Use an Adjustable Bench Press to Develop Upper-Body Strength

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Bench Press

The adjustable bench is a versatile piece of equipment found in virtually every weight room—and for good reason. You can use it to perform numerous upper body-strengthening exercises that will help you dominate the field.

The secret to using the adjustable bench is the height of the pad, which can easily be moved to different angles. When you perform a pressing exercise, such as a Bench Press, Incline Bench or Shoulder Press, using a different angle causes a shift in muscle group focus.

Below, I break down three pressing exercises and the best angles to use for maximum muscle work.

Bench Press — Height of 0-3
A height of three or less on the adjustable bench maximizes strength potential. In this position, the powerful chest muscles are dominant while the shoulders and triceps provide secondary support for the movement.

For safety, you must maintain five points of contact at all times: your head, shoulders and glutes should be touching the bench, and both of your feet should be flat on the floor. Also, for maximum effectiveness and to avoid injury, do not arch your back when lifting the weight.

Incline Bench Press — Height of 3-5
An adjustable bench height of three to five shifts the focus away from the chest to the shoulders and upper chest. You will likely have to reduce your lifting weight during this movement, since you cannot generate full muscle power from your chest.

As with the Bench Press, it's critical to maintain five points of contact. Also, lift the bar straight up, directly over your chest, not at an angle.

Shoulder Press — Height of 5+
A height of five or more positions you upright, making it easy to lift weight vertically in a Shoulder Press. During this move, the shoulders are the primary muscle group, while other upper-body muscles in the back, arms and chest are engaged to support the movement.

A critical tip for performing this exercise: never lower the bar behind your neck. This places undue stress on your shoulders and can cause an injury.

When choosing which adjustable bench exercise to perform, consider the goal of your workout. If you want to strengthen your chest, set the bench to the flat position. If you want to strengthen your shoulders, adjust the bench to the incline or vertical position.

Perform these exercises toward the beginning of your workout, because they involve large muscle groups. Always use a spotter during any movement that places weight over your head or face.


Bobby Rowland received his bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Midwestern State University [Wichita Falls, Texas] in 2004. He is a former rugby second team all-star. In 2007, he played tight end for the Wichita Falls Razorbacks, a semi-pro football team. He received his CSCS credentials in 2006, and now serves as fitness director and performance specialist for Zach's Powerhouse Gym in Wichita Falls. He is also a volunteer coach for the Greater Wichita Falls Soccer Association. Rowland believes in training the body from scratch and molding it to fit personal training goals.

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