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How To Bench Press

What is a bench press?

Bench press

See all bench press variations

The bench press is one of the most effective exercises for building muscle and strength in your upper body. While the bench press predominantly targets the chest, it is a compound exercise which also works your shoulders, triceps, and core. Knowing how to correctly perform the bench press is key to ensuring the right muscles are targeted, as well as preventing injuries. 

Different variations of the bench press utilise these muscles in different ways. Check out our step by step guides to the bench press variations below. Never done a bench press before? Starting off with the dumbbell bench press is a safe and effective way to build the chest muscles and work your way up to a barbell bench press. 

 

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BENCH PRESS

  • There are many factors that can influence how much a person can bench press, from physical fitness, to height, to what you have eaten that day.

    Comparing yourself to others is not a useful indicator of strength and worth. Instead, start off at a weight that is challenging but still allows you to keep good form,  and increase either the reps or weight each week. This will allow you to build strength and muscle. 

  • Although the bench press is predominantly a chest exercise, it does work the the arms and shoulders, making it a great compound move to help grow your arms as part of a balanced workout plan.

    The best way to build bigger arms is to work these muscles 2-3x a week through both compound and isolate exercises, and increasing the weights or reps each week to continually challenge the muscles.

  • If building a bigger chest is your goal, you'll need to work this muscle group 2-3x a week with a combination of compound and isolation exercises, ensuring you continually increase either the weights or reps each week.

    The bench press is one of the best compound moves to include when it comes to building your chest!

    You'll also need to ensure you are eating enough protein, and may need to consider eating in a caloric surplus. 

  • The best way to increase your bench press is to focus on adding either weight or the number of reps you reach each week, while keeping a good form.

    For example, if your workout programme calls for 3 sets of 8-12 reps, you would increase the number of reps each week until you can do 12 reps. The next week, you can add enough weight that you can do 8 reps, and from there add reps on each week. 

    You'll also need to build strength in your chest through bench press variations, chest flys, and dips, work any supporting muscles such as the triceps through isolation work, and strengthen your core. 

Bench press tips

  • Maintaining a slight arch in your back helps to protect the back and shoulders and keep your spine neutral.
  • The bar should be lowered slowly (around 3 seconds) but pushed up explosively (around 1 second).
  • As you push the barbell up, drive your feet into the floor and brace your core. This increases stability so that the chest, triceps, and shoulders power the movement.

Bench Press Variations

How to do a barbell bench press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment required: Bench press rack

  1. Set the bar to a weight you are comfortable with. Most bench press racks use a 20kg Olympic barbell. 
  2. Lie on the bench with your head under the barbell and your feet firmly on the floor.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slightly arch your back. 
  4. Grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  5. Push the barbell up to take it off the rack, and then press it towards the ceiling by extending your arms upwards, making sure to keep your wrists straight.
  6. Inhale while lowering the barbell in a controlled, smooth movement, stopping when it is resting just above the bottom half of your sternum and your triceps are parallel with the floor.
  7. Pause before driving the barbell back up as you exhale. 

 

How To Do A Barbell Incline Bench Press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment required: Incline bench press rack, or an adjustable bench and squat rack

  1. If you are not using an incline bench press rack, you will need to set an adjustable bench at a 30-45 degree angle and set it up at a squat rack so that the barbell is above your head.
  2. Set the bar to a weight you are comfortable with. Most incline bench press racks use a 20kg Olympic barbell. Most people need to drop the weight down from their flat bench press. 
  3. Sit back on the bench, squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, and plant your feet firmly on the ground. 
  4. Grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, making sure to keep your wrists straight, and slightly arch your back. 
  5. Unrack the bar and then press it upwards by extending your arms straight up in line with your shoulders.
  6. Lower the bar in a controlled, smooth movement, until the bar rests above the upper part of your chest.
  7. Repeat. 

 

How To Do A Close Grip Bench Press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment required: Bench press rack

The close grip bench press activates the triceps and anterior deltoids more than the traditional bench press. This variation also puts less strain on the shoulders, making it more comfortable for some people. 

