The bench press has been around for a long time. Officially, the concept of the bench press first came to light in 1899, when a strongman called George Hackenschmidt used a position called the “wrestler’s bridge” when lifting barbells.
Since that fateful day more than 100 years ago, athletes and bodybuilders around the world – including a few in my Marc Dressen training sessions, have been using bench press exercises to help them build muscle and develop strength.
There’s a reason why the bench press is so popular – it’s one of the best all-around exercises you can do, perfect for training your pecs, shoulders, lats, and even your legs to some level.
So, how do you do the bench press right?
That’s the question you’re going to know the answer to by the time you’ve finished reading this article.
So, let’s get started.
What is a Bench Press?
Before we can examine how you do a bench press properly, we need to answer one crucial question: What is a bench press?
When most people refer to a bench press, they’re talking about the “flat barbell bench press” awn exercise where you use a weightlifting bench and a rack capable of holding your barbell above your head. You simply lie on the bench, pull the bar away from the rack, and lower it to your chest, before lifting it back up again to perform your bench pres. There are also some common variations of the standard exercise, such as:
- The incline bench press: This is the same as the option we mentioned above, the only difference is that the bench you’re lying on is at an incline. You can also perform the raise with dumbbells instead of barbells.
- Dumbbell bench press: This simply involves performing a bench press with a pair of dumbbells instead of a barbell.
- Close-grip bench press: The same as a flat barbell press, except you perform it with a closer grip than you would in a standard exercise.
- Reverse grip bench press: In this exercise, your palms face towards you instead of away from you.
- Decline bench press: This is the same as aw standard bench press, except the bench your lying on is at a declining angle.
- Smith machine bench press: This is the same as your standard bench press, except it uses a smith machine instead of a barbell
Which Muscles Do You Exercise with a Bench Press?
If you’re thinking of adding a bench press to your strength routine, then you’ll want to know which muscles it works, to ensure that you’re going to reach your fitness goals. A lot of people assume that the bench press trains the chest, but the truth is that it can also train almost every muscle in the body, except your calves, and glutes. Your bench press can train your forearms, triceps, deltoids, pectoralis, Latissimus dorsi, and more.
The stronger you become, the more you’ll rely on other groups of muscles throughout your body to keep you stable as you bench press, and that way you end up with a more full-bodied exercise.
To perform a big compound movement like a bench press, you’re going to need to get your form right from day one. This means starting with the right setup and knowing how to:
- Position your body
- Grip the bar
- Position your feet
- Arch your back
- Handle the bar/dumbbells
1. Position your Body
The first thing you need to do is get your body in the right position. Spread yourself across the bench in a way that places your eyes just beneath the weight you’ll be lifting. Lift your chest up, with your shoulder blades squeezing together. You should feel a certain tightness in the upper portion of your back.
2. Grip the Bar
With your body properly positioned, hold onto the bar with your arms a little more than shoulder-width apart, and your palms facing away from you. If you tighten your grip too much, then you could shift the focus of your lift to your triceps instead of your pecs, and if you go too wide, then your range of motion will be limited.
3. Position your Feet
Place your feet flat on the ground, around shoulder-width apart – the same as your arms. Make sure that you work on your position until you find something that feels secure and stable. Some people like to pull their feet back a little towards the bench, while others like to have their feet straight down under their knees.
4. Arch your Back
Don’t attempt to lift the bar or dumbbells with your back flat against the bench, but don’t arch your spine so much that you’re not properly on the bench either. Instead, maintain the natural curve in your spine that happens when you push your feet apart and your chest upwards.
5. Unrack the Bar
Pull the bar away from the bench by locking your elbows and moving the bar off the hooks. With your arms locked, pull the bar out until it’s above your shoulders, and carefully manage the weight so that you feel stable and confident.
6. Begin the Descent
Once you’re comfortable that you’ve got a good grip on the bar, you can begin to gradually bring it down towards your body. Remember to tuck your elbows in properly, as some people make the mistake of flaring them outwards and away from the body – which can cause pain in your shoulders, and lead to aggravation in your elbow joints. Maintain your elbows at a 50 to 60-degree angle against your torso and keep your arms steady throughout the movement. This should help to protect you against shoulder injury.
7. The Ascent
Finally, you’ll need to push the bar back up and away from your body. To do this, make sure that you visualize yourself pushing your torso away from the bar, and into the bench, while you lift the weight away from you. Keep your shoulder blades down and your lower back slightly arched, with your feet flat against the floor. Your elbows should be tucked into your body and remember to lock them when you reach the very top of the motion.
Once you’ve finished your final rep, you can rack the bar. You’ll need to carefully motion the bar onto the rack and release it carefully.
Finishing Thoughts on Bench Presses
If you want to get measurable results from your strength routine, then it’s a good idea to add bench presses into the mix. However, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got the form right. This is one of the best exercises around for targeting a range of muscle groups, but if you do it wrong, you could risk some serious injury.
If you’re starting for the first time, make sure that you have the help of an online fitness trainer to talk you through it.
<span style=”font-size: 18px;”><strong>Marc Dressen</strong></span>
Personal Trainer London
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