How To Bench Press
There are tonnes of different exercises to target and tone your upper body, and one of the most effective, challenging and popular exercises is the bench press.
It’s one of the three fundamental exercises in the BUILD program in the Sweat app, alongside squats and deadlifts. Let’s dive into what they are, how to perform them correctly and why they’re so great for building upper body strength.
What is a bench press?
A bench press is an upper-body exercise where you lie on your back on a bench and press a barbell (or dumbbells) away from your chest directly up into the air.
Walk into the weights section at the gym and you’re bound to see at least one person performing this popular movement. They’re a standard exercise in any powerlifting program and an effective way to build strength in your chest, shoulders and triceps.
Bench presses can be tough, especially if you don’t have a lot of upper body strength, but you can certainly build up to it with the right program, patience and consistency!
Why women should bench press
Many women love a good lower-body workout, but it’s also important to give your upper body attention to develop holistic strength and improve your ability to do any upper body exercises.
Like squats and deadlifts, the bench press is a compound exercise meaning it targets multiple large muscles and joints in one movement. It’s an effective and efficient exercise - meaning more bang for your buck than some isolation exercises like bicep curls.
Bench pressing primarily targets your pec majors (the large muscles in your upper chest), but it also targets your anterior deltoid (the front of your shoulders), your triceps, and your core. So how do you start?
How to perform a bench press
Upper-body workouts can be particularly challenging if you’re new to strength training. If you’re just getting started, start light and focus on form.
Before you hit the bench, make sure you’ve either picked a realistic weight OR you’ve got someone to spot you if you’re going to lift a more challenging weight.
If you drop the barbell when performing squats or deadlifts, they’ll land on the floor, but if a barbell is too heavy for you to bench press, you may struggle to push it off your chest and back into the rack, leaving you pinned down on the bench. That’s definitely not something you want to happen!
Here’s how to perform a basic barbell bench press:
- Place a barbell on the rack and add any additional weight in the form of weight plates. If it’s your first time, start by using just the barbell. If you’re completing the BUILD program, you’ll be provided with weight recommendations once you’ve completed your One-Rep Max (1RM) in the Sweat app.
- Lie down on the bench so your head is beneath the barbell. Your eyes should be looking directly up at the bar.
- Plant your feet on the floor on either side of the bench, or on the bench itself.
- Place both hands on the barbell in an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than your shoulders. Push the bar away from you to unrack the barbell and extend your elbows to hold the barbell directly in front of your chest. This is your starting position.
- Inhale. Bend your elbows to lower the barbell towards you until the bar touches your chest.
- Exhale. Extend your elbows and push the barbell away from your chest to return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions before returning the barbell to a secure position on the rack.
Bench press variations
Close-grip barbell bench press
- Looking for a targeted tricep workout? The close-grip bench press is for you. This exercise can be challenging, so make sure you start light and focus on your form.
- In a regular bench press, your hands are placed slightly wider than your shoulders, but in a close-grip bench press your hands should be shoulder-width apart. By moving your hands closer together, you’re shifting the emphasis from your chest to your triceps.
Dumbbell chest press with neutral grip
- If you want to take the pressure off your shoulders and elbows and give your chest and arms a solid workout, try a neutral-grip bench press using dumbbells.
- Ensure your palms are facing inwards as you grip the dumbbells. This will help work your triceps.
Paused bench press
- The paused barbell bench press takes your workout up a notch to boost muscle strength. This variation is especially good if you’ve reached a plateau and want to make your bench press more challenging.
- It’s performed in the same way as a regular bench press, but when the barbell is lowered to your chest, you pause for two to three seconds before pushing it back up.
Spoto barbell bench press
- A spoto bench press is an advanced exercise that’ll take your upper-body workout to the next level. Think of it as an intensified version of the paused bench press.
- In a spoto bench press, rather than pausing when the barbell is at your chest, you pause when it is a few inches ABOVE your chest for even more of a challenge!
Barbell incline bench press
- Incline bench press works your upper chest muscles, as well as your anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders) and your triceps.
- This exercise can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell. Make sure the bench is set to a 30-degree incline for the exercises in the BUILD program.
How to boost your bench press
Seeing your bench press increase as you gain strength over time is one of the most exciting and empowering things about sticking with this exercise. There are a couple of ways you can improve your bench press depending on whether you're a beginner or if you've been training for a while.
If you’re just getting started with lifting and are new to bench pressing, firstly complete the One Rep Max (1RM) assessment in the BUILD program to ensure you’re lifting the right weights for your body and goals.
Alternatively, start by bench pressing without adding any weight to the barbell. This is a great way to focus on your form and get your technique right before you progress to heavier, more advanced lifts.
Make warm-ups an essential part of your pre-workout routine. The bench press is a difficult exercise and heading straight to the bar without warming up your muscles will not only limit your ability to lift heavy, but it’s also unsafe. This is essential for anyone who lifts — not just beginners.
Take the time to focus on your technique by closely following the exercise demonstration videos in the Sweat app. Don’t worry if it takes some time to nail your form or you need to reduce your weight, it’s essential you’re performing movements correctly — both for your safety and your ability to grow.
Whether you’ve made your way through the BUILD programs or are already an experienced heavy lifter, there’ll come a point in time when you want to take your benching to the next level. Aside from adding more weight to your bar, here are three clever ways to up the ante!
Tip 1: Prepare to produce more power by grabbing an empty barbell and pressing it against the pins in a power rack as hard as possible for 2–5 seconds. Take a short rest for 1–3 minutes and you’ll be ready to complete your heavy lift. This will help prime your central nervous system for your best possible lift.
Tip 2: Switch it up by slowing your lifts down to increase the time your muscles spend under tension. This will boost your existing lifts without deviating from your workout plan.
Tip 3: Make use of exercise variations to stay challenged and motivated. There are tonnes of ways to spice up the classic bench press, such as the paused bench press or spoto barbell bench press. Incline and dumbbell bench presses are also great if you’re looking for a way to add variation to your workouts.
Pump your way to a strong upper body!
Incorporating the bench press into your workout routine is an incredibly effective way to build holistic upper-body strength in your chest, shoulders and triceps — and a great way to increase your confidence.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.