A Guide to Bench Presses and How to Use Them

STACK Expert Bobby Best catalogs the benefits of several Bench Press variations and provides instructions on how to implement them in your training.

Bench Press

With all the bench presses that are available and the different ways to work out on them, it's hard to know what's best. Here's a primer to help you understand the many choices.

A word of caution: Many of these programs are for advanced lifters. Do not go up in the Bench Press progression until you have mastered the motor control and strength for the initial Bench Press.

Bench Presses Variations

To get you started, I've included some set-up tips.

Flat Bench Press

Difficulty Level: Beginner to Intermediate

This basic Bench Press is best for building pressing strength in the upper body. It works the pectorals, anterior deltoids and triceps.

Lie down on the bench and drive your heels into the ground. Squeeze your glutes and abdominals to brace your core. Grab the bar, then roll your shoulders back and act as if you are trying to break the bar in half. You should have a solid braced arch in your back. Then begin executing the move by lowering the bar down just above the bottom of your chest. Keeping your elbows under your wrists, push the bar back up.

Dumbbell Bench

Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate

The Dumbbell Bench is similar to the flat bench in its ability to increase maximum horizontal upper-body strength, but it also works more of the anterior deltoids and pectorals through a wider range of motion. The setup is the same: Drive your heels into the ground, tighten your glutes and abdominal muscles, and grip the dumbbells with your elbows beneath your wrists. Execute the movement by lowering the dumbbells to the sides of your chest and then extending them up with your forearms vertical until they come to rest right above your shoulders.

Incline Bench

Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced

The Incline Bench Press is an intermediate lift between a bench and an overhead press. It recruits more of the deltoids and upper pectoral muscles. The setup is the same as a regular Bench Press, but rack the bar so your arms can lift off without being past vertical. The execution is the same.

Dumbbell Incline Bench

Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced

With the Dumbbell Incline Press, you can achieve a greater range of motion in the medial shoulder and upper pectoral muscles. The set-up is the same as the Incline Bench Press. Don't let your arms go past vertical. Execute by lowering the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, keeping your elbows beneath your wrists and then pushing them back above your shoulders.

Decline Bench

Difficulty: Advanced

This is an advanced version of the Bench Press, and it should only be done with a proper decline bench and a spotter. The benefit of the exercise is its emphasis on the lower pectorals and triceps. To set up, lock your legs into the leg locks, lie back and squeeze your glutes and abdominals. Pick up the bar, keeping your elbows under your wrists. Execute the same way you would a normal Bench Press, keeping the path of the bar right above the bottom of your chest.

Close Grip Bench

Difficulty: Advanced

Every type of Bench Press requires force from the triceps muscles, but it is possible to alter your grip to emphasize triceps engagement. Set up the same as the regular Bench Press, but grab the bar with your hands inside shoulder-width. To execute, perform the same way as a normal bench, keeping your forearms as close to vertical as possible.

Bench Press Programs

Specific physiological adaptations occur in the body from resistance training. Different workout programs alter those physiological responses to make the body stronger, bigger or faster. Depending on your program goal, the volume, intensity and rest time for your bench workouts will vary greatly.


Bench-pressing to build mass activates multiple large muscle groups, which release growth hormone and testosterone. To achieve hypertrophy results:

Volume: 3-6 sets, 6-12 reps
Rest: 60-90 seconds
Intensity: 67%-85%, or enough to struggle on the last 2 reps.


To build maximum strength, lift as much weight as possible in a training session. Using the NSCA standard for building strength:

Volume: 3-6 sets, 1-6 reps
Rest: 2-5 minutes
Intensity: 85%-100%, every rep should be near max


When training on the bench for power, use extreme caution. The volume is similar to a strength program, but the execution is slightly different. The speed of the repetition is important. The lowering of the weight should take two or three times longer than the movement up, which should be done with as much speed as possible. To build power:

Volume: 3-5 sets
Rest: 2-5 minutes
Intensity: 75%-95%

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