From the first time you set foot in the gym, chances are that the bench press was the exercise you focused on when you began your fitness journey, perhaps even before the squat or deadlift. The bench press likely remains a mainstay in your program in some form.
Whatever your sport or goals may be, there’s no question that a strong bench can do a lot for your fitness game. Let’s break down the nine benefits of the bench and how they apply to you.
Benefits of the Bench Press
- Increased Upper-Body Strength
- Predictor of Upper-Body Strength
- Bigger Pec Major
- Stronger Pec Minor
- Shredded Serratus Anterior
- Iron-Forged Delts
- Crazy Strong Triceps
- Improved Bone Health
- Built for Progress
Because the bench press involves so much of the upper body musculature, strength gains on the lift itself should carry over and improve the amount of weight you can use on other pressing exercises.
The triceps, anterior deltoids, and (to a lesser extent) the upper chest all work hard in each rep of the bench press and are the prime movers themselves in other lifts like the push press, incline bench, or push-up.
According to a 2013 study, a strong bench can help predict upper body strength for various movements. The study used an athlete’s one-rep max to correlate other upper body lifts such as the biceps curl, triceps extension, hammer curl, and shoulder press. (1)
While not an entirely foolproof method for assessing strength — mobility issues and bodily structure can play a significant role in performance — the bench press is regularly (and validly) used as a barometer of power.
The bench press is the go-to for muscle growth, and for good reason. It recruits a majority of the muscle fibers in the pectorals and takes the chest through a respectable range of motion. As the pec major is taxed heavily in the bench press and is responsible for the bulk of the “meat” of the chest, the bench press is second to none for making chest gains.
Even though the pec major is mainly responsible for the chest bulk many strive for, the pec minor also deserves credit in the bench press. This muscle lies deep under the pec major and is trained indirectly through many pressing movements. The pec minor plays a crucial role in downward scapular rotation as well.
The serratus anterior runs along the ribs on either side of the body. It is responsible for aspects of shoulder elevation, flexion, and even throwing a punch. This muscle that sits on the ribs can be strengthened through pressing movements such as the bench press.
If you’re looking to achieve that capped shoulder look, you’ll be happy to hear that the bench press not only works the chest but the anterior and, to a minor degree, the medial deltoid. The front delts shoulder a massive amount of the burden in each repetition of the bench press, providing them a stellar training stimulus.
The triceps make up roughly two-thirds of the arm and consist of the long, lateral, and medial heads. The bench press helps strengthen and build the lateral and medial head of the triceps throughout different ranges of motion, specifically during the lockout phase. Stronger triceps also carry over to other pressing movements. As a cherry on top, big triceps make your arms look great.
Not only will shirts tend to fit better, but a chiseled chest and big triceps are a great way to show your strength subtly.
Improved Bone Health
The bench press, like other compound movements, helps support healthy bones. When there’s added resistance on the body’s structure, especially from larger exercises such as the bench press, the skeletal system adapts and refines itself just like muscle tissue. A study from 2014 saw bone health improvements when the bench press was included in a workout plan for medicating osteoporosis. (2)
As barbell compound lifts go, the bench press is one of the most flexible exercises out there. There are many pathways to getting strong, and the bench can fit on almost all of them. Easy to load, highly customizable in terms of setup and technique, and naturally responsive to various kinds of strength programming, the barbell bench press is a fantastic avenue for strength development in the gym.
How to Do the Bench Press
Without proper attention to form, many of these bench press benefits will be left by the wayside. Below is an easy step-by-step technique guide so you can bring your A-game on International Chest Day.
- Set the barbell to the appropriate height on the rack and lie underneath it so that it is directly over your eyes.
- Lie flat on your back on a bench with your feet planted on the floor.
- Grip the barbell with an overhand grip, between 1-1.5 times wider than your shoulders.
- Take a deep breath in and hold it while removing the barbell from the rack. Lower it from over the shoulder joint down until it lightly grazes the chest.
- Press forcefully off your chest and extend your arms. The barbell should return to directly over the shoulder joint after each rep.
Bench Press Tips
Once you have the broad aspects of the technique locked in, refining the details can help enhance your training even further. Make sure to follow these tips to perform the bench press safely and efficiently.
