If you go into any gym, you will always find a barbell bench press there. It is probably the most iconic and used piece of kit in the weight-bay area.
Everyone who’s lifted weights before tends to remember how much they can ‘bench press.’
It’s one of those exercises that we return to, time and time again.
The popularity of the bench press also means you often have to wait for it to become free.
It also results in people trying to lift much heavier loads than they should, resulting in poor form and possibly injury.
I’m going to show you how to bench press correctly without getting injured.
Bench Press Benefits
The barbell flat bench press is the most effective compound exercise in developing strength and muscle mass in the pectoral area and supporting muscles.
It primarily works the middle and lower chest muscles, and to a smaller degree, the upper chest area. It also involves your shoulders, upper back (traps) and triceps.
If you want to target the upper chest area more, (between the middle chest and neck) you need to perform an incline barbell bench press, where you set the bench at a 45 degree incline.
If your bench is fixed horizontally, use a free standing bench that you can adjust, and perform dumbbell flies or dumbbell press.
However, for most of us who just want an all round, athletic looking physique, the flat barbell bench press is all you need.
Watch this short video and then follow the steps below to ensure you always perform this awesome exercise the correct way.
How To Perform The Barbell Bench Press Correctly
The temptation when performing this exercise is to put more weight on the bar than you can handle.
Trust me, you will get a lot more respect from fellow gym goers who see you lifting with proper form and control, rather than trying to force a weight that is clearly too heavy for you.
You will also put a lot of stress on your shoulders if you can’t control the weight which often results in rotator cuff injuries.
Nail your technique 100% first. Once you’re happy with your form you can then slowly add weight to the bar.
Here’s How It Should Be Performed:
- Warm up first. Do your first set with an empty bar. Then a set with at least half the weight of your first proper set, but no more than 75%.
- Lie flat on a bench with your feet firmly placed on the ground at 90 degree angles. There should be a natural arch in your back. Don’t adjust your position to achieve a flat surface across your back.
- You should position yourself so that the bar is resting directly above your eyes.
- Your grip should be just wider than shoulder width apart. A wide grip will target your outer chest more, while a narrow grip will target your inner chest.
- Take a deep breath and then lift the bar off the rack and extend the bar at arm’s length. Exhale when you position the bar over your chest.
- Inhale again, hold your breath, and to a count of 2 – 3 seconds, lower the bar in line with the middle of your chest.
- Exhale as you push the bar back up, in a straight line above your chest.
- Take another breath and hold it, before lowering the bar once again.
IMPORTANT: The bar should be lowered until your elbows are at right angles or just slightly below your shoulders. Depending on how long your arms are and how big your chest is, the bar may or may not touch your chest.
If you insist on touching the bar to your chest every time, you can very easily damage the muscles in your rotator cuff. This also comes from personal experience!
The idea is for your elbows to be at a 45 degree angle or just slightly lower than shoulder level. Any lower and you risk injury.. period.
People who say the bar must touch your chest in order for it to be a ‘complete’ move are talking nonsense!
Do’s and Do Not’s
DO remember to breath. Take a deep breath and hold it before you lower the bar, keep holding your breath until you’ve fully lowered it, then exhale as you raise it back up.
DO keep your back in contact with the bench. A small arch in your lower back is natural.
DO NOT allow the barbell to bounce off your chest. (Unless you want to break your ribs!) You should have full control of the barbell at all times.
DO NOT arch your back or squirm around on the bench in order to complete the rep. This will engage other muscles to help move the barbell and increases your mechanical advantage. It also increases your risk of injury, especially to the discs in your lower back.
DO NOT lock your arms out at the top of the movement. Your elbows should be relaxed and your shoulder blades should remain in contact with the bench.
Bench Press Alternatives
If you haven’t got access to the free standing bench press machine, or you don’t belong to a gym, there are other alternatives to work your chest area.
If you did nothing else other than push-ups, you would still develop an awesome looking chest.
The push-up is the most effective body weight exercise you can perform to target your whole chest area as well as all the other secondary muscles.
There are so many variations, such as feet on a bench, arms out wide or narrow, with a weight on your back, off-set hand positions and more.
Other alternatives include the dumbbell fly and dumbbell press.
The bench press is a great compound exercise to increase strength and muscle mass.
Always think about keeping ‘good form’, over how much you can press.
If you have any comments, questions or tips for the barbell flat bench press, please drop them below.