Bench press - a basic weight training exercise

Bench Press Exercise

Bench press: targeted muscle groups

The bench press is one of the most well-known basic exercises in weight training. It is a complex exercise for the muscles in your upper body, which requires many muscle groups.

Primary muscle groups used:

  • Large and small chest muscle
  • Anterior shoulder muscle
  • Triceps

Secondary muscle groups used:

  • Rotator cuff
  • Abdominal muscles
  • Trapezius

The wider you grip the barbell, the more you work your shoulder and chest muscles. On the other hand, if you grab the bar more tightly, your triceps will become more involved.

This exercise can be integrated into your chest training. You can find more information on this topic on our page about chest training.

Correct execution of bench presses

Benchpress Training and Exercises

Your position on the bench

Lie on your back on the bench so that the barbell in the holder is at about eye level, about three quarters of an arm’s length above you, and you can fix it with your eyes. Place your feet completely flat on the floor or a resting device. If your back hollows when you put your feet down, you should raise them onto a stool. The back of your knees should be at an angle of about 90°. Your feet should remain flat on the floor during the entire exercise, because the position of your feet has a major influence on your stability. Now create tension by making a slight hollow in your back and pulling your shoulder blades together behind you so that your shoulder joints are also stabilized. You should still be able to stretch one arm under the lower back extensor. This technique is designed to maximize the weight you can press. If you are a beginner, you should focus on moving your upper body and keep your back flat on the bench with your abdominal muscles tensed.

The grip

The basic rule is: the wider your grip, the more your chest and shoulder muscles will be worked. The closer your grip, the more your triceps will be involved. A standard grip in classical bench press is approximately shoulder width plus one hand width apart. Different grip widths and angles of the bench offer variations for your training. Your thumbs must surround the barbell, because if not, the barbell can easily slip away. This grip is therefore also called the “Suicide-Grip” among strength athletes. Throughout the exercise keep your wrists straight, i.e. your palms in line with your forearms.

The start

To begin the movement, take a deep breath in and simultaneously tense your back, stomach, buttocks and shoulder blades. A deep inhalation is essential to stabilize the center of your body and to take the pressure off your intervertebral discs and spine. Now lift the weight out of the holder so that the bar is directly above your shoulders. Keep your arms locked so that you don’t waste any energy on the exercise before you start.

Tip: If you are a beginner or you are increasing your weight, you should work with a “spotter”. A spotter stands behind you during the exercise to support you during the last repetitions and help you to safely put the bar into the holder when your strength begins to decrease.

The downward movement and lowest point

Start the exercise by moving the barbell down in a controlled manner. Your upper arms should be at an angle of 45-75° to the side of your upper body. This angle depends on your arm length and chest height. The target area of the movement is the lower end of your chest muscles (about 3-7 cm below the nipple). The barbell should not be lowered in a completely straight line, the path of the barbell bar should rather be a “J” with a very slight lower arc when viewed from the left side. The downward movement ends when the bar touches your body briefly. The movement should be very controlled with no bouncing and springing back of the bar. At the lowest point, your forearms should be at a right angle to the floor, while your elbows are directly under the bar. If you do not reach this position, you should either reach closer to you or further away from you.

The upward movement and lockout

After the bar has briefly touched your body, move it explosively upwards on an exhale. The goal is to return to the previously described stable starting position with elbows straight and the barbell vertically over the shoulder (lockout). From this position you can either start another repetition or finish the exercise by letting the weight tilt backwards into the holder.

Weight recommendation for the bench press

Weights for Exercising

The bench press is one of the exercises where you can lift the most weight. However, the correct technique is more important than pressing a lot of weight. Beginners should therefore start with the barbell bar without any weight on it and increase the weight in small steps (by approx. 1.25 kg per side each time) only if the exercise is performed correctly.

Bench Press Equipment

  • Barbell (preferably an Olympia barbell with 220 cm length)
  • Weight discs
  • Flat bench with dumbbell rack

Bench press variations

Repetitions and Exercises

Inclining bench press

The angle of the bench is increased to 30-65° for this variation. As a result you have a more upright posture and the stimulus is more on your “upper” chest and shoulder muscles.

Dumbbell bench press

In this variation, you perform the bench press with one dumbbell in each hand. This allows you to compensate for any strength differences between the two halves of your body. Furthermore, the dumbbell bench press offers the possibility to move your hand and shoulder joints and elbows naturally. This variation is especially suitable for trainers who are prone to injuries.

Typical bench press mistakes

Equipment and Exercising
  • Incorrect breathing: breathing into the abdominal cavity is important for stabilising the centre of your body.
  • Elbows too far away from the body: If your elbows are too far away from your body (in line with your shoulders), a heavy load is placed on your shoulder joint, exposing you to a high risk of injury.
  • Dropping the bar onto your chest: If you drop the bar on your chest in the last third of the downward movement to gain momentum and lift more weight, you can seriously injure your chest. Also, the efficiency of the exercise is reduced because you bypass the hardest part of the exercise (the low position) and do not train the full range of motion. In addition, you will unintentionally and uncontrollably perform a heart muscle massage. The movement should therefore be controlled – the heart muscle should not be messed with!
  • Bending your wrists: if you bend your wrists, you will lose strength, because the physical force from the forearms does not go directly into the bar, but has to make a detour via the bent wrist. In this case, the arthrokinetic reflex prevents the complete activation of your muscles, so that you do not have access to your full strength and thus cannot trigger an effective strength training stimulus. In addition, you greatly increase the risk of injury to your wrists.
  • Incomplete range of motion: a repetition of a bench press only counts if the bar touches your chest. If the weight is so heavy that you don’t dare to rest the weight briefly on your chest, you will not use your full range of motion. A full repetition is more effective, less stressful for the shoulder joint and promotes mobility.

In which training plans do bench presses occur?

Find out how you can optimally integrate bench presses into your training plan and which exercises you can best complement them with on our page about chest training.

Frequently asked questions and answers

You should aim to bench press about twice a week. Make sure that you allow the trained muscle groups enough time to regenerate between these two training sessions.

Always practice technique first. Start with no weight, when you’re comfortable aim for about 50% of your body weight and then slowly increase it from there. Soon you will find your individual weight.

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