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How to Properly Perform the Bench Press for Maximum Results E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

The bench press is a strength training exercise in which, while lying on his or her back, the person perbench pressforming the bench press lowers a weight to the level of the chest, then pushes it back up until the arm is straight and the elbows locked (or close to this position). The bench press focuses on the development of the pectoralis major muscle (chest or pecs) as well as other supporting muscles including the anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, and the triceps.

The bench press is one of the three lifts in the sport of powerlifting and is used extensively in weight training, bodybuilding and other types of fitness training to develop the chest.

You have several ways to Bench Press by varying grip, grip width, bench angle, etc. Some Bench Press variations are:
  • Incline Bench Press. From an incline bench. Emphasis shoulders and upper chest.
  • Decline Bench Press. From a decline bench. Allows more weight. Emphasizes more of the lower chest.
  • Floor Press. Bench Press while lying on the floor. More triceps.
  • Close Grip Bench Press. Shoulder width grip. Emphasis triceps.
  • Reverse Grip Bench Press. Palms facing you. Also emphasis triceps.

Bench Press Form

There is a specific form to the bench press which reduces the chance of injury and maximally challenges the muscles of the chest.

  • A barbell bench press' starting position is to be lying on a bench, with the shoulder blades pinched together to avoid recruiting the anterior deltoid during the lift.
  • Feet are kept flat on the floor, weight on the heels, lower leg perpendicular to the floor, with the buttocks always in contact with the bench. This prevents extreme arching of your lower back. Feet are kept flat on the ground or end of the bench a wide foot stance to increase stability on the bench.
  • The weight is gripped with hands equidistant from the center of the bar, shoulder width (or slightly farther) apart, with the elbows bent to 90° and the elbows beneath the wrists. The bar is placed in the palm of the hand, close to your wrist. If you put the bar close to your fingers, you’ll get wrist pain.
  • Keep your chest up at all time. Don’t allow your chest to go flat or shoulders to roll forward. You’ll lose upper-back tightness, losing power & increasing risk of shoulder injury.
  • Shoulder-blades are kept back, down and tight at all times. This gives your body a solid base to press the bar from.
  • Movement starts by lifting the bar off of the pins,  breathing in, and lowering it until it touches the chest.
  • The weight is then pushed off of the chest in a straight line, while breathing out, terminating when the arms are straight, at which point the weight can be lowered again.
  • After the desired number of repetitions (reps), the bar is returned to the pins.

Because of the heavy weight that can be used and the position of the bar, a 'spotting partner' increases the safety of the movement at heavier weights.

Common Errors when Performing a Bench Press

The following Bench Press errors are either inefficient or potentially dangerous and can result in injury. Avoid them at all costs.

  • Lifting the Bar Off the Rack with Bent Arms. Don’t risk the bar falling on your face. Your arms are strongest when your elbows are locked. Unrack & bring the bar above your chest with locked elbows.
  • Glutes off the Bench. This makes the distance the bar travels shorter & thus the Bench Press easier. However it puts pressure on your back, especially when the weight gets heavy. You’re more stable when your glutes are on the bench. Keep them there.
  • Bouncing the Bar off the Chest. This is one of the most common errors. Bouncing the bar reduces tension on the pectoralis (chest) muscles and can cause severe injury to your rib cage. To prevent this error, use less weight and stop the bar for a two-count at the bottom of every rep.
  • Pushing Your Head into the Bench. You’ll injure your neck. Tighten your neck muscles, without pushing your head into the bench.
  • Pressing to Your Face. The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. Press in a straight line. Fix a point at the ceiling where you want the bar to go. Don’t look at the bar.
  • Bending Your Wrists. This will get you wrist pain. Put the bar in the palm of your hand. Close to your wrists, not close to your fingers. Squeeze the bar so it doesn’t move.
  • Elbows. Too high is bad for your shoulders. Too low is inefficient. Put your elbows between perpendicular to & parallel with your torso.
  • Shoulders Forward. Don’t let your shoulders roll forward. It’s bad posture, bad technique & a guaranteed way to get shoulder injuries. Keep your chest up, shoulder-blades back & down and upper-back tight.
  • Moving Your Feet. If your feet shuffle around or lift off the floor when you are bench pressing, you are breaking your base of power, reducing the amount of power you will be able to generate. Essentially, you will be weaker if you move your feet.

Variations are intended to work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in slightly different ways:

  • Angle - a bench press can be performed on an incline, on a decline, or on a stabilizer ball. The incline-version shifts some of the stress from the pectorals to the anterior deltoids and gives a greater stimulus to the upper pectorals, whereas the decline allows more weight to be lifted while using nearly the same musculature as the traditional bench press.
  • Hand position - Varying width grips can be used to shift stress between pectorals and triceps. A wide grip will focus on the pectorals. A narrow, shoulder width grip will focus more on the triceps.
  • Type of weight - Instead of a bar, the bench press can also be performed with dumbbells which incorporate more use of stabilizer muscles. Dumbbells may be safer to use without a spotting partner, as they may be dropped to the side with less risk of injury.
Possible Injuries

Incorrect form may lead to multiple types of injuries including:

  • torn ligaments/tendons in shoulders.
  • back injuries due to bridging, which is the arching of the lower back turning the bench press into the decline press. To prevent bridging, compress the stomach muscles to force the lower back down, or bring legs up and flat onto the bench.
  • injuries to the trapezius muscle.
  • elbow/wrist strains.
  • cracked or broken ribs, usually the result of bouncing the bar off of the chest to add momentum to the lift or a loss of strength causing the bar to fall onto the chest.

About the Author  

Jeff Behar
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA
Jeff Behar, MS, MBA is a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, regularly writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and alternative medicine. His work also often appears in several of the major health and fitness newsletters, health and fitness magazines, and on  major health, and fitness websites. Behar is also a well sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker, and weight loss expert.






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