Few weightlifting exercises develop the pectoral muscles as much and effectively as the bench press does.
A lot of weight can be moved with it because it’s a compound exercise. This has a lot of benefits with regard to building strength and muscle mass.
However, since large amounts of weight can be moved, it’s important to lift with proper technique to prevent injuries. Here’s how and why you should bench press.
What is a bench press?
The bench press is a compound exercise which mainly targets the chest muscles, but also works out synergistic muscles like the anterior Deltoids and the Triceps.
It’s usually performed as a chest building exercise for powerlifting or bodybuilding purposes, The equipment used for bench pressing is usually a barbell, but is also sometimes done with dumbbells.
Multiple variations exist like for example incline bench press and decline bench press. Or with dumbbells, called the incline dumbbell press and the decline dumbbell press. These variations effectively places the focus on different parts of the pectoral muscles.
Benefits of bench press
The bench press is a compound exercise, which means it targets and uses multiple muscles at the same time.
This makes it a great exercise for increasing pushing strength.
Increased muscle mass
Being a compound exercise makes it a staple and one of the best exercises for increasing muscle mass around the chest area. The squat and barbell deadlift are other fantastic compound movements to pack on the pounds.
Of course, only working out won’t allow you to magically gain a large amount of muscles. But when combined with a good diet and an overall decent training routine, it will most definitely increase your muscle mass.
Strengthens your bones
Bone density increases in people who lift weights due to the microtrauma’s it creates and our body repairing it slightly stronger every time.
This makes lifting weights and resistance training in general an excellent tool for people, especially the elderly who often have age related diseases like osteoporosis, in order to stabilize or even improve joint problems.
Boosts your testosterone levels
One of the benefits of the bench press is that it boosts your natural testosterone levels.
Heavy compound exercises with free weights will let your body release a lot of testosterone.
This increase in testosterone levels will allow you to get stronger and build bigger muscles simultaneously! It will even help you to tone your body in general.
The bench press is an intense exercise. Exercising burns calories. Burning calories makes you lose weight.
Makes you look like a beast in front of other people
Who doesn’t want to move heavy ass weights in front of other people?
Being strong and big has its benefits in life.
How to perform a bench press with proper technique
- Lie down on a flat bench. Use a medium width grip. This means positioning your hands on the barbell a little wider than shoulder width so that your elbows are bend at about 90° in the middle of the movement.
- Lift the barbell from the bench rack and lock your elbows. This is what we call the starting position.
- Breathe in and slowly lower the bar to your chest in a controlled manner. The bar should touch around the middle part of your chest.
- Breathe out while pushing the bar back up towards the starting position. Lock your elbows again.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as necessary. When you are done, lock your elbows and place the barbell back in the bench rack.
→ The concentric part of the bench press, which is pushing the barbell upwards, should be done around two times as fast as the eccentric phase, which is lowering the barbell to your chest.
→ Make sure not to bounce the barbell off your chest. This means you are cheating on the exercise, and it most likely means that you are using weights that are too heavy.
Bench press variations
Decline bench press
The bench is set at a decline.
This makes it, so the lower part of the pecs are targeted more than you would when performing a flat bench press.
Incline bench press
The bench is positioned at an incline, often towards an angle of 45°
This angle makes it more effective at targeting the upper pectorals and anterior deltoid than a flat bench press would.
Close grip bench press
This is a flat bench press with your hands positioned closer to each other than a ‘normal’ bench press with a medium width grip.
This close grip places the focus of the exercise more towards the triceps than the chest. Most people can not lift as much weight when close grip bench pressing than benching with a medium width grip.
This means that if size and strength is your most important goal, I would recommend primarily performing the medium width bench press.
Dumbbell chest press
Bench pressing with dumbbells instead of a barbell.
Dumbbells have the added benefit of requiring more stabilization, with the downside of being able to lift less total weight than with a barbell.
Different bench press grips
Full palm grip
Wrap your thumbs around the barbel. Fully and tightly close both hands.
The barbell should be positioned around the middle of your hand palm.
Low full palm grip
Use a full palm grip and position the bar lower down your hand palm.
Make sure not to bend your wrist.
Use a full palm grip around the barbell, but position your hands further apart than you do with the medium width grip.
This wide grip will place more focus on the chest muscles and less on the triceps.
Use a full palm grip around the barbell, but position your hands closer to each other than you do with the medium width grip.
This close grip will place more focus on the triceps muscles and less on the chest muscles.
⇾ DON’T use the thumbless grip! It’s too dangerous since it’s a real possibility for the barbell to slip out of your hands. There’s also no added advantage from using a thumbless grip, so it’s not worth the risk. If you use the thumbless grip because your wrist hurts, then I would recommend switching to a different grip listed above.
When should you not bench press?
If you have upper body injuries like wrist or elbow inflammation
Rest is more appropriate here, and if you do decide to bench press, do so with light weights. Always consult your doctor if you’re not sure whether you can train or not.
If your anterior muscles are overdeveloped
Bench pressing could be detrimental if your chest or anterior deltoid muscles are already disproportional overdeveloped compared to your back or rear deltoid muscles.
In this case, we speak of upper crossed syndrome. Which is essentially an over expressed thoracic kyphosis which means rounding of the upper back/spine. In this case, training your back muscles is the more appropriate solution.
The bench press in my opinion is the best compound exercise for building pectoral strength and muscle.
A huge bonus is that it can be done with both a barbell and dumbbells.
Be aware though, as with any exercise, correct technique must first be established before packing on the weights.
This way, we reduce the chance for potential injuries, and we make sure the muscles we want to target and workout are getting trained without cheating on the movement.