5 Steps to Properly Bench Press for Muscle Growth

Follow these steps if you want to take your bench press skills and muscle gains to the next level.

Follow these steps if you want to take your bench press skills and muscle gains to the next level.

What are the Benefits of the Bench Press Exercise?

The bench press exercise is a popular compound movement that primarily targets the muscles in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Here are some benefits of incorporating the bench press into your workout routine:

Upper body strength: The bench press is an effective exercise for developing upper body strength, particularly in the chest muscles. It also engages the shoulders and triceps, making it a great overall upper body strength builder.

man trains to get a stronger bench press with spotterSource: Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels

Muscle development: By regularly performing bench presses, you can increase muscle mass and promote muscle growth in your chest, shoulders, and triceps. This can contribute to a more aesthetically pleasing physique and improve your overall upper body strength.

Improved pushing power: The bench press is a pushing movement that helps develop the muscles and strength needed for various activities that require pushing, such as pushing heavy objects or performing explosive movements in sports like basketball or football.

Increased bone density: Weight-bearing exercises like the bench press can stimulate bone growth and increase bone density. This can be particularly beneficial for reducing the risk of osteoporosis and maintaining healthy bone mass as you age.

Enhances athletic performance: The bench press can improve performance in sports that involve upper body strength and power, such as weightlifting, powerlifting, football, and martial arts. The increased strength and power gained from bench pressing can translate into improved performance in these activities.

Core stability and balance: Although the bench press primarily targets the upper body muscles, it also requires stability and control of the core muscles. Proper technique and form during the exercise can help develop core strength and stability, which is essential for overall strength and balance.

Mental and psychological benefits: Engaging in strength training exercises like the bench press can have positive effects on mental well-being. The sense of accomplishment, increased self-confidence, and the release of endorphins during exercise can contribute to improved mood, reduced stress, and enhanced overall mental health.

Remember, it’s important to perform the bench press with proper form and technique to maximize its benefits and reduce the risk of injury. If you’re new to weightlifting or unsure about the correct form, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a qualified fitness professional.

Step 1: Set Up

Jeremy Ethier explains, “to find the perfect grip width for you, lay down on the bench with your arms straight in front of you. Pull your elbows back until they make a 90 degree angle. Then, bring your elbows in towards your sides until your thumbs line up with your nipples. The distance between your hands is your ideal grip distance on the bar. Then, for a smooth unracking, position your body such that your eyes are directly under the barbell. And when you grab the bar, for the most secure grip, I’d recommend keeping your thumb around the bar. Finally, walk your feet back under your knees and plant them firmly into the ground.”

Step 2: Create Whole Body Tension

“Before you even consider unracking the bar, you need to activate various muscles that will help unlock your bench press strength and keep you stable as you lift. Use your quads to push your feet down into the ground and use your glutes to drive your knees out. Then, activate your lats by bringing your armpits down to your hips. You can imagine there was a band attached to the bar pulling it back as you try to pull it forward. Next, we want to create an arch in your upper back by thinking about opening up and extending your chest. Once you’ve set your arch, straighten your wrists by pointing your knuckles to the ceiling. Then, through your nose take a deep 360 breath into your abdomen, and brace your core.”

man sets up arch in the bench press with spotter behind

Step 3: Unracking

“This is where most people lose all their tension and mess up their bench press technique before they’ve even started it. To avoid this, maintain your arch and stay tight, then push the bar up to get it off the rack. From there you want to use your lats to “pull” the bar into the starting position right above your shoulders. Then, re-engage your lats by thinking about bending the bar in half.”

Step 4: Descent

“The most common mistake people make here with the barbell bench press has to do with the bar path. During a proper bench press the bar should not travel straight up and down. Instead, you’ll want to bring it down and slightly forwards. To do so, focus on pulling the bar down towards your lower chest, right around the level of your nipples.”

“As you do this, avoid tucking your elbows too close into the body and also avoid the more common mistake of flaring them out to the sides. Instead, to maximize chest activation and minimize shoulder discomfort, keep them tucked at about a 45 to 70 degree angle away from your body. Now as for how deep to go, ideally, you want to touch your chest with the bar. But if your shoulders roll forward at the bottom (which can cause discomfort and potential injury), stop an inch or two above your chest or wherever is most comfortable. But once you do reach the bottom position, your forearms should not be bent inward or outward. If they are, try narrowing or widening your grip to get your elbows stacked directly under your wrists.”

Step 5: Ascent

“Most people lose out on chest gains by letting the bar bounce off their chest. Instead, force your chest to work even harder by pausing here for half a second. But do NOT completely relax and let the bar simply sit on top of you. Keep the tension in your legs and upper back and feel your chest working to keep the bar stable.”

“After the slight pause, use your quads to push your feet forward against the ground as if you were doing a leg extension, and then drive the bar up off your chest. Drive the bar back up towards your head so that from the side view, the bar travels in a slight arc. As you get to the top, keep your chest up by maintaining the arch in your upper back and squeeze your biceps into your armpits until your arms fully straighten over your shoulders. Exhale through pursed lips as you come to the top, take another deep breath in your stomach, brace, and then control the weight back down for another rep.”

