongest part.  However, doing so may strain your back and is not advisable for people with back problems.  When you arch your back, the only part not touching the bench should be your lower back.  Another variation of the exercise involves lifting your legs.  By lifting your legs, you can lay flat on the bench without excessive effort on the part of the abdominal area.

The bench press is so popular that some people use it as the sole measure of strength and physical conditioning.  Don’t fall into that pitfall.  The bench press is effective, but don’t make it your one and only chest exercise.