  1. Load the barbell to a weight you are comfortable with. Most people need to drop down from their standard bench press weight. 
  2. Lie back on the bench with your head underneath the barbell and your feet firmly on the floor.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and grip the barbell with your hands around shoulder-width apart.
  4. Unrack the barbell and then press it towards the ceiling, making sure to engage your core and keep your wrists straight, with your arms in line with your shoulders.
  5. Slowly lower the barbell, keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides. Stop when the barbell reaches your sternum.
  6. Repeat.

 

How To Do A Dumbbell Bench Press

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Equipment required: Flat bench, dumbbells

  1. Lie back on the bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor. and shoulder blades squeezed together and a slight arch in your back. 
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand just above and outside your shoulders, with palms facing the floor. Your elbows should be around 75 degrees from your body. 
  3. Push the dumbbells up by extending your elbows until your arms are straight. At the top of the movement, the dumbbells should be close to touching. 
  4. Reverse the movement by slowly lowering the weights until they are in line with your shoulders. 
  5. Repeat.

How to Do An Incline Dumbbell Press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment required: Adjustable bench, dumbbells

  1. Set up your bench so it sits at a 30-45 degree incline.
  2. Sit back on the bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor, shoulder blades squeezed back, and a slight arch in your back.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in each hand just outside of your shoulders with your elbows pointed out and down. 
  4. Bracing your core, press the dumbbell straight up above your chest, making sure to fully extend your elbows and straighten your arms.
  5. Lower the weights by reversing his movement, keeping your elbows tucked in around 75 degrees from your body. 
  6. As the dumbbells reach the top of the movement, they should come closer together, before moving away from each other as they descend.
  7. Repeat.

How To Do A Seated Chest Press

Level: Beginners to Intermediate

Equipment: Chest press machine

The seated chest press allows strength to be built up safely so that you can progress to the bench press.

  1. Adjust the seat so that the handles are at chest level.
  2. Sit tall with your back against the support, feet flat on the floor, and core engaged.
  3. Grab the handles and extend your arms out in front to press these forward. Focus on using the chest muscles to drive this movement.
  4. Stop just before locking your elbows out, then slowly return back to the starting position.
  5. This is one rep.

How To Do A Decline Dumbbell Press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment required: Decline bench, dumbbells

  1. Sit down on the decline bench, making sure your feet are secure under the leg brace. Rest the dumbbells on your thigh.
  2. Lie back and position the dumbbells so they sit just outside of your chest, with your elbows 45 degrees away from your torso.
  3. Press the dumbbells up by extending your arms and locking out your elbows. As you reach the top of the movement, bring the dumbbells closer together but do not touch them.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells by reversing the movement until you feel a stretch in your chest.
  5. Repeat.

How To Do A Dumbbell Squeeze Press

Level: Beginners to Advanced.

Equipment required: Flat bench, dumbbells

  1. Lie back on the bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor. and shoulder blades squeezed together and a slight arch in your back. 
  2. Position the dumbbells above your chest. Your elbows should be tucked by your side at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Squeezing the dumbbells together throughout, extend your elbows and drive the dumbbells up towards the ceiling.
  4. Pause before slowly bringing the dumbbells back to the starting position, squeezing both dumbbells together.
  5. Repeat. 

How To Do A Cable Chest Press

Level: Intermediate to Advanced.

Equipment: Cable pulley/ crossover machine, 2x cable handles

  1. Set both pulleys so that they're slightly above shoulder height, at the same height on each side, and then select the weight you want. The handles should sit around chest level. 
  2. Standing tall in the middle of the pulley, grab both handles with an overhand grip, palms facing the floor. At this point, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Take a step so that one foot is forward, and lean forward slightly to bring your weight over the front foot. 
  4. Press the handles out and slightly down until your arms are fully extended. 
  5. Hold before slowly returning to the starting position.
  6. Repeat.

How To Do A Decline Bench Press

Level: Advanced

Equipment required: Decline bench station, or a decline bench, barbell, and rack

  1. Lie back with your eyes underneath the barbell, making sure your feet are secured under the support at the end of the bench.
  2. Use an overhand grip to grab the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Lift the bar off the rack and then move it so you're holding the bar above your shoulders, arms straight. 
  4. Slowly lower the barbell, keeping your elbows 45 degrees from your torso.
  5. When the bar touches your chest, push it back up by straightening your arms and locking your elbows.
  6. Repeat.

   

If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.