woman learning how to bench press

How to Start Bench Pressing Like A Pro

by Evelyn Valdez

The bench press is a tried-and-true upper body exercise. It’s one of the best moves for strength and chest muscle development and targets almost every muscle group in your body.

For new lifters, bench pressing can seem intimidating if you aren’t used to using free weights. Dumbbells are one thing, but you need to utilize your entire body to push through a barbell bench press. The benefits are definitely worth it, but you need to know how to perform bench presses correctly if you want to avoid getting hurt and build as much upper body strength as you can.

What are the benefits of using a bench press?

The bench press is a classic chest builder move that almost every bodybuilder includes in their upper body workouts. To some people, the barbell bench press is just another chest exercise, but this move targets more muscles than you’d think, including your:

  • Pectorals: All the chest muscles are activated during a standard bench press.
  • Triceps: Adjusting your grip width to a narrower grip will increase the load on your triceps to help develop them.
  • Shoulders: The anterior deltoid are an assistant muscle, and it's activated more on an incline bench press.
  • Forearms: The standard bench press can help improve your grip strength which will help you improve on other heavy compound lifts.
  • Core: To bench press with good form and technique you need to ensure your glutes and abdominal muscles are activated. This in turn will help you develop better core strength.
This is why the bench press is so beneficial. Not only are you building your upper body muscles, but you’re also increasing your strength and endurance. Even though you’re lying down, your body is completely engaged. 

    Tips on how to bench press with proper form

    You don’t want to mess around with your form when you bench press. Many people have torn their muscles and suffered other serious injuries because they were bench pressing incorrectly. Proper execution of any exercise should be a top concern for bodybuilders at every level, especially when involving free weights. 

    Here’s how to prep yourself for a barbell bench press:

    • Set your feet and press into the ground so you’re activating the hamstrings and glutes. You want your body to remain stable so you can draw power through your lower body. Make sure your shins are also perpendicular to the floor.
    • Position your body so your eyes are directly under the bar. The bar shouldn’t go any higher than your wrists so you can easily unrack the bar without lifting your body off the bench. Your head, shoulders, and hips should never leave the bench throughout the entire set. 
    • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to protect your shoulders. Pulling your shoulder blades back helps stabilize the weight. It should feel like you’re pressing yourself into the bench. 
    • Keep a slight arch in your lower back. This helps maintain a neutral spine and protects your back as you lift and lower the weight. Some bodybuilders won’t do this because they think it’s only done for powerlifting moves. However, the arch doesn’t need to be over-exaggerated. 
    • Your bench press grip is super important. The barbell needs to sit in the palm of your hand with your fingers and thumbs grasped firmly around it. Your hands also need to be shoulder-width apart. Don’t worry if have a slightly wider or narrower grip than others. This depends on the length of your arms and the width of your shoulders. The most proper way is to have your forearms in a vertical position. Powerlifters will often choose a wide grip so they can limit their full range of motion to lift more weight. 
    • Use wrist wraps to help keep your wrists straight. These help support your wrists so you can lift heavier weight without having your wrists give in. Our UPPPER wrist wraps are made with a strong velcro that compresses and safely secures your wrists to minimize the risk of injury. 
    • KEEP YOUR BODY TIGHT. Your body needs to feel like a solid unit. The shoulders, core, glutes, and lower body must stay tight at all times. 
    • If you can, try to always have a spotter with you. It can be dangerous to bench press alone. A spotter protects the weight lifter in case they need help re-racking the bar if they fail the rep or help with your lift off. You can also use a power rack if don’t have a spotter. 

    Performing the bench press

    Now that your body’s in the right position, you’re ready to perform a bench press.

    1. Brace yourself and take a deep breath. Let out the breath as you unrack the bar and lockout your elbows so the bar is directly above your shoulders. Remember to keep squeezing your shoulder blades together!
    2. While continuing to stare at the ceiling, unlock your elbows and inhale as you lower the bar to your chest. The bar should touch just below the clavicle or near the top of your abs with your forearms at a 90-degree angle. 
    3. Release your breath and press the bar straight back up to the starting position. Make sure the barbell is fully re-racked before releasing the tension in your arms and body.

      Beginner bench press variations/modifications

      Now that you know more about bench presses, you may or may not feel slightly intimidated by this exercise. It definitely takes time and training to work your way up in weight and strength and to start seeing more muscle growth. Once you get the hang of it and nail your bench press form, you’ll end up making this a regular exercise in your workouts. 

      There are a few variations and modifications you can do to help work your way up to a weight bench press. One variation many beginners like to try first is bench pressing the bar without any additional weight. These bars weigh 45 pounds by themselves, which is plenty of weight for a new bodybuilder. As you build their strength and perfect your form, you can try adding 5 lbs total (2.5 lbs) to the barbell every week. 

      Another modification you can do is the dumbbell bench press. The weight of the barbell can still be too heavy for some beginning bodybuilders, but that’s nothing to be embarrassed over. Safety is always important when working out. Dumbbells will allow you to train your shoulders and arms so you have more stability in your upper body.

      Incline bench presses also provide a little more support if you’re unable to lift while flat on your back. This move works out the upper pecs more than a traditional bench press and requires a lighter weight. We recommend doing pushups as well since the movement pattern is similar to doing a bench press. 

      Start bench pressing with the best of them!

      There is so much more to bodybuilding than simply lifting weights. Exercises like the barbell bench press take immense skill and a strong dedication to training. Increasing the hypertrophy in the upper body can be particularly challenging for some bodybuilders, but there are many ways to turn that struggle around! 

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