Perfect Your Bench

Get more out of your Bench Presses by learning proper technique and studying how the exercise affects the body.

Bench Press

Everyone loves to Bench. It's the primary upper-body exercise for building pressing strength and power.

Despite the vast number of athletes who perform the Bench Press on a regular basis, few actually perform it correctly. Below you will learn how the Bench Press affects the body as well as how to perfect this most popular exercise.

Chest Anatomy

The chest is composed of the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles. The pectoralis major is the large muscle that forms your chest. It includes two specific regions—the sternocostal (white region below) and clavicular (red region below). The pectoralis major moves the humerus (upper arm) during a pressing motion and draws the arms across the body. The role of the pectoralis minor is limited to stabilizing the scapula, and is not strengthened with the Bench Press.

Bench Press Anatomy

The Bench Press engages several muscle groups in the upper body. Its primary target is the sternocostal region of the pectoralis major, but it also strengthens the anterior deltoids (front of the shoulder) and triceps. The clavicular region of the pectoralis major is engaged during pressing exercises performed with the arms slightly inclined, like the Incline Bench or Rear-Foot-Elevated Push-Up.

Bench Press Technique

To set up for the Bench Press, lie on the bench with your head, upper and lower back and butt on bench, and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Do not put your feet on the bench, because this will decrease your power and reduce your control over the bar. (The only exception is if the lifter cannot put his or her feet on the ground due to height or lower-back pain.) Place your hands on the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. Ensure a spotter is in place and prepare to lift the bar from the rack by engaging your muscles.

Once the bar is in position, lower it with control until it touches your chest. Do not bounce the bar off your chest since this can cause injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. If it's uncomfortable to go all the way to your chest, limit your range of motion so your elbows bend only to 90 degrees. However, always strive to lower completely—even if it means lifting less weight—to increase strength throughout your full range of motion and improve overall joint integrity.

Drive the bar off your chest as forcefully as possible to return to the starting position. As an athlete, you should focus on the speed of the upward phase of the Bench Press to increase power for your pressing athletic skills.

The Chest Workout

Combo 1

Bench Press
Plyo Push-Ups
Sets/Reps: 4x6-12 each exercise with two to three minutes rest

Combo 2

Dumbbell Incline Bench
Dumbbell Incline Fly
Sets/Reps: 4x8 each exercise with two to three minutes rest

Combo 3

Decline Bench
Max Push-Ups
Sets/Reps: 4x10

Perform Decline Bench in a 5-1-1 scheme, meaning lower for five seconds, pause for one second and drive the bar up in one second.

During rest periods, feel free to perform accessory muscle or core exercises, cardio or stretching.

Common Bench Press Problems

There's a tendency for athletes and lifters to overuse this exercise because it makes them look good. This can result in an unbalanced upper body with forward-rounded shoulders that can cause postural problems and invite injury.

While the Bench Press is an important exercise, it should be part of a workout program and not the main attraction. Make sure to balance your upper-body training by performing pulling exercises like Pull-Ups or Lat Pulldowns to strengthen the muscles in your back.

It's best to perform a ratio of three pulling exercises for every pushing exercise. So if you perform five sets of Bench Press, perform 15 sets of exercises that target the back.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock