How to Do Bench Press: Variations, Proper Form, Techniques

How to Do Bench Press: Variations, Proper Form, Techniques

Table of Contents

The bench press is an upper-body weight-training exercise that involves laying on a bench and lifting a barbell up and down over your chest. Bench presses are effective compound lift exercises for improving upper body size and strength. They primarily focus on “mirror muscles” like the chest, shoulders, and upper arm muscles.

Proper bench press form requires you to keep your feet on the floor, back arched, lats retracted, inhaling before the sticking point, and always touching your chest when you bring the barbell down. Improved grip strength can help you lift even more weight. 

The mistakes most people make when bench pressing include poor form, not touching their chest with the barbell, bouncing the barbell off their chest, improper breathing, and not using a spotter. These mistakes can result in injuries like rotator cuff injuries, glenoid labral tears near the shoulder socket, subacromial bursitis, and even death.

The four main types of bench press include the traditional, inclined, narrow grip, and declined bench presses. This guide includes information about how to master bench press form with proper bench press techniques. 

How to Perform Bench Press with Proper Form?

Proper form for bench press involves using the correct muscle groups as well as focusing on the way you move. The proper form for a bench press involves eight components.

  1. Foot position – Your foot placement creates a strong base from which to draw power. You will want to keep them flat on the ground and as far back toward your glutes as possible as you lay on the incline bench. 
  2. Back position – Keep your lower back arched and tight as you lift. You should also squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Grip – Hold the bar parallel with your shoulders and as far down your palm as possible with a straight wrist. 
  4. Bracing and Breathing – Take in a deep breath to brace your abdominal wall before unracking the weights. Imagine bending the bar into a U-shape as you lift to help you tuck in your elbows, which engages your lats and protects your shoulders. Breathe out forcefully after you get past the sticking point.
  5. Touching Your Chest – Keep your forearms at a 90° angle from the ground when you touch your chest and try to touch your chest in the same spot for each repetition.
  6. Pushing up – When you lift the weights, push your feet to the ground and tighten your glutes. You should move the bar in a reversed J pattern and breathe out forcefully after you get past the sticking point.

Proper form is necessary for any weightlifting program to prevent injury. It can also help you to lift more weight or do more repetitions.

What Are the Phases of Conventional Bench Press?

The conventional bench press is an exercise that you do while lying on an incline bench and moving a barbell up and down over your chest. Every bench press has six stages.

  1. Starting Position – The starting position for a bench press is to lay down on the incline bench. Be sure your feet, back, and shoulder blades are in proper form from the beginning.
  2. Movement Pattern – After unracking the barbell, the movement pattern involves moving the barbell toward and away from your chest while maintaining proper form.  
  3. Breathing Pattern – Inhale when you lower the barbell to your chest and exhale and exhale when you move the barbell upward and away from your chest after you push past the sticking point.  
  4. Grip Position – Your grip position should allow you to keep your forearms at a 90° angle from the floor. Long arms may require a wider grip, while short arms may require a narrower grip. 
  5. Scapular Retraction – Keeping your shoulder blades together and relaxed downward while you lift reduces joint stress and shoulder injuries. It also allows you to move weight more effectively. 
  6. Sticking Point – The sticking point is the hardest part of the upward lift. Pushing the bar off your chest requires strong chest and shoulder muscles while pushing the bar up farther requires strong triceps. 

What Are the Mistakes for Bench Press Form?

You will want to avoid these Bench Press Mistakes in your bench press form. Good bench press form avoids these common mistakes. It may be worth filming your bench press form when just starting out so that you can review afterwards.

  1. Flaring your elbows
  2. Not keeping your feet flat on the floor
  3. Not getting the barbell to your chest
  4. Letting the barbell bounce off your chest
  5. Not arching your back during the lift
  6. Not keeping your hips on the bench during the lift
  7. Not retracting your scapula and lats during the lift
  8. Letting your head lift off the bench
  9. Not keeping your wrists straight
  10. Using a grip that’s too wide or narrow for your arms or goals
  11. Having an uneven grip
  12. Not breathing properly during the lift
  13. Not using a spotter

How to Determine Proper Weight for Bench Press?

