Barbell Bench Press Variations for Chest Muscles

Barbell Bench Press Variations for Chest Muscles

The barbell bench press variations are weightlifting exercises that target the pectoralis major and minor (chest) muscles and are based upon the standard barbell bench press. The bench press variations include the use of either a barbell, dumbbells, or bands.

There are many bench press variations that target different areas of the chest, depending on the variation. Bench press variations are necessary for chest muscles because they target the muscle groups in several ways that the standard barbell bench press does not.

By using different bench press variations, you can focus on various parts of the chest, which can further help you to build strength and size. While only the standard barbell bench press is seen in the Olympics and Strongman competitions, these variations are a supplement to help you increase strength.

The incline bench press variation, for example, involves lifting weights while lying on an incline bench. The incline bench press focuses more on the upper part of the chest muscles. On the other hand, the decline bench press variation involves lifting weights while lying on a decline bench. As a result, the decline bench press focuses more on the lower part of the chest muscles. 

There are several other variations of the bench press, including the wide grip barbell bench press, the barbell floor press, and the paused bench press. Weight-related variations exist for the bench press as well. For example, the weight can be increased or decreased to create a more challenging workout.

Some experienced lifters do pyramid-style lifts where they go up in weight while decreasing reps, reduce the weight while increasing reps, or do the maximum amount of reps with less weight, doing what is called a super-set.

There are also controversial variations of the bench press. They include the lat-bench press and the close-grip bench press. While controversial, these lifts are a great variation for a weightlifter that has plateaued. Finally, there are beginner-level variations of the bench press for those seeking an easier exercise, and an example would include the smith machine bench press.

1. Barbell Bench Press

The bench press is a weightlifting exercise that targets the pectoralis major (chest), deltoid (shoulders), and triceps brachii (triceps) muscles. The barbell bench press is the most common type of bench press, but some alternatives include the dumbbell bench press and the Smith machine bench press.

The barbell bench press form is the best exercise for targeting the chest muscles, but using free weights, like with the dumbbell bench press, is a good alternative for targeting additional muscles. The Smith machine bench press is a good alternative for people new to weightlifting because it is more stable than the barbell bench press.

A common mistake of the barbell bench press is not planting the feet correctly before the lift. It is critical that the feet are flat and placed on the floor. This mistake will not only lead to less weight being lifted but you may become off-balanced and drop the weight.

Two tips to help with barbell bench press are controlling the movement on the way down and pinching the shoulder blade muscles throughout the entire movement. Controlling the weight and pinching the shoulder blades will help to increase the overall weight that is being lifted.

2. Barbell Floor Press

The barbell floor press targets the pectoralis major (chest), deltoid (shoulders), and triceps brachii (triceps) muscles. It is a frequent exercise for athletes who participate in sports, such as football and powerlifting.

The barbell floor press is similar to the standard barbell bench press, with the differences being the location of the lift and the benefits achieved. While traditional bench pressing is done on a bench, the barbell floor press is accomplished on the floor. Additionally, the barbell floor press helps to develop the triceps more than a standard barbell bench press since the movement is focused on the lockout of the lift.

The barbell floor press has a few variations, such as the dumbbell floor press and the trap bar floor press. There are also barbell floor press alternatives, such as the hex press, boards press, and spoto press.

While the barbell floor press is a beginner-friendly lift that helps to save on space and unneeded equipment, there are some common mistakes to avoid. One of these mistakes is not having a spotter. Since the floor press allows for greater amounts of weight to be used, it is important to have a spotter, especially because the bar can come down and break a rib or even fall onto your face (breaking bones or teeth).

Two tips for when completing the barbell floor press are to always use lifting chalk to help cut down on sweat and to explode from the bottom to help with the lockout. The barbell floor press will help an Olympic weightlifter or a Strongman to increase their barbell bench press.

3. Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press

The Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press is a variation of the barbell bench press. The reverse grip targets the pectoralis major and minor (chest), front deltoid (shoulders), pronator teres (forearms), triceps brachii (triceps), biceps brachii (biceps), and overall grip strength.

To master the reverse-grip barbell bench press, ensure that the back is flat on the bench and the shoulder blades retracted, grip the bar with your palms facing away from you, and slowly lower the bar towards the chest, hold for a second and then press the bar back up to the starting position.

While the reverse-grip barbell bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press, there are further variations of the reverse-grip method. These include wide grip and close grip, each targeting a different section of the chest muscles. There are also reverse-grip alternatives, such as the hex bar bench press and the reverse-dumbbell bench press.

A common mistake when learning how to bench press this variation is some people allow the elbows to flare out. It can cause shoulder impingement, so make sure to tuck the elbows into the sides. Two tips for the reverse-grip barbell bench press are to slow the movement down to help build muscle and to use a spotter when just starting out. We recommend a spotter because the reverse-grip barbell bench press is more advanced.

4. Barbell Guillotine Bench Press

The barbell guillotine bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press that targets the pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps. The barbell guillotine bench press puts greater emphasis on developing the upper pectoral muscles due to the incline of the bench.

Variations of the barbell guillotine are the dumbbells guillotine which is the same movement but with the use of dumbbells and the smith machine guillotine bench press.

While the barbell guillotine isn’t hard to master, there are a few common mistakes that beginners make when performing this exercise. The major mistake committed when performing the barbell guillotine is using too much weight. Since incline benching is more difficult to perform when compared to the standard flat bench press, less weight should be used, especially since the weight is harder to rack and may fall onto your head or body with full force.

When performing this barbell bench press, make sure to keep your back pressed firmly against the bench and your feet flat on the ground. In addition, focus on extending your arms fully when lowering the weight and contracting your pecs when lifting it. As with any weightlifting exercise, use proper form to avoid injury.

5. Bench Press With Suspended Weights

A bench press with suspended weights is an advanced barbell bench press variation that focuses on developing muscles in the pectoralis major and minor (chest), front deltoid (shoulders), pronator teres (forearms), triceps brachii (triceps), and the rectus abdominis (abs).

Bench pressing with suspended weights is an effective way to improve your bench press strength and power. The suspended weights keep the tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion, which results in increased strength and power. Use either dumbbells or a barbell when completing this exercise.

The suspended weight variation of the flat bench barbell press has its own further variations that help to target the muscles even more. These variations include wide grip and close grip of the same lift movement. Alternatives of this exercise are the dumbbell press with bands and the barbell bench press with bands.

When performing the bench press with suspended weights, make sure to keep your back flat and your chest up. Do not allow the weight to touch your chest, you should only go down as far as you can without touching your chest. This tip will help ensure a proper bench press form at 90 degrees.

6. Reverse Band Bench Press 

A reverse band bench press is a barbell bench press variation that aids in the development of the pectoralis major and minor (chest), front deltoid (shoulders), and biceps brachii (biceps). The reverse band variation uses resistance bands and a reverse grip style.

The resistance bands create an overload on the concentric (lifting) phase. It increases people’s general vigor in the bench press because the most resistance is at the start of the bench lifts than at the finish.

The reverse band bench press is for athletes trying to improve their bench press strength for sports, such as football, powerlifting, and wrestling. This variation is not for athletes trying to improve their speed or explosiveness.

The reverse band bench press can be completed with a few variations such as the wide grip reverse band bench press and a close grip reverse band bench press. Alternatives to the reverse band bench press include reverse dumbbell bench press and reverse barbell bench press with suspended weights.

7. Close Grip Barbell Bench Press

A close grip barbell bench press is a barbell bench press variation that engages the inner pectoral muscles and the triceps muscles more than a standard bench press allows. The close grip bench press is completed through the use of a barbell where your hands are positioned closer together than a conventional bench press done in the Olympics or Strongman competitions.