Video – 5 Steps to Properly Bench Press for Muscle Growth

Jeremy Ethier covers a wide range of fitness-related topics, including workout routines, exercise form, muscle building, fat loss, nutrition, and debunking common fitness myths. He often incorporates scientific research and studies to support his recommendations and provide viewers with practical advice for achieving their fitness goals.

What Muscles does the Bench Press Work?

The bench press primarily targets the following muscle groups:

Pectoralis Major: The bench press is one of the most effective exercises for developing the pectoralis major, which is the large chest muscle. It helps to build strength and size in the upper, middle, and lower regions of the chest.

Anterior Deltoids: The anterior deltoids, or front shoulder muscles, are also heavily engaged during the bench press. They assist in the pressing movement and play a significant role in stabilizing the shoulders.

Triceps Brachii: The triceps, located at the back of the upper arm, are synergistically involved in the bench press exercise. They contribute to elbow extension during the pressing motion.

Other muscles that are involved to a lesser extent include:

Serratus Anterior: The serratus anterior, located on the sides of the rib cage, aids in stabilizing the scapulae (shoulder blades) during the bench press.

Build muscleSource: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Rotator Cuff Muscles: The rotator cuff muscles, including the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, help to stabilize the shoulder joint during the bench press.

Biceps Brachii: While the biceps are not the primary movers during the bench press, they are involved in a supportive role, assisting in elbow flexion during the upward phase of the movement.

It’s important to note that the involvement and activation of these muscles can vary depending on the grip width, bar path, and variations of the bench press exercise. Additionally, proper form and technique are crucial to effectively target these muscles and minimize the risk of injury.

What are the Best Reps and Sets for Muscle Growth?

The optimal reps and sets for muscle growth, also known as hypertrophy, can vary based on individual factors, training experience, and specific goals. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you design an effective training program for muscle growth:

Repetitions (Reps): For hypertrophy, it is commonly recommended to perform a moderate number of repetitions per set, typically in the range of 8-12 reps. This range promotes a balance between muscle tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage, which are key factors for stimulating muscle growth.

Sets: The number of sets can vary depending on factors such as exercise selection, training volume, and time available for training. Typically, performing 3-5 sets per exercise is a good starting point for hypertrophy training. However, you can adjust the number of sets based on your recovery capacity and training goals.

Intensity: Intensity refers to the amount of weight lifted, usually expressed as a percentage of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). For hypertrophy, it is generally recommended to work within a moderate intensity range, around 60-80% of your 1RM. This allows you to perform the desired number of reps while maintaining proper form and technique.

Rest Periods: Rest periods between sets can influence the metabolic and hormonal responses to training. To optimize hypertrophy, it is typically recommended to rest for around 1-2 minutes between sets. This allows for partial recovery without letting your muscles fully recover, promoting metabolic stress and muscular adaptation.

Progression: Progressive overload is essential for continued muscle growth. Over time, you should aim to gradually increase the weight you lift, the number of repetitions, or the number of sets to challenge your muscles and stimulate further growth.

Variation: Incorporating exercise variation is beneficial to prevent plateaus and stimulate different muscle fibers. You can include different exercises, angles, grips, and tempos in your training program to target the muscles from various angles and promote overall muscle development.

Remember, these guidelines are general recommendations, and individual responses may vary. It’s important to listen to your body, adjust the training variables as needed, and consider working with a qualified fitness professional who can design a personalized program based on your specific goals and needs.

What are the Best Reps and Sets for Strength Gains?

When it comes to strength gains, the recommended reps and sets differ from those aimed at muscle growth. Here are some guidelines to consider for optimizing strength gains:

Repetitions (Reps): For strength gains, it is generally recommended to perform lower repetitions per set with heavier weights. Working in the range of 1-6 reps per set is common. This lower rep range allows you to lift heavier weights, which stimulates the development of neuromuscular adaptations and increases your maximal strength.

Sets: The number of sets for strength training can vary based on factors like exercise selection, training volume, and individual factors. Typically, performing 2-6 sets per exercise is a good starting point for strength training. Adjust the number of sets based on your recovery capacity and training goals.

Intensity: Intensity, expressed as a percentage of your one-repetition maximum (1RM), plays a crucial role in strength training. To optimize strength gains, it is generally recommended to work with higher intensities, typically around 80-95% of your 1RM. This requires lifting heavy weights that challenge your muscles and central nervous system.

Source: Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Rest Periods: Longer rest periods are generally recommended for strength training compared to hypertrophy training. Aim for rest periods of 2-5 minutes between sets to allow for adequate recovery and to maximize strength performance in subsequent sets.

Progression: Progressive overload is key for strength gains. Gradually increasing the weight you lift over time is essential to stimulate further strength development. You can aim to increase the weight lifted, the number of repetitions, or the number of sets as you progress.

Specificity: Focus on compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups and mimic real-life movements. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, and rows are commonly included in strength training programs.

It’s important to note that strength training should be approached with caution, especially when working with heavier weights. Ensure you have proper form, technique, and stability throughout the movements to reduce the risk of injury. Additionally, individual responses to training can vary, so it’s recommended to work with a qualified strength and conditioning professional to design a program tailored to your specific needs and goals.

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