The proper weight to use for a bench press depends on your body weight, experience, gender, and age. The more you weigh, and the younger and more fit you are, the more you should be able to lift. 

A person in their 20s at peak weightlifting fitness should be able to lift 100% or more of their body weight. However, the amount a fit person can lift decreases by 10% every decade. 

A beginner should not expect to be able to lift as much. Because the barbell alone may weigh as much as 44-45 pounds, you can start out with a barbell bench press without any weight on it to get an idea of where you are. 

If you add more weights, they should be light enough that you’re able to complete 2-3 sets with 8-10 reps while maintaining perfect form. Only increase the weight after you are able to do three sets easily.

What Is the Importance of Grip for Bench Press?

A natural grip position allows you to feel more comfortable. However, a wide grip allows you to lift more weight and a narrow grip allows you to do more reps. 

Your grip strength is related to where you put your hands on the barbell during the bench press. 

The grip that feels most natural and comfortable for a bar bench press is when you keep your hands shoulder-width apart. 

A grip narrower than your shoulder width works your triceps more and allows you to do fuller reps because of extra elbow flexion.

A grip about 4 inches wider than your shoulder allows you to shorten your bar path and lift more weight with less effort. It also works your shoulder muscles more. 

Which Muscles Are Involved While Performing Bench Press?

The muscles that you work while doing a bench press depend on the type of bench press you do.

  1. Traditional Bench Press – Bench pressing the barbell up and down at chest height works the pectoral, shoulder, and arm muscles.
  2. Incline Bench Press – Bench pressing the barbell lying at a 45° to 60° angle works your pectorals (chest), front (anterior) deltoids, and triceps.
  3. Decline Bench Press – Bench pressing with your feet higher than your head works the lower chest and shoulder muscles.
  4. Narrow Grip Bench Press – Bench pressing while gripping the barbell narrower than shoulder-width exercises the tricep and forearm muscles.
  5. Wide Grip Bench Press – Greg Nuckols, who has three bench press world records, says that you can work your pecs better by flaring your shoulders to 60° than by tucking your elbows into a 30°-45° shoulder angle.

How to Do A Bench Press?

Learning how to bench press involves three steps.

  1. Lay on your back on a flat bench and grip the bar with your hands
  2. Inhale for abdominal bracing and lower the barbell to your chest
  3. Lift the barbell above your chest

1. Lay on your back on a flat bench and grip the bar with your hands

During the first step of a bench press, you will lay down with your back on a weight bench. Laying on the bench allows you to get your body in the correct position for the bench press and gives you easy access to your barbell. You can either use the barbell alone or load it with the proper amount of weights. Your bench should be parallel to the floor for a traditional bench press.

Lay on your back on a flat bench and grip the bar with your hands

Your grip is where you place your hands on the barbells. Initially, the barbell will be on the bench press bar above you. When you reach up to grab it, the position in that you place your hands is important. For a traditional bench press, you will have your palms facing away from you when you grab it (unlike a reverse grip bench press where your palms face inward).

Your grip will be straight above your head with your arms shoulder-width apart. If you have longer arms, you may need to go a little wider, and if you have short arms, you may need to go a little narrower on your grip. When you hold the barbell, the bar should be as far down your palm as possible, and you should keep your wrists straight to avoid injuring yourself. 

2. Inhale for abdominal bracing and lower the barbell to your chest

When you position your body correctly and brace it, you will not only get more benefits from the bench press, but you will also avoid injury. So, before you move the bar off the rack, you need to ensure that your body is in the right position.

When you lay down on the bench, your feet will be off the bench and straddling it. Be sure to keep them as far back as possible while still flat on the ground. Your feet are a strong base for bench pressing, and you will be using them to brace yourself. 

