Barbell Exercises: Bench Press

Working on the bench press can reap some impressive benefits. Whether you want to build up or tone up your chest muscles, this free weight barbell exercise offers unique balancing that puts a list of muscle groups into action. Below are some different ways you can approach a bench press workout, keeping in mind form and most of all, safety. Note: When doing a bench press routine it is mandatory to have someone spot you for safety. Have them stand by your head with hands ready to grab the bar if needed. In addition, when benching free weights be careful not to arch your back and if necessary, check with your doctor if you have any back injury or concern.

Traditional Bench Press

Lie on your back. Keep your feet flat on the ground lateral to the bench. Grab the bar about a little more than shoulder width length apart. Slowly lift the bar off its holder. Adjust your hands accordingly and get comfortable. Slowly lower the bar to about two inches above your chest while breathing inward, deep through your nose. Do not let the bar touch your chest, as this will unnecessarily strain your shoulder and elbow joints. Slowly blow your breath out through your mouth as you explode into pushing the bar up and into a full-armed extension. Repeat for as many reps as work for you. Usually the higher the weight is, the lower the number of reps. Three sets of 8 to 10 reps for strength building is appropriate. If you are toning, high reps and more sets are recommended.

Bench Press Variations

  • Feet Up – While lying on your back, bring your knees up. Press your back flat and keep your feet in the air. This stops arching and pushing off with your legs, which can sometimes result in the traditional position. It also concentrates the press on your chest and abdominal muscles.
  • Negatives – Have your spotter help you lift the bar up and then, on your own, bring it down very slow.
  • Max Out – This is a three set process. Start with about three quarters of your heaviest weight. Do three to five reps for the first set. Add more weight and do another three to five reps. On your final lift, this is your max. Put on the heaviest weight you think you will be able to lift for three reps. It is more important than ever to have a spotter when you max out.
  • Bench Adjustment – If the bench you are working on is able to incline and decline, you can work broader muscle groups.

Muscle Groups Worked During Bench Press

  • Pectoralis Major and Minor – Mid and upper chest
  • Anterior Deltoid – Front shoulder
  • Triceps Brachii – Back of upper arms
  • Rotator Cuff – Deep shoulder muscles (prone to easy injury, so be sure and mind your form)
  • Forearm – All these muscles come into play during a bench press
  • Abdominals – In the Feet Up bench press variation, the abdominal muscles are contracted the entire time








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