A close grip bench press is an effective bench press variation that puts more stress on the triceps which helps increase strength and definition, as well as improving conventional benching maximum weight lifted. The increase in the triceps power aids in the lockout of this movement.

Variations of the close grip bench press are close grip barbell bench press with bands and close grip barbell bench press with suspended weights. Alternatives to this exercise are close grip dumbbell bench press and close grip incline barbell bench press or close grip decline barbell bench press.

While this variation is an effective exercise to target other muscles, it does feature a few risks. The main risk associated with the close grip barbell bench press is too much strain on the wrist joints. If you aren’t used to the close grip form, it can be uncomfortable for your wrists and cause damage to the wrist. To circumvent this wrist pain, try less weight with more reps or position your hands farther apart.

Two tips for approaching the close grip bench press are to firmly and flatly plant the feet and to have a spotter. The close grip bench press is for more advanced weightlifters, so you’ll want to have a strong base to help with balancing the load and driving the weight back up. A spotter is recommended as this is an advanced bench press variation that may require someone to help rack the weight upon failure.

8. Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press

A wide grip barbell bench press is a barbell bench press variation that engages the deltoids (shoulder) and outer chest muscles more than a standard bench press allows for. The wide grip bench press is completed through the use of a barbell where your hands are positioned further apart than a conventional bench press that can be seen in the Olympics or Strongman competitions.

A wide grip bench press is an effective bench press variation that puts more stress on the shoulders and outer pectoral muscles, which helps increase strength, as well as increase pectoral definition. The increase in the shoulders and other pectoral areas helps with driving power towards the bottom of the movement.

Variations of the wide grip bench press are wide grip barbell bench press with bands and wide grip barbell bench press with suspended weights. Alternatives to this exercise are a wide grip dumbbell bench press, a wide grip incline barbell bench press, and a wide grip decline barbell bench press.

While the wide grip variation is an effective exercise for increasing strength, there are a few risks to watch out for. The main risk associated with the wide grip barbell bench press is too much strain on the shoulders. If you aren’t used to the wide grip form, it can be uncomfortable for your shoulders and can cause damage to the surrounding joints. To circumvent this shoulder pain, try less weight with more reps or position your hands closer together.

Two tips for approaching the wide grip bench press are to be aware of your hand positioning and to only use this on occasion as it limits your range of motion. The wide grip bench press places your pinkies far down the bar, which puts them at risk when racking the weight or if you have safety bars in place.

9. Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press where your body is positioned on an incline and the upper chest, triceps, and shoulders are targeted more than with a traditional bench press. The incline barbell bench press is an effective variation to help further develop the chest and increase overall pressing power.

This exercise is best for athletes looking to improve their performance in sports, such as football and basketball. The incline barbell bench press is a good choice for athletes because it helps develop the upper pectoral muscles. These muscle groups are essential for sports that involve throwing and catching.

Variations of the incline barbell bench press are inclined barbell bench press with bands and incline barbell bench press with wide or close grip hand positioning. Alternatives to the incline barbell bench press include the incline dumbbell bench press and the incline hex bar bench press.

Since the incline bench press variation is for advanced weightlifters, you’ll want to avoid common mistakes that may lead to injuries. One of these common mistakes is not having a spotter. Since you are unable to lift as much weight with an incline press, it is important to have a spotter so that you are able to rack the weight upon completion. You’ll also want to avoid your nose as that is the bone most beginner lifters seem to accidentally hit with the bar.

The following are some tips for learning how to bench press properly with this variation. First, choose the right weight. It should be possible to do at least ten reps with the selected weight, and if it’s not, then a lighter weight is required. Set the bench to a 30-degree incline. Place your feet flat on the ground and shoulder, width apart. Grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than the shoulder, width apart. Lie down on the bench and press the bar

10. One and One Quarter Incline Barbell Bench Press

The one and one-quarter incline barbell bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press where your body is positioned on an incline and the upper chest, triceps, and shoulders are targeted more than with a traditional bench press. The one and one-quarter incline barbell bench press is an effective variation to help further develop the chest and increase overall pressing power.