You will need to keep your lower back arched and tight while you lift. You will also want to ensure that you keep your hips flush to the bench during your lifts to keep your lower back safe. 

Retracting your scapula and lats provides a safer and stronger bench press. The way you do this is to squeeze your scapula (or shoulder blades) together. Then, you will drop your shoulders down slightly to relax them while still keeping them squeezed together. This keeps you from straining your shoulders. 

You will be actively using your back muscles to prevent your chest and shoulder from rounding forward. After you retract your scapula and lats, your arms should be in the correct position for the lift.

Before you unrack the weights and lower them, you should take in a deep breath. This breath allows you to brace your abdominal wall. Abdominal bracing contracts the muscles around your spine to make your midsection more rigid.

Abdominal bracing helps keep you from moving your spine into a position where you might injure it. Inhaling also oxygenates your muscles and gives you more energy for repetitions.

The first half of the bench press involves lowering the barbell to your chest. You should bring your barbell all the way down to your chest, actually touching your chest. When you get the barbell to your chest, your forearms should be at a 90° angle from the floor.

3. Lift the Barbell Above Your Chest

The second half of the bench press involves pushing the barbell up to hold it as high as possible above your chest. Imagining that you are bending the bar in a U-shape as you lift up will help you to keep your elbows tucked in instead of flaring them out.

Lift the Barbell Above Your Chest

You will keep the same bracing and breathing form as you did when lowering the barbell. However, you will want to push your feet more firmly into the ground and squeeze your glutes for more power as you move the barbell upward.

When you get past the sticking point, you can finally exhale.  You may find that you had to exhale during the pressing movement which is okay.

What Are the Bench Press Challenges?

Bench press challenges are exercises you can do to challenge and press yourself to become better at bench presses over time. You can try these challenges to break up routine monotony as well as gain strength.

  1. Bodyweight Bench Press – Count how many times you can bench press your own body weight in five minutes.
  2. 225 Bench Press – Test how many times you can bench press 225 pounds in a day.
  3. PREP Reps – Use bench presses as the strength portion of the 4-week or 6-week Beachbody challenge with Super Trainer Amolia Cesar.
  4. Squeeze Press – Try repetitions of bench pressing two small dumbbells over your head instead of one large one. See how many you can do. 
  5. Bench Press 21s – Doing the bottom half of a bench press for the first seven reps, the top half of a bench press for the second seven reps and a full bench press for the last seven reps can help build strength at different phases of the bench press. 
  6. Failure to Failure – Challenge yourself to bench press until you can’t bench press more. Try to increase how many you can do overtime. Just be careful to stop before your form breaks down and recover adequately between workouts to prevent injury.

Varying some of these challenges with inclines, dumbbells, or incline dumbbell bench presses can bring even more variety to your routine.

What Are the Bench Press Variations?

Bench press variations are different ways that you can do a bench press to work different muscles and reduce monotony in your routine. You will find that you will have different personal bench press records for each variation.

These bench press variations change your workout by changing the angle of your bench or the position of your hands on the barbell.  For each repetition, be sure to touch your chest at the same spot for muscle-building consistency. 

1. Traditional Bench Press

The traditional bench press is the most basic type of bench press. You should perform it lying flat on a bench with your arms shoulder-width apart. During the exercise, you will repeat lowering the barbell to your chest and lifting the barbell into the air.

The traditional bench press works your pectoral, shoulder, and arm muscles. You only need a barbell, weights (if using), and a weight bench to do a traditional bench press. The traditional bench press has six easy steps.

  1. Lay on your back on a flat bench.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands. When you lift the barbell off the rack, you should grip it with your hands at shoulder width for the traditional bench press. The variation that involves a narrower grip is better for repetitions, while a variation that involves a wider grip is better for lifting maximum weight. 
  3. Brace your body. You will need to keep your feet flat to the floor, back arched, hips down, and lats retracted. Bracing your body helps you lift more weight and stay safe.
  4. Inhale for abdominal bracing. Your inhale will keep your abdominal wall braced for you. Breathing in during the bench press can help you get more oxygen and energy to your muscles, which is especially helpful if you are doing a lot of repetitions.
  5. Lower the barbell to your chest. Your retracted lats should keep your arms in the right position. Your forearms should be at a 90° angle with the ground, and the barbell should actually touch your chest.
  6. Lift the barbell above your chest. After you bring the barbell to your chest, start to lift it up as far as you can. After you get past the sticking point, you can exhale. 

2. Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press. Instead of performing it lying flat on a bench, you will change the incline of the weight bench so that your head lifts up at a 45°-60° angle. 

Just as in the traditional bench press, you will repeat lowering the barbell to your chest and lifting the barbell into the air. However, this angle works your pectorals (chest), front (anterior) deltoids, and triceps more than the traditional bench press does.

To perform an incline bench press, you only need a barbell, weights (if using), and a weight bench that can incline at the head. 

An incline bench press has six easy steps.

  1. Lay on your back on an inclined bench. You should incline the head of the bench to a 45°-60° angle.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands. When you lift the barbell off the rack, you should grip it with your hands at shoulder width as you do for a traditional bench press. 
  3. Brace your body. Like with the traditional bench press, you will need to keep your feet flat to the floor, back arched, hips down, and lats retracted. Bracing your body helps you lift more weight and stay safe.
  4. Inhale for abdominal bracing. Your inhale will keep your abdominal wall braced for you. Breathing in during the bench press can help you get more oxygen and energy to your muscles, which is especially helpful if you are doing a lot of repetitions.
  5. Lower the barbell to your chest. Your retracted lats should keep your arms in the right position. Your forearms should be at a 90° angle with the ground, and the barbell should actually touch your chest. You will also want to actively stretch your pectoral muscles to keep your shoulders on the bench.
  6. Lift the barbell above your chest. After you bring the barbell to your chest, start to lift it up as far as you can. Actively pressing your knees out helps activate your glutes and quads to help get your weight off your chest. Keep your shoulders on the bench without flaring out your elbows. After you get past the sticking point, you can exhale. 

3. Narrow Grip Bench Press

The narrow grip bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press. You should perform it lying flat on a bench with your arms closer together than shoulder-width apart. During the exercise, you will repeat lowering the barbell to your chest and lifting the barbell into the air.

The narrow grip bench press works your tricep and forearm muscles. It’s also easier to do more repetitions than the traditional bench press. 

You only need a barbell, weights (if using), and a weight bench to do a narrow grip bench press. 

Narrow grip bench presses only have six steps. 

  1. Lay on your back on a flat bench.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands. Your grip should be narrower than shoulder-width for the narrow grip bench press. Your hands should be more than six inches apart from each other so that you don’t internally rotate your shoulders and add extra stress to your shoulder joints.
  3. Brace your body. As with all bench presses, you will need to keep your feet flat to the floor, back arched, hips down, and lats retracted. Bracing your body helps you lift more weight and stay safe.
  4. Inhale for abdominal bracing. Your inhale will keep your abdominal wall braced for you. Breathing in during the bench press can help you get more oxygen and energy to your muscles, which is especially helpful if you are doing a lot of repetitions.
  5. Lower the barbell to your chest. Your forearms should be at a 90° angle with the ground with your wrists stacked on top of your elbows. Keep your elbows tucked about 30° from your body. These positions reduce wrist and shoulder stress. The barbell should touch your chest slightly lower than it does with a traditional bench press.
  6. Lift the barbell above your chest. After you bring the barbell to your chest, start to lift it up as far as you can. After you get past the sticking point, you can exhale. 

4. Decline Bench Press

The decline bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press. Instead of performing it lying flat on a bench, you will change the incline of the weight bench so that your feet lift up higher than your head. 

Just as in the traditional bench press, you will repeat lowering the barbell to your chest and lifting the barbell into the air. However, this angle works your lower chest and shoulder muscles more than traditional bench presses do.

