Bench Press Exercise Guide – Muscles Worked, Variations, and Benefits

The bench press is one of the most popular and widely used upper body strength and hypertrophy building movements. In this guide we will discuss the bench press, the muscles worked, and some very helpful styles and variations to not only boost your bench press, but also to help you maximize strength and muscle gains and minimize injury.

Muscles Worked

The bench press is an upper body pressing movement to increase the size, strength, and performance of primarily the anterior upper body. Below are the primary muscles used, as well as secondary muscles used to assist and support the movement, in order:

  • Pectorals (chest)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior Deltoid (Shoulders)
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Gluteals
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Rhomboids
  • Forearms

Why Bench Press?

Below are some of the key concepts one should grasp about bench press training how it can relate to enhancements in general fitness and sports performance.

1. Muscular Hypertrophy

The bench press is a potent upper body mass building exercise that stresses some of the largest muscles in the body. The chest, triceps, and even back can be trained with high volume and intensity with the classic lift. Increasing muscular size and density can lead to enhancements in strength and performance capabilities as well.

2. Upper Body Strength

The bench press is one of two pressing movement patterns (the other is vertical pressing). By using the horizontal pressing (bench pressing and all the variations below) one can maximally induce strength development through the upper body chain. This is useful not only for a bigger bench, but can increase performance overhead and movements in front of the athlete (combative and formalized sports).

3. Pressing and Lockout Performance

Whether you are powerlifter, strongman athlete, fitness and CrossFit® competitor, or even an Olympic weightlifter, increased muscle mass and pressing strength can be key to sports performance. Powerlifting and strongman competitors must perform pressing in competition (the bench is one of three lifts for competitive powerlifters) greatly relying upon upper body pressing strength. Other athletes rely heavily lockout and pressing strength performance during overhead and supported positions (jerks, dips, snatches). Additionally, the increased upper body mass could be beneficial for rack positioning and performance in the front squat and clean, however athletes must remain mobile and supple in their movement abilities.

Bench Press Variations

Below are a few of the most common bench press movements, as well as some more unique ones to address weaknesses.

Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is the standard pressing style seen in most gyms and competitive events (powerlifting). This movement can be done with a wide array of grips widths, bench angles, tempos, and variations to manipulate the leverages and components to enhance muscular development and pressing performance.

Floor Press

The floor press, which can be done with bars or dumbbells, is a bench press variation that has a lifter assume a lying start on the floor. By perfuming the press on the floor vs the bench, the range of motion is decreased, placing a much greater load on the triceps and chest. This partial bench press movement can be beneficial for added muscular hypertrophy to those muscle groups, lockout strength, or a variation to allow pressing with athletes who may have shoulder injuries or precautions.

Dumbbell Bench Press

In an earlier piece we discussed the dumbbell bench press and how it can be used to increase muscular development and performance for pressing athletes and general fitness. By training with dumbbells, you allow for greater range of motion (increases stimulus), unilateral development, and can better adjust the angles movement patterning to best fit every athlete’s anthropometric differences at the shoulder.

Push Up

While this is not a “bench press” variation, the ability to perform push ups is critical for bench press performance. Without the ability to support oneself on the push up can lead to injury and weakness in supported pressing pressing styles.

Fat Bar Bench Press

The fat Bar is a variation (either using Fat Gripz of fat bar) that can increase grip strength and stabilization of the arm and shoulder during the press. By doing so, less ability to compensate with excessive extension of the wrist (due to the fat grip) can lead to better elbow and shoulder joint function, increasing emphasis on the triceps and chest.

Swiss Bar Bench Press

This pressing style has a lifter use a Swiss bar to perform the movement, which differs the angle of the hands on the bar (and width). By doing so, the stress on the shoulder is decreased, with a large increase in triceps and pectoral development. Similar to the floor press, this can be used for strength and hypertrophy specific to those groups, lockout performance, and precautionary measures for those with shoulder concerns.

Pin Press

The pin press (also very similar is the board press) can be done to increase strength at a specific sticking point throughout the bench press range of motion. Similar benefits to the floor press or the rack pull for deadlifting, this movement can be done to address weakness in certain ranges, add hypertrophy and stress to particular muscle groups, and even limit movements for cautious athletes with injuries or special considerations.

Want a Bigger Bench?

Take a look at some of our top content to improve your mobility, strength, and overall muscular development specifically for a bigger and stronger bench press!

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.