This variation takes the standard incline bench press to a whole new level as it further develops the muscles towards the bottom of the lift. In order to perform a one and one-quarter incline barbell bench press, follow these steps.

  1. First, Lie down on an incline bench
  2. Choose the barbells and lower them to your chest
  3. Extend your arms a quarter of the way
  4. Then return them towards the chest and press again to a complete extension

The one and one quarter also has variations that can be done using a wide or close grip, and through the use of bands. Alternatives to this movement are the one and one quarter incline dumbbell bench press and one and one quarter incline hex bar bench press.

The one and one-quarter incline should be done with less weight than the standard incline bench press as you’ll be exhausting the muscles more heavily because of double the reps. A common mistake that turns into an injury is using too much weight and injuring the shoulders.

Some tips for the one and one-quarter barbell bench press are to have a spotter so that you can keep the reps moving for more overall volume during the lift and to only use this on occasion as half reps can impact your range of motion.

11. Paused Bench Press

A paused bench press is a variation of the traditional Olympic bench press, where the athlete takes a complete pause at the bottom of the lift for at least one second before pressing the bar back up. The paused bench press is not only effective to ensure that the lifter isn’t using the momentum of the bar, but it also places greater overall stress on the muscles used to perform this movement. As a result, the paused bench press increased overall pressing power and lefts the weightlifter to explode out of the bottom of the lift.

Variations of pause bench press are completed with hand positioning, time, bands, and angle. For example, one can complete a paused bench press using a wide grip or a narrow grip, as well as performing a one-second pause or a five-second pause if desired. The longer the pause, the harder the lift. Alternatives of the pause bench press can be done using dumbbells and other bars, such as a hex bar.

Two tips to help aid with this exercise are to have a spotter and start off light. While the pause bench press is simple to perform, it should be done with extreme caution as it is designed for advanced weightlifters. That is why we recommend having a spotter and starting out with less weight.

One common mistake when performing the paused bench press is not maintaining a good bench press form. Since it is hard to get the bar back up out of the bottom position, it can cause undue stress on the lower back and lead to injury. Athletes should focus on keeping their abdominal muscles tight and maintaining good posture throughout the exercise to avoid this.

Here are the steps for how to do a paused bench press.

  1. Choose the weight that you want to use.
  2. Place the weight on the bar.
  3. Lie down on the bench and grab the bar with your hands.
  4. Lift the bar off the rack and hold it above your chest.
  5. Slowly lower the bar to your chest.
  6. Pause when the bar is touching your chest.
  7. Push the bar back up to the starting position.

12. Unbalanced Bench Press

The unbalanced bench press is a bench press variation and the most difficult type of bench press variation to perform. This movement places extreme imbalances on your muscles which helps to further develop the pectoralis major and minor (chest), front deltoid (shoulders), pronator teres (forearms), triceps brachii (triceps), and the rectus abdominis (abs).

When you perform an unbalanced bench press, you put extra stress on the muscles on one side of your body at a time. As a result, this should only be done by advanced lifters and in the presence of a spotter. If you are at home without a spotter, less weight should be used to be safe.

Variations of the unbalanced bench press include decline and incline positioning. An alternative to the unbalanced bench press, and a much safer option, is the one-arm dumbbell bench press. The one-arm dumbbell bench press isn’t the same as an alternating dumbbell bench press, instead, you should only be holding a single dumbbell at all times.

While this lift boasts many benefits as previously mentioned, it can be dangerous and lead to muscular imbalances and injuries. You need to make sure you are using the perfect bench form and taking the movement slow. Getting the bar up off of the rack is the most difficult part of this movement as it places tremendous strain on your core.

