The bench press is an essential lift for increasing upper body strength and muscle mass, and is one of the most popular pressing exercises for building developed chest muscles.
However, the bench press is one of the most common causes of pectoral injuries and can cause severe pain and disruption to your training when done incorrectly.
Read on to learn how to perfect your bench press form, avoid common bench press mistakes, and learn some helpful tips to take your bench press to the next level.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Perform the Bench Press with Proper Form
- 2 Bench Press Form Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- 3 Other Exercise Posts
- 3.1 How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form
- 3.2 The Top 9 Muscles Worked with Deadlifts
- 3.3 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 3.4 How to Perform the Overhead Press with Proper Form
- 3.5 The Top 10 Pull-up Muscles Worked
- 3.6 Side Plank Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.7 The 7 Best Compound Chest Exercises
- 3.8 The Top 6 Muscles Worked by Glute Bridges
- 3.9 How to Deadlift with Proper Form
- 3.10 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.11 Bear Crawls: Benefits, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.12 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- 3.13 Inverted Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.14 Lat Pulldown Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.15 T-Bar Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.16 The 5 Best Gym Machines for Chest
- 3.17 The Top 10 Muscles Worked by Planks
- 3.18 Seated Cable Row Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
How to Perform the Bench Press with Proper Form
- Lie flat on a bench and plant your feet firmly on the ground with your eyes directly under the barbell.
- Grip the barbell with your hands pronated and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your thumbs wrapped around the bar.
- Tuck the shoulder blades down and back, and lift the chest towards the ceiling.
- Take a deep breath to brace the core by tightening the abdominal muscles like you’re about to be punched in the stomach.
- Keep your head, neck, and spine aligned and neutral throughout the bench press.
- Lift the bar off the supports and hold it directly above the chest with extended arms.
- Lower the bar down toward your chest with control while keeping the elbows close to your sides.
- Pause for a second when the bar makes contact with the chest.
- Exhale, squeeze the pecs, and press the weight directly above your eyes.
- Lock out the arms at the top of the movement, and pause before beginning the next rep.
- Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.
For a visual demonstration of the correct setup and form for a bench press, check out this helpful video from Jeff Nippard.
Bench Press Tips
- Keep feet firmly planted
- Pay attention to setup
- Experiment with a back arch
- Keep wrists in line with knuckles
- Breathe and brace
- Pull the bar apart
Keep feet firmly planted
Keep the feet flat and dig the heels into the ground to generate more power and leg drive to stabilize the lower body and press the weight. Sliding the heels closer to the glutes can help create an arched torso and create more leg drive.
Pay close attention to the setup
Ensure the weight is appropriate for skill level, the bar is centered on the rack, and have a spotter or use safety bars if using a heavy weight. Contract the upper back, abdominals, and legs before unracking the barbell, and keep tension throughout your entire body throughout the set.
Experiment with a back arch
Don’t arch your back off the bench to the point of discomfort, but allowing some arch in the thoracic and lumbar spine can help set the shoulder blades back and down. Keeping the shoulders fixed while bench pressing can help prevent shoulder injury and increase the engagement of the pectoral muscles. Ensure the head and glutes remain in contact with the bench.
Keep the wrists in line with the knuckles
When gripping the bar for a barbell bench press, keep the wrists stacked over the knuckles and aligned with the forearms. Cue yourself to keep the correct alignment by thinking about punching the ceiling to keep the knuckles facing up.
Breathe and brace
Take a deep inhale into the abdomen and puff out the chest area as much as possible to engage the pectoral muscles before lowering the barbell. Retain the breath for the length of each rep, and rebrace in between reps by exhaling and inhaling. Never breathe in the middle of a heavy bench press rep, as it can cause you to lose control of your abdominals and compromise the spine.
Pull the bar apart
A helpful cue for setting and bracing the upper back is to imagine ripping the bar in half. Imagine screwing the shoulders into place to set the scapula. Maintain rigidity in the upper back for the entire bench press set.
Bench Press Common Mistakes
- Bouncing the bar off chest
- Not hitting full depth
- Lifting the bar off chest too slowly
- Neglecting accessories and isolation work
- Tucking the elbows too much or not enough
- Failing to generate a leg drive
- Using too wide or too narrow a grip
Bouncing the bar off chest
Perfect your bench press form by slowing down and controlling the eccentric. If participating in powerlifting, you must pause with the barbell touching the chest before lifting it back up. Even if you are primarily bench pressing for bodybuilding purposes, lower the bar slowly to the chest to activate the pectoral muscles and avoid injuring the shoulder joints.
