Why Is The Bench Press Important?
The answer is plain and simple: the bench press is the best way to work out your pectoralis muscle groups. Period. Some alternative exercises target your pecs, like push-ups or dumbbell flies, but nothing hits your chest quite like the bench press.
Whether you realize it or not, we all use our pectoralis major and minor muscle groups every day. How? Through indirect actions. We push open doors, we pick up our kids, and we carry groceries from our cars to our kitchens. You may use your arms for many daily activities, but your chest muscles are directly responsible for all your arm movements. A lack of chest strength equates to an inability to perform daily tasks smoothly and effectively.
For this reason, it’s important to maintain and improve the strength of your pectoralis muscles. Your daily routine depends upon your pecs, so the bench press is an integral part of your physical fitness.
Weightlifting 101: How To Bench Press Properly
We say it in each weightlifting 101 article: make sure you stretch thoroughly before exercising! If you jump right into a set with unstretched muscles, you increase your risk of injury. It’s like going from 0 to 100 in an instant! So, be sure to stretch out your chest, triceps, shoulders, and upper back beforehand.
It’s a good idea to start out with a warm-up set as well. It gives you an opportunity to critique your own form and identify any potential problem areas before they turn into injuries. When starting out, follow our weightlifting 101 steps:
- Lie back onto the bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
- Make sure your eyes are directly below the bar.
- Grab the bar, with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Create a slight arch in your back by pulling yourself up to the bar and lowering yourself back down. This arch gives you more power for the exercise.
- Un-rack the bar and, in a smooth and controlled motion, lower the bar to your chest and drive it straight up again.
- Repeat until the set is finished.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, many inexperienced lifters will run into some common errors along the way. To avoid them, remember to:
- Stop your elbows from flaring out by pulling them in towards your rib cage.
- Keep your wrists straight the whole time.
- Don’t let the barbell bounce off your chest. Maintain control of it the whole time.
- Keep your feet planted.
- Breathe in as you lower the bar and breathe out as you raise it.
Beginners should aim for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Stick to these weightlifting 101 basics and you’ll soon be a master of the bench press! Remember to maintain control, listen to your body, and breathe.
Weightlifting 101: Bench Press Variations
The traditional bench press gives you a great chest workout, but your pecs don’t receive an equal workout. It hits the middle of your major pectoralis region and neglects other areas of your pecs. It’s important to add in some variations to strengthen the entirety of your pectoralis region. As with any weightlifting 101 article, let’s examine the best variations on this exercise.
Incline Bench Press
This challenging exercise primarily hits your upper pecs, along with your middle and anterior deltoids and triceps.
When doing the incline bench press, adjust your bench to a 30-45 degree incline (a greater angle means a higher level of difficulty). Position the bench under the barbell so your shoulders are directly underneath it. Perform the exercise similar to how you do the traditional press. Adhere to these additional weightlifting 101 tips as well:
- Use an overhand grip, with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Drive your feet into the ground when lifting.
- Resist the tendency to move the bar forward.
- Remember to push the bar straight up in a smooth, controlled motion.
As always, use a spotter and perform a warm-up set before adding any weights. We recommend beginners start out with 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Decline Bench Press
As you may have guessed, the decline bench press places emphasis on your lower pectoralis major muscles. It also works out, to a lesser extent, your anterior deltoids, triceps, and biceps.
For the decline press, adjust the bench to a 30-45 degree decline. When on the bench, your eyes should be directly underneath the barbell. The exercise is similar to the other two, but remember our weightlifting 101 advice to minimize your risk of injury.
- Always hook your feet under the pads at the end of the bench.
- Let your shoulder depress into the bench as your let the bar settle.
- Push the bar straight up in a smooth, controlled motion.
- Remember to breathe.
This exercise is particularly difficult to escape when you’re in trouble. So, as always, remember to use a spotter and warm-up. Novices should aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Other Bench Press Variations
The best chest workouts will usually include the three exercises we’ve already discussed. But, just like other exercises, the bench press starts to get stale after a while. Keep it interesting by switching things up with a few other variations:
- Dumbbell Bench Press - Simply replace the barbell with dumbbells for standard, incline, and/or decline. This small switch increases the difficulty as each pec works independently and the dumbbells require greater stabilization.
- Floor Press - With a decreased range of motion, this exercise places more emphasis on your triceps than your chest. This exercise is great for athletes who constantly engage their triceps.
- Reverse-Grip Bench Press - Only for more experienced lifters, this challenging variation targets your upper chest. Be warned: the rotated arms limit the amount of weight you can lift.
Newbies should not try out these exercises until they have mastered their form and are confident in their chest strength. Remember to exercise caution with each of these new exercises.
Learn Weightlifting 101 Fundamentals With The Pros
Are you interested in improving your weightlifting exercises? Our personal training programs can be completely customized to your skills and comfort level so that you can achieve your fitness goals effectively. Contact Whole Intent today and improve your workouts.
Be sure to check out our Weightlifting 101 blog posts to learn how to squat or deadlift with proper form too!