To perform an incline bench press, you only need a barbell, weights (if using), and a weight bench that can decline. This one may be easier on a bench press machine since the angle is awkward. It may also be better to start with lighter weights because of the angle. 

A decline bench press has six easy steps.

  1. Lay on your back on a declined bench. You will need to secure your feet.
  2. Grip the bar with your hands. When you lift the barbell off the rack, you should grip it with your hands at shoulder width as you do for a traditional bench press. 
  3. Brace your body. You will need to keep your feet secured, hips down, and lats retracted. However, it may not be possible to keep your back rounded.
  4. Inhale for abdominal bracing. Your inhale will keep your abdominal wall braced for you. Breathing in during the bench press can help you get more oxygen and energy to your muscles, which is especially helpful if you are doing a lot of repetitions.
  5. Lower the barbell to your chest. Your retracted lats should keep your arms in the right position. Your forearms should be at a 90° angle with the ground, and the barbell should actually touch your chest. 
  6. Lift the barbell above your chest. After you bring the barbell to your chest, start to lift it up as far as you can. You keep your shoulders on the bench without flaring out your elbows. After you get past the sticking point, you can exhale. 

What Are the Necessary Equipment for Bench Press?

To bench press, you will need a few pieces of equipment.

  1. Weight bench
  2. Barbell
  3. Weights

Alternately, you can use a bench press machine. 

What Are the World Records for Bench Press?

The world record for bench press is about how much a person can lift in a single bench press without using a bridging technique. The world record doesn’t take weight class or a governing organization into account.

Various federations record bench press records. However, the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) is one of the most popular. They drug test and restrict supportive equipment. However, equipped competitors can wear a single-ply polyester shirt or suit and use knee and wrist wraps. They limit unequipped or raw competitors to soft suits and neoprene knee sleeves.

The current record for a raw lift is 770 pounds without a bench press shirt. However, with a bench press shirt (which helps provide upward force by supporting the lifter’s shoulders), the record is 1102 pounds.  

Women Bench Press Records

In 2021, Rae-Ann Coughenour-Miller set a record for lifting 605 pounds using Metal Militia Powerlifting standards. 

April Mathis set the raw bench press record by lifting 457.4 pounds in 2016, under Southern Powerlifting Federation standards.

Men Bench Press Records

Julius Maddox set the men’s world record for a raw bench press without equipment when he lifted 782 pounds in 2021, under IPF standards.

However, Jimmy Kolb holds the current world record for an equipped lift (with a bench press shirt) when he lifted 1120 pounds on June 27, 2021, under IPF standards.

What Is the Origin of Bench Press?

Some say that the bench press originated with the weighted exercises that Roman soldiers would do. 

However, George Hackenshmidt invented the floor press in 1899 when he pressed a 350-pound barbell by laying on the floor and rolling it over his face. It became popular for its difficulty.

Three years later, Georg Lurich used a belly toss technique to lift 443 pounds.

Bill Lilly set a record of 484 pounds in the 1920s when rules began to allow a complete arm lockout position.

However, in the mid-1930s, lifters started to use wooden boxes and benches to do a bench press that looks more like the bench press of today.

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) standardized the bench press in 1939, calling it the “pullover and press.” However, bending your legs, raising your glutes or shoulders, or separating your heels disqualified your lift.

Who Named the Bench Press?

The bench press that we know today began to first evolve in the 1930s with the usage of benches. While there’s no definite information about who named the bench press, the IPF first started taking official bench press records in 1973.

Which Muscles Can Be Affected More from Bench Press?

You activate several muscles when you do a bench press.

  1. Pectoralis major: This is the muscle in the center of your chest over your ribs. Wide grip bench presses work pecs more. 
  2. Pectoralis minor: This flat muscle under the pectoralis major in your chest helps stabilize the shoulder.
  3. Anterior deltoid: This is the front part of the shoulder muscle. It helps bring your arms in toward each other as you lift the weight. Wide grip and incline bench presses work deltoids most.
  4. Triceps brachii: These are the muscles on the back of your upper arm that help with elbow extensions and straightening your arm when you do pressing movements. Narrow grip bench presses work triceps more.