Not hitting full depth
The bench press creates maximal tension on the chest when the pecs are stretched at the bottom of the lift. Cutting the range of motion skips the most effective and challenging part of the bench press and will hinder your progress. If concerned about failing the bench press when using a heavy weight, recruit a spotter.
Lifting the bar off the chest too slowly
While a slow eccentric (lowering) phase is ideal in a bench press, the opposite is true for the concentric (lifting) phase. Explosively pressing the arms upward will help break through the common sticking point at the bottom of the bench press.
Neglecting accessories and isolation work
As a compound movement, the bench press can be energy-depleting. Recommended lift frequency is two times per week, with additional variation work. Adding isolation sets for your pecs and triceps will improve your bench press without excessive muscle fatigue. Check out our list of the best ways to grow an underdeveloped chest or build stronger triceps to break through a bench press plateau.
Tucking the elbows too much or not enough
Flaring the elbows too much will limit your chest strength and increase the risk of a shoulder impingement injury. Conversely, tucking the elbows too tightly to the torso will force the barbell to drift forward and the elbows and wrists to lose their stacked alignment.
Failing to generate a leg drive
Pay attention to the placement of the feet and consciously dig them into the ground to reach your strength potential in the leg press. Working out the foot placement that works for your biomechanics in the bench press takes some trial and error but will improve bench press performance.
Using too wide or too narrow a grip
The correct grip width to use when bench pressing depends on the length of your arms and the strength and mobility of your shoulder joint. Start with the hands at about shoulder width at a lighter weight, and practice executing the proper bench press form before adding more weight.
Bench Press Form Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The bench press primarily activates the chest muscles, including the sternal head and clavicular head of pectoralis major (pecs), located in the upper chest. The bench press also targets the triceps brachii and the anterior (front) deltoid. The bench press also engages the latissimus dorsi (lats) to a lesser degree at the bottom of the lift when the elbows are behind the torso.
If you have been bench pressing for a while and hit a plateau, lower the weight and perfect your bench press form. Avoid comparing yourself to other lifters, even those who have been bench pressing for a similar amount of time as you.
Many biomechanical factors play a role in your bench press strength potential, including arm length, rib cage size, lumbar spine mobility, and upper back strength. People with shorter arms, a thicker ribcage, and a stronger, more mobile back often find the bench press easier.
Adding a mobility plan for your upper back and strengthening underdeveloped back muscles can help you break through a bench press strength plateau.
Bench press variations all serve slightly different purposes, and the suitable bench press will largely depend on your goals, experience level, biomechanics, injury history, and preferences.
The incline bench press targets the upper chest and shoulders more, making it great for developing a more defined chest. It may also require less weight, reducing stress on the shoulders. However, a flat bench press targets the entire chest, allowing for heavier lifting and overall chest development. The main drawback of a flat bench press is the potential for shoulder strain or injury if proper bench press form is not maintained.
f your goal is to participate in powerlifting or you want to lift maximal weights, go for the barbell bench press. If you prefer the feel of dumbbells and want to improve muscular symmetry, try the dumbbell bench press.
The dumbbell bench press allows a greater range of motion and can help correct muscle imbalances. It also places less stress on the wrists and shoulder joints.
However, it may require more stabilization and be harder to progress with heavier weights. The barbell bench press allows for heavier lifting and can be easier to progress. However, it requires meticulous technique to avoid shoulder pain, wrist strain or injury.
Check out our article for a more in-depth review of the pros and cons of the barbell bench press vs. the dumbbell bench press.
The floor press is not better or objectively easier than the barbell bench press. The floor press engages the triceps more and hones in on the lockout phase of the bench press. The barbell bench press engages more overall chest muscle fibers. If hypertrophy is your goal, traditional bench presses are the best exercise.
For more detail, check out our bench press vs floor press article.
Common causes of shoulder pain when bench pressing include an inappropriate grip width, unstable shoulder blades, excessive elbow flare, and weak rotator cuffs. To avoid pain in the shoulder joints when bench pressing, experiment with a narrower or wider grip width, squeeze your shoulder blades together, tuck your elbows more, and do accessory work to strengthen the rotator cuff.