Breaking Down The Bench Press

Ryan Colquhoun breaks down the Bench Press for STACK Magazine.

Bench Press

Let's face it every guy in the gym wants a bigger bench. When it comes to upper body exercises, the Bench Press reigns supreme. (Check out how to Build a Big-Time Bench With Ndamukong Suh.)

Body Positioning

The setup of the bench is relatively simple. Position yourself so that you are looking straight up at the bar when lying down. Maintain five points of body contact: left foot, right foot, glutes, upper back and head—each touching the ground or the bench. The only exception is in the sport of powerlifting, where the athletes are allowed to use leg drive and raise their glutes off the bench.

Hand Positioning

You want to go with a overhand grip, a little wider than shoulder-width. Width varies from person to person, but generally, staying right outside of shoulder width is a good place to start. The wider the grip, the more the chest gets involved. Conversely, the narrower the grip, the more the triceps get engaged.


The last portion of the setup is having a trustworthy spotter. Make sure your spotter is at least as strong as you and, if not, at least able to life the weight you are about to lift. You want to think about this before attempting your lift, not as the bar is falling towards your chest.

The Press Movement

The Bench Press is intended to target the pectoralis major and minor (chest) muscles. It also works the anterior deltoids (front part of the shoulders) and the triceps muscles. To properly target the chest and save yourself from shoulder pain, you're going to want to retract your scapula (shoulder blades). This is a crucial part that most people skip when they bench and which eventually leads to injuries, shoulder and chest tightness and overdeveloped anterior deltoids.

To retract your scapula, think about standing as tall and upright as possible. Now, while lying on the bench, you want to drive your shoulder blades into the bench. This will take some practice, but in the end will give you a bigger bench and save your shoulders.

For the actual movement, make sure timing is right with your spotter. Have your spotter help you lift the bar off the rack. This could save your shoulders a lot of pain. Once you have control of the bar, lower it to the middle of your chest in line with the nipples while still keeping your shoulders retracted. Once you reach your chest, press the bar back up until your arms are extended. This is one rep. A key point is to make sure your elbows stay underneath the path of the bar throughout the whole movement. This will get you more chest activation and allow you to handle more weight.

How to Calculate the Weight

A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds. So if you bench just the bar, you are doing 45. Putting 25-pound plates on each side brings the total to 95  pounds. This takes practice, but once you get used to doing the math, it will become second nature to you. In general, a good bench for the average male is 110 percent of your body weight. For the average female, a good bench is about 55 percent of your body weight.

Struggling to break through your Bench-Press plateau? Check out this two-part series and say hello to better results:

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