The bench press is one of the most important basic exercises for the entire upper body and has earned its place in your training plan! We’ll show you how to do the bench press correctly and which variations and tips there are still to discover for you.
The bench press is without a doubt one of the most popular exercises in weight training. In any gym, you will come across athletes doing the chest exercise. As one of the great basic exercises, the bench press demands the entire upper body and – provided that it is performed correctly – is ideal for building strength and muscle.
An overview of the basics of bench pressing
- Strength exercise for the entire upper body (involving chest, shoulders, triceps and back muscles)
- Complex movement execution requires a focus on technology
- Variations such as negative or incline bench press possible
Which muscles are used in the bench press
The bench press is a basic exercise that uses numerous muscles in the upper body. Here you can see a list of the muscles that are involved in this complex movement.
Primarily trained muscles at a glance:
- Pectoralis major and menor muscles: The small and large pectoral muscles play a central role in the bench press. The function of the small pectoral muscle is to pull the shoulder blade towards the chest wall, and the large pectoral muscle pulls your arms towards the body.
- Deltoid muscle: Your shoulders help you push the weight up.
- Triceps brachii muscle: The triceps are also active in the bench press and extend your arms.
Secondary trained muscles at a glance:
- Musculus Latissimus Dorsi: The broad back muscle lowers your arms together with the large pectoral muscle and straightens your chest.
- Trapezius and the rhombus muscle: They make sure that your shoulder blades are pulled together.
- Forearm muscles: Your grip comes from your hand and forearm muscles and helps you hold the bar firmly.
How to bench press
- Lie on a flat bench. The shoulders are pulled back during the bench press and you come into a slight hollow back at the same time. The extended line between the shoulders and the beginning of the lumbar spine should rest on the bench. You should be able to stretch an arm under the lower back extensor. The head lies flat on the bench, the eyes fixate on the bar. The legs are fixed on the floor at a 90 ° angle.
- For the correct grip position when bench press, grip the bar about shoulder width. Keep your wrists straight and hold the barbell with a very firm grip.
- The movement is now initiated. Take a deep breath and tense your back, bottom and fixed shoulder blades at the same time. By inhaling deeply, you stabilize the entire core of the body and take the pressure off your intervertebral discs and the spine.
- The bar is now placed slowly and in a controlled manner on the chest. The chest remains permanently under tension. The short stopover on the chest should not be used to lose tension. The lower end of the breastbone (under the nipples) serves as a fixed point for the lowering.
- For the positive movement, the bar is then brought up explosively. It is important to fix the shoulder blades at the same time and to keep the entire core of the body firm and stable. The strength is supported by exhaling from the abdomen and the stable position of the feet.
Common bench press mistakes
- Incorrect breathing or no breathing (breathing into the abdomen important to stabilize the core of the body)
- Too wide / tight grip (load on the triceps or shoulder becomes too strong and the focus shifts away from the pectoral muscle)
- Elbows too far (more than 45 °) from the body – the load is placed too much on the shoulder joint. This poses a high risk of injury.
Should you arch your back on bench press?
Your spine already has a natural S-shape when you stand or lie down on the bench. A light arched back or a bridge is made for the bench press so that more body tension can be built up and the biomechanical conditions are improved.
If you look at the powerlifters, they do an extremely hollow back on the bench press. That helps them move more weight. Because they shorten the path of the bar and create more tension. As a hobby athlete, however, we advise against an extremely hollow back! The risk of injury is higher here. In addition, you are not working in the full range of motion. This is not optimal for the goal of muscle growth.
Important: Your shoulders and buttocks should always be in contact with the bench during the exercise, despite a slight hollow back. The feet are firmly set on the ground.
Bench press variations
By changing the grip width, the chest can be accentuated. The following applies: If the hand spacing is smaller, the central and if the hand spacing is greater, the outer sections of the pectoral muscle are more stressed during bench presses. The tight bench press also puts an emphasis on your triceps.
For athletes who suffer from severe back pain, the variant with raised legs is also ideal. This prevents a hollow back from forming and thus strong forces acting on the back.
Bench press is a classic barbell exercise, but dumbbells or kettlebells can also be used for more variety in training.
When doing the bench press with dumbbells, your coordination is also required. Another advantage here is an even weight distribution. In this way, muscular imbalances can be compensated because you are pushing the same weight up with both arms.
Another variation is the incline bench press. Here, the angle of attack is increased to 30-45 ° on a weight bench during the exercise. The result is an upright posture. The shoulder height is slightly above the level of the pelvis. So the stimulus is more on the “upper” chest and shoulder muscles.
You can also bench press negatively. The bench is inclined downwards at an angle. With a negative angle, the focus is more on the lower part of the chest.
Bench press tips
- Warming of the shoulder girdle (rotator cuff, tendons and ligaments) for injury prevention and improved mobility (Theraband)
- Completion of warm-up sets before the actual work sets – slowly approach the maximum weight for the bench press
- Firm grip when grasping the barbell for improved wrist stability
- Stick out chest! This way the barbell can sink less deeply
- Tuck your chin in, the head always remains on the bench (minimize the risk of spinal injuries)
- Place feet and heels firmly on the floor for increased stability
- Grab a training partner. Working in pairs is not only more fun, your training partner can also help you bench press. Especially when you are working with heavy weights, a training partner can stand at the head of the bench and secure you. It is important, whether alone or with a training partner, that proper technique comes before weight!