What Are the Back Muscle Exercises with Bench Press?

Your back muscles help to support your bar path during a bench press, and working them can help to balance out your strength. 

DB High Rows is an exercise that you can do on a bench to help improve your back muscles. 

  1. Lay on an inclined bench.
  2. Start with your elbows out to your side with a dumbbell in each hand.
  3. Pull the dumbbells toward your face.

What Are the Leg Muscle Exercises with Bench Press?

While bench pressing, powerlifters use their legs to their advantage, focusing on leg drive during the bench press. Leg drive allows you to apply maximum force to the barbell. leg

Most lifters start with their shins verticle. Experiment with placing your feet closer to your shoulders, but not too close. You want to be able to create a maxim drive through the floor but away from you while maintaining your other bracing positions. 

Your feet should remain flat, and the main pressure point on the floor should be on your outer heel, not your toes.

What Is the Effectiveness of Bench Press for Muscle Growth When Compared to Squat?

Both bench presses and squats are effective for muscle growth. However, squats target the lower body, while bench presses target the upper body. 

With squats, you can expect to work the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominal muscles, and calves instead of the pecs, deltoids, and triceps that you work with bench presses. 

Bench presses provide several benefits.

  1. Increased upper body strength
  2. Larger and stronger pecs
  3. Larger and stronger deltoids
  4. Larger and stronger triceps
  5. Improved bone health

Does Bench Press Affect the Hormones?

Hormones are the chemical messengers that travel through your bloodstream to your tissues and organs. 

Studies show that the more resistance exercises like bench presses that you do, the more it activates your endocrine system (or your hormones). Testosterone, cortisol, and creatine kinase (CK) all raise slightly when you do bench presses, but it’s necessary to do a larger volume to activate them and achieve long-term adaptation. 

Does Bench Press Increase Testosterone?

Testosterone is the main sex hormone and natural anabolic steroid for males. Clinical studies show that testosterone does increase slightly during resistance exercises like bench presses and for about 15 minutes afterward. 

Losing weight, being older, working out in the evening, and being in better shape all seem to be factors that can increase the amount of testosterone a strength-training workout can give you.

Does Bench Press Affect the Mood?

In a paper from the journal of JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found that weight training workouts like bench presses reduce the symptoms of depression. The results are the same regardless of the number of weekly workouts or improvements in physical strength.

Another study from the University of Georgia shows that weight training helps manage anxiety as much as some antidepressants.

Is Bench Press Practiced within Crossfit?

While the bench press is not a fundamental component of Crossfit routines, some trainers add it into routines.

Is Bench Press a Military Movement?

The military does not require bench presses for fitness testing, instead of relying on bodyweight tests like pushups. However, they do have bench press benches or machines available in their fitness centers. 

Is Bench Press Dangerous?

Bench presses can be dangerous and even kill you if a heavy barbell slips out of your hands and lands on your face, throat, or chest while you are lifting. This danger is why it’s a good idea to only lift when you have a spotter.

Is Bench Press Push or Pull?

The bench press is both a push exercise and a pull exercise. You pull it toward your chest and push it away from your chest.

Is Bench Press Essential?

The traditional bench press is one of the most basic bodybuilding exercises for upper body strength. However, there are other exercises that you can do for upper body strength, so it’s not essential if you replace it with other upper body exercises. 

Is Bench Press an Olympic Lift?

The bench press is not an Olympic lift. In fact, none of the Olympic weightlifting competitions currently involve a bench. Olympic lifters must lift weights from the floor.

Is Bench Press a Compound Exercise?

Yes, a bench press is a compound exercise because it works for multiple muscle groups at the same time. Since a bench press works the pecs, deltoids, and triceps, it falls under the category of a compound exercise.

What Can Replace Bench Press?

The dumbbell chest fly is an optimal bench press replacement that will allow for you to work the pectoral muscles.

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