13. Spoto Bench Press

The spoto bench press is a bench press variation that involves pressing the weight off of your chest but pausing one to two inches from the chest for one second or longer. This movement is like the paused bench press, but instead, it helps with the lockout of a lift. With greater stress on the lockout, the spoto bench press taxes the triceps more than a traditional bench press.

Variations of the spoto bench press are accomplished through the use of bands, angle of the lift, hand positioning, and time. Alternatives to the spoto bench press are dumbbell spoto bench press and hex bar spoto bench press.

While the spoto bench press is great for improving the lockout, it places increased pressure on the triceps and can lead to muscle tears. For that reason, we recommend starting light and focusing on proper form. We also recommend using a spotter.

When performing the Spoto Bench Press, it is crucial to maintain a stable and solid base for the best bench press form. Below is how to perform the spoto bench press.

  1. Make sure that your feet are flat on the ground and your back is pressed firmly against the bench. 
  2. Keep your shoulders down and your butt and abs squeezed tight.
  3. Inhale a deep breath and hold it as you lower the barbell to your chest. 
  4. After bringing the bar to your chest, press it up one to two inches.
  5. Hold the barbell at this position for one to five seconds.
  6. Press the weight back up.

14. Board Press

The board press is a bench press variation where a board is placed on the chest to limit the range of motion. The board press is an effective weightlifting variation to increase overall pressing power, putting greater strain on the triceps compared to the conventional Olympic bench press. The board press is for weightlifters looking to improve the lockout of the press.

The board press is accomplished with the use of a board, usually a 2×4, but other items can be used if a board is not available. Similar to a standard bench press, in order to perform the movement, you must maintain a straight back, keep the shoulder blades together, and drive your feet into the ground. The only difference is that you now have a shorter range of motion which means more weight can be used.

Variations of the board press include the close grip board press, board press with bands, and board press with suspended weights. An alternative to the board press is the hex bar board press.

The board press is an effective weight training variation of the standard bench press but it does pose a few risks. One risk of the board press is the board falling off which may lead to a psychological obstacle to finishing the lift. This may lead to someone becoming permanently timid. We also recommend a spotter and focusing on form as more weight can be used with the board press, which may lead to great muscle tension and room for error.

15. Decline Bench Press

The decline barbell bench press is a variation of the barbell bench press where your body is positioned on a decline and the lower chest, biceps, and shoulders are targeted more than with a traditional bench press. The decline barbell bench press is an effective variation to help further develop the chest (bottom) and increase overall pressing power. It may also give a weightlifter enhanced confidence because more weight can be lifted using this shorter range of motion.

Variations of the decline barbell bench press are the decline barbell bench press with bands and decline barbell bench press with wide or close grip hand positioning. An alternative to the decline barbell bench press is the decline dumbbell bench press.

Since the decline bench press variation is for advanced weightlifters, you’ll want to avoid common mistakes that may lead to injuries. One of these common mistakes is not having a spotter. Since you are able to lift more with the decline press, it is important to have a spotter so that you are able to rack the weight upon completion. You’ll also want a spotter because a failure during this movement is not only dangerous for your muscles but may lead to death due to the exposure of your neck.

Set the bench to a decline of 15 to 30 degrees. This angle puts you on a down-facing slope for your upper body. Doing so energizes muscles in your lower pectoral region. When doing a decline bench press, make sure to keep your back pressed against the bench and your feet flat on the ground for the best bench form. It will help keep you stable during the exercise. When pushing the weight away from your body, make sure to use your chest muscles and not your biceps.

16. Stability Ball Bench Press

The stability ball bench press is a bench press variation that is done using a stability ball rather than a traditional bench. While the pectoralis major and minor (chest), front deltoid (shoulders), pronator teres (forearms), triceps brachii (triceps), and the rectus abdominis (abs) are all targeted, the stability ball further increases core abdominal strength.

Variations of the stability ball bench press can be accomplished using wide or close grip form. Alternatives of the stability ball bench press are the unbalanced bench press and the bench press with suspended weights.

