Many consider the Bench Press the gold-standard movement of upper body strength. The Bench Press is used by strength and conditioning specialists, sports medicine professionals, physical therapists, and the general public to increase strength and benefit power and hypertrophy development.
The Bench Press, similar to the Deadlift, Squat, Clean and Jerk, and Snatch is a sport in and of itself. It is also used by football coaches to determine upper body strength and strength endurance in combines.
Depending on what your goals are, it is important to use the Bench Press as a tool to accomplish those goals. Knowing why you are benching will help your training.
In this guide, I will be going over how to Bench Press, coaching points, common mistakes, variations, and alternatives.
Table of Contents
How To Bench Press
- Multi-purpose lifting rack
- Bumper or Iron plates
- Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
- Lie flat on your back on the bench.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
- Keep your butt on the bench.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
- Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
- Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
- Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
- Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
- The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
- Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.
By far the most common mistake with bench pressing (and almost all compound movements) is improper form. Because the lift is very technical, uses the whole body, and requires patience and persistence, lifters often times have incorrect form without realizing it, go up in weight too quickly, and may injure themselves.
Remember why you are bench pressing. Goals matter. Make sure you are consulting with a coach or credible internet source so that you are engaging in beneficial bench press training for your future health and athletic success.
- Video your sets and reps
- Have an experienced lifter/trainer watch your sets and reps
- In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max
- Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)
- Make small gains in weight over time.
- Do not over arch the back or let your butt come off the bench. Most professionals will not accept repetitions if the butt comes off the bench but also you will likely injure yourself with poor form.
- Do not let the back of your head come off the bench because you are pulling down on your neck to watch the bar hit your chest. You will get used to the movement and your peripheral vision will allow you to know when the bar makes contact.
- Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.
Close grip: This grip may be used to train the bench press with an emphasis on tricep development. By bringing the grip in, the chest and shoulder musculature is not stretched as much.
Wider grips: This grip may be used to train the bench press with an emphasis on chest development. I do not recommend this grip for athletes and especially for those with a history of shoulder injuries.
- Biceps (Isometric and eccentric contributors)
Bench Press Variations
Paused Bench Press
Perform the bench press and pause with the bar on the chest. (MAINTAIN CONTROL AND RIGIDNESS WITH THE BAR. DO NOT JUST LET IT SIT ON YOUR CHEST) for 1-3 seconds (Number of seconds based on training program, periodization, and athlete readiness).
Perform the bench press to a board that is elevated off the chest. (Board height based on training program, periodization, sticking point weaknesses, and athlete readiness).
Close Grip Bench Press
Perform the bench press with a close grip. The close grip I most commonly use and prescribe is putting the index finger on the knurling. I find this provides a nice angle for the chest to still freely eccentrically move while also focusing on tricep engagement.
Bench Press Alternatives
Set the barbell on the lifting rack at a low setting. Perform push-ups with your bench press grip. This is a great movement for lifters to get some volume with the same implement but now the scapula can freely rotate and is a little more shoulder-friendly.
Of course, if you don’t have a barbell – regular push-ups are a great alternative as well.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Grab some dumbbells and perform the bench press movement. This is a great secondary movement to perform after the main work for the day is done.
It is important to start light (like other exercises) until you feel comfortable with this implement.
Med Ball Chest Pass
Stand in an athletic position with a lighter med ball (for most, 10-15 pounds will work well here). Extend the hips and chest pass the ball into the wall. This should be fast and explosive. I think this is also a great warm-up exercise for athletes getting ready for a bench day.
I would be doing the reader a disservice without discussing the potential risks of the traditional barbell benching. This lift is highly technical and requires a tremendous amount of attention to detail, practice, and a slow gradual increase in weight. An athlete who does not consistently set up the right way and sacrifices form to lift more weight will get hurt.
It is also important to consider rest, recovery, and balancing other life activities.
Because the bench press stresses the upper body and is very hard on the smaller and delicate tissues of the shoulder, it takes time to recover from a serious bench press session. Field and court athletes should consider what days of the week they are benching.
Usually, in the off-season, most athletes can handle benching 2 days a week. One heavy day and one either volume or speed day. If you are going to bench heavy on a particular day of the week, it is not recommended you do any other heavy upper body lifting or serious competition, until fully recovered. Training history, readiness, and history of injury all need to be considered.
As an athlete, it is important to make sure the lifting in the weight room is correlating and in conjunction with your sport. Rest and recovery are absolutely critical to reap the benefits of any lift and should be taken seriously by all athletes.
More Info and Links
Looking to supplement your bench day with some accessory work? Head over to the Upper Body Section of our exercise library to find step-by-step exercises to help you crush a personal record.