The barbell bench press is a compound movement effective for gaining upper body strength and size. This exercise is extremely popular due to its minimalistic nature, prevalence in strength sports, and ability to train multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
This article will cover all of the muscles a traditional bench press works, and a few frequently asked questions about this exercise. While many multiple bench press variations exist, this article focuses on the flat barbell bench press.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Top 5 Bench Press Muscles Worked
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
- 3 Other Exercise Posts
- 3.1 Inverted Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.2 The Top 9 Muscles Worked with Deadlifts
- 3.3 How to Perform the Overhead Press with Proper Form
- 3.4 Farmer’s Carry Benefits & Muscles Worked
- 3.5 How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form
- 3.6 The 5 Best Gym Machines for Chest
- 3.7 The 6 Best Gym Machines For Weight Loss
- 3.8 Arnold Split Workout + Free Example Spreadsheet
- 3.9 The 5 Best Benefits of Planks
- 3.10 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.11 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 3.12 T-Bar Row Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.13 How to Front Squat with Proper Form
- 3.14 Leg Extension Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.15 The Top 5 Leg Press Muscles Worked
- 3.16 The Landmine Press: Muscles Worked, Benefits and Form
- 3.17 Bear Crawls: Benefits, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.18 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
The Top 5 Bench Press Muscles Worked
- Pectoralis Major
- Pectoralis Minor
- Anterior Deltoid
- Triceps Brachii
Here are the barbell bench press muscles worked:
The pectoralis major is a large, fan-shaped muscle that makes up a large portion of the chest. This muscle consists of a clavicular head and sternal head, determined by their origin points. The clavicular head is more commonly known as the upper chest. The sternal head consists of the middle and lower chest.
Even though each section of the pectoralis major muscle has a different origin point, they all attach to the humerus. This muscle group is primarily responsible for horizontal adduction, bringing the upper arm across the body. The pec major is important for any pushing movement and plays a big role in bodybuilding shows.
Although you can’t isolate a specific chest area, use an incline bench press to target the upper chest more. Performing a flat or decline bench press to emphasize the middle and/or lower chest the most. Regardless of your variation, the entire chest will work during a barbell bench press.
The pectoralis minor is a smaller triangular-shaped muscle located beneath the pectoralis major. This muscle group originates from the ribs and inserts into the cortacoid process of the scapula. The primary action of the pectoralis minor is scapular stabilization, but it also assists with depression and protraction.
Since the pec minor attaches to the ribs, it helps with breathing by lifting the rib cage during inhalation. A weak or tight pec minor muscle can negatively affect scapular movement, increasing the risk of shoulder pain and/or injuries.
The deltoid muscle, including the anterior, lateral, and posterior delts, surrounds the shoulder joint. When performing a bench press, the primary shoulder muscle that’s active is the anterior delt, also known as the front delt.
The primary actions of the front delt include shoulder flexion and internal rotation. Similar to the upper chest, using an incline bench press variation increases the activation of the anterior delt. It’s common to have overdeveloped anterior delts compared to rear and side delts.
Not to mention, the anterior delt tends to take over the movement when fatigue sets in. Having overpowering front delts may increase the risk of shoulder impingement. Keeping the shoulder blades retracted and depressed during a bench press will help keep more tension in the chest rather than the anterior delts.
The triceps brachii makes up approximately two-thirds of the upper arm. The triceps consists of three heads: lateral, medial, and long head. This muscle group’s main action is elbow extension. So they play a crucial role in the lockout portion of a bench press.
Close-grip bench press variations activate the triceps more than a medium or wide-grip bench press. For those that tend to fail a bench press during the top ⅓ of the range of motion, strengthening the triceps will help.
The last muscle group highly active during bench pressing is the forearms, specifically the forearm flexors. Although this muscle group isn’t lengthening or shortening, it isometrically contracts to hold the bar in place. A stronger grip helps align the wrists with the elbows and shoulders so they are stacked on top of each other in a straight line.
It also helps prime the central nervous system for lifting. The forearm flexors include the pronator teres, flexor carpi radialis longus, palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris, and flexor digitorum superficialis. Having well-developed forearms improves overall aesthetics and strength. Grip strength is also very important for a variety of movements.
Frequently Asked Questions
The barbell bench press is very effective for increasing upper body strength and mass because it’s a compound movement that works numerous muscles simultaneously. Furthermore, a barbell is conducive to progressive overload, which is crucial for building muscle and gaining strength.
Even though the barbell bench press is an upper-body exercise, the lower body is also involved in helping lift the weight with a technique known as leg drive.
Despite the myths, isolating one area of the chest is impossible. With that said, the angle of the bench can be manipulated to emphasize the upper, middle, or lower chest muscles. For example, incline bench presses target the upper chest, flat bench presses hit the middle chest, and decline bench presses are best for the lower chest.
Since this movement is part of the big three, it’s a common way to assess upper body strength. However, barbell bench pressing every day is not the best approach to increasing your 1 rep max. It is a good idea to bench press 2-3 times a week rather than just once, especially if you add in some variations, such as the close-grip bench press, incline bench press, floor press, pause bench press, etc.
Some popular bench press variations include: Reverse grip bench press; Close grip bench press; Incline bench press; Decline bench press; Pause bench press; Dumbbell bench press; Floor press; Push ups