One common mistake of the stability ball bench press is using more weight than the ball can handle. This may result in the ball popping and the weightlifter falling several inches to the floor while holding heavyweights. We recommend starting with less weight and having a spotter. If you have a spotter, it’ll help prevent the ball from falling out from underneath the weightlifter when sitting down, and they’ll be able to take the weights from you or hand them to you.

When doing a stability ball bench press, maintain good form. Here is a list for use to diagram proper stability ball bench press form.

  1. Sit on a stability ball, and place the dumbbells on the thighs.
  2. Enter a supine position with the upper back and head on the ball
  3. Push the weights up and lower them to the sides of the chest
  4. Keep your back pressed firmly against the ball, and do not let it arch
  5. Use your pectoral muscles to push the weights upward
  6. Do not lock your elbows when pressing the weights up
  7. Lower the weights slowly

What Are the Main Bench Press Exercises Variation Types?

There are three main types of bench presses. 

  1. Incline 
  2. Decline 
  3. Flat bench 

The angle affects which muscles are activated the most. Incline bench presses work the upper chest muscles more, decline bench presses work the lower chest muscles more, and flat bench presses work both chest muscles equally.

Choosing a bench press variation should depend on your goals. 

  1. If you want to focus on developing your chest muscles, then choose a bench press variation that works your chest muscles the most. 
  2. If you want to focus on overall strength, then choose a bench press variation that is challenging for you.

A flat bench press variation is the main and default version and has advantages over other variations. It allows you to use more weight than the incline bench press, and it is easier to learn than the decline bench press. However, it also has some disadvantages. It can put more stress on your shoulders and elbows than other variations.

Which Type of Barbell Bench Press Exercises Variation Is Good for Weightlifters?

If you are a mid-aged male and you are primarily interested in bench pressing for strength, then the incline bench press is an effective exercise variation for you. If you are a young woman and are primarily interested in bench pressing for toning and shaping the chest, the stability ball bench press would be the best option. 

A bench press that is too hard can lead to injuries, while a bench press that is too easy will make the exercise less effective. For weightlifters, the hardness level of a bench press should allow them to maintain the bench press proper form while providing enough resistance to make the exercise effective. 

Which Type of Barbell Bench Press Exercises Variation Is Good for Athletes?

The flat bench press is a great exercise to increase strength for athletes. Younger athletes may want to focus on increasing strength and power. And older athletes may want to focus on improving stability and preventing injuries. 

Which Type of Barbell Bench Press Exercises Variation Is Good for Bodybuilders?

For bodybuilders, the incline bench press is a good exercise variation because it helps to target the upper chest muscles neglected in other exercises. 

The incline bench press variations include either a barbell or dumbbells and a different hand placement for each set. For those under the age of 40, using a closer hand placement can help to increase muscle activation.

Which Type of Barbell Bench Press Variation Is Difficult to Perform?

The unbalanced bench press is the most difficult barbell bench press variation to perform. It requires extreme stability and core strength.

What Way Do Barbell Bench Press and Barbell Floor Press Differ?

The bench press is a maximal strength exercise that primarily targets the chest muscles, while the floor press is a maximal strength exercise that targets the triceps muscles and the chest muscles. Additionally, bench pressing is known to be a more powerlifting performance exercise whereas floor pressing is considered to be more of a bodybuilding-focused routine. 

The barbell bench press and barbell floor press differ because the bench press bench allows you to move the weight through a better range of motion. It can help activate more muscle fibers and lead to the most chest hypertrophy. On the other hand, the barbell floor press is a more triceps-focused exercise. It can lead to better triceps hypertrophy and overall lockout strength.

What are the different Barbell Bench Press Alternatives?

There are many variations that exist for the bench press, but there are equally as many alternatives that can be performed. Some of examples of these include the dumbbell bench press, single-arm press, push-up and dips. All of these barbell bench press alternatives can replace the barbell bench press if you need to change up your routine or if you don’t have access to a bench or a barbell.

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