Arch Your Back
In the bench press, arching your back can actually help prevent injury. Since there is natural curvature in the low back and the spine isn’t loaded axially, arching your back is beneficial for this movement. It is a technique you often see powerlifters using since the adjustment to form increases leverage and reduces the range of motion.
Tuck the Elbows
There is a certain degree to which you want to tuck your elbows in for the bench press. You want to avoid angling your elbows at a perfect “T,” meaning your elbows would be directly parallel to your shoulders. According to a 2019 study, bending the elbows to less than 90 degrees may allow heavier weights. (3)
A popular rule of thumb is to angle the elbows 45 degrees from your body. This helps produce a steadier base to push from and helps target the triceps more. The logic is simple — the more muscles you use, the more weight you can move.
Use a Spotter
It’s never wise to let your ego get in the way, especially when going for a new personal record. We all want to believe that we’ll get that weight up every single time, but sometimes it doesn’t happen, and that’s where spotters come in. Unlike in a squat or a deadlift, bailing out of a bench isn’t as simple as just dropping the weight.
If something goes wrong, an out-of-control barbell could end up doing serious harm. So whether you have a gym buddy already or you need to make a new friend on the floor, never be afraid to ask for a spot.
Bench Press Variations
Although the standard bench press is the most popular, there are several different ways to perform the exercise to target other muscle groups, improve strength and stability, or work around an injury.
Close-Grip Bench Press
There are a few reasons to singe the praises of the close-grip bench pesss. The movement puts more stress on the triceps, reducing pressure on the shoulders. You should always consult a doctor before performing a new exercise if you have a pre-existing injury. Generally speaking, the close-grip bench press is easier on the deltoids.
This bench press variation also targets the triceps more, which means 1) more triceps mass and 2) a stronger lockout as the triceps extend the elbow fully at the apex of the movement.
Wide-Grip Bench Press
Assume a grip that’s one-and-a-half to two times the width measured between your shoulders, and you’re technically performing a wide-grip bench press. Why give this movement a shot? Having your arms farther apart decreases the range of motion of the bench press.
Some powerlifters also think that a wider grip allows them to set their back more firmly against the bench for improved shoulder stability.
Incline Bench Press
To build more of the upper pecs, look into adding the incline bench press into your workout. This variation also helps activate the shoulders more, which helps in overhead pressing movements. The incline makes it more difficult to lift the same weight you’d hit on the flat bench, but it’s excellent in building up the weak points of your upper body.
Decline Bench Press
The decline bench press works more of the lower pecs and can help stimulate more muscle growth, making it extra beneficial for bodybuilders or anyone looking to take some stress off their shoulders. Due to the angle of the bench press, the movement engages more of the pecs and less of the deltoids.
Since you are in a decline position, it might feel awkward at first. Still, some literature suggests that you are potentially able to lift heavier weights in this position compared to other variations. (4)
Although the floor press works the same muscles as the standard bench press, it lessens your range of motion. Despite contending with a shorter ROM, you still won’t be able o press as much weight (since your leg drive is reduced significantly).
The Floor press will help to strengthen the top portion of our bench press. Lastly, eliminating the leverage of the legs can help you really dial in your focus on your chest and triceps in particular.
The list of benefits to performing a picture-perfect bench press may seem exhaustive, but the exercise earns every one of them. There’s a reason it has maintained its popularity among professional strength athletes and recreational gym rats alike.
1. Ngo, Kwan-Lung, Smith, Andrew W., & Tse, Michael A. Using Bench Press Load to Predict Upper Body Exercise Loads in Physically Active Individuals. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2013; 12(1) 38-43
2. Shanb, Alsayed A., Youssef, Enas F. The Impact of Adding Weight-bearing Exercise versus Nonweight Bearing Programs to the Medical Treatment of Elderly Patients with Osteoporosis. Journal of Family and Community Medicine. 2014; 21(3) 176-181 doi: 10.4103/2230-8229.142972
3. Glass, Stephen K. Electromyographical Activity of the Pectoralis Muscle During Incline and Decline Bench Presses. 1997. 11(3) DOI:10.1519/00124278-199708000-00006
4. Melani, Andrea, Gobbi, Guiliana, Galli, Daniella, & Carubbi, Cecilia. Muscle Activation in Traditional and Experimental Barbell Bench Press Exercise: A Potential New Tool for Fitness Maintenance. 2019. 7(10) doi: 10.3390/sports7100224
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