Bench Press Guide – From Proper Form To Different Variations
The bench press is one of the most common exercises known in the fitness world. They’re easy to do, but in most cases people do them wrong and as a result experience injury over the long term. Whether their injury is due to muscle imbalances or just improper bench press form. Knowing how to perform exercises properly is just as important than actually working out.
Bench pressing will increase your muscle mass in your chest, shoulders, and a little in your triceps. It’s also good to increase your strength as well as your endurance levels. Depending on your rep cadence (how many seconds you perform each rep.) An example of a 5/5 cadence would be to count 5 seconds down and then 5 seconds up, with each repetition; you will either be building muscle or strength. So for example when a person has a 5/5 cadence, which is slow, he wants to build muscle. But when a person has a much faster cadence he wants to increase his strength.
A common rule when trying to increase strength when bench pressing, is to go slower when you are bringing the weight down. And when you are coming up with the weight you “explode” and go faster. This technique is used among many athletes like football players, baseball players, and boxers.
They need to “explode” in their sport to get an advantage over their opponents and this technique will do just that as well as increase their strength.
At the time of this writing, the world record for the bench press is 1075 by Ryan Kennelly back in 2008.
Now most people don’t want to even come close to that number because that goal won’t serve them any benefit, unless they have a rather large ego. But most people incorporate the bench press to (as mentioned before) diversify their workouts, increase strength, and increase muscle in their chest.
And don’t limit yourself to the standard bench press because there are just so many variations of the bench press that serve a lot of benefits. But before I get into the different variations, I’d like to talk a bit about form and proper technique.
Proper Bench Press Form And Technique
Performing the bench press with the right form is crucial because of impending injury and wear on your ligaments/muscles. Getting to know what to do
and what not to do when performing any exercise is the first step.
When I do an exercise for the first time I ALWAYS perform it with no weight at all and then I gradually add the appropriate weight. This will help my muscle memory and avoid doing the exercise wrong without any risk to injury.
The bench press is no different. If you never done the bench press, whether it’s the standard bench press or any variation of it, perform it just with your hands, pretending you are holding a barbell or dumbbells. Then you may want to perform a set just with the barbell to fully grasp the exercise. Once you are conformable add the appropriate weight.
Here’s a quick outline you should follow when bench pressing. To avoid confusion, let’s just start with the regular barbell flat bench press.
- Starting involves you lying down on the bench. Then grip the bar with your thumbs open. Don’t grip it with your thumb closed so that it’s next to your index finger. This will lead to strain on your wrist, as I have learned the hard way! The width between your hands should feel comfortable to you and your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor at the bottom of each rep.Most barbells have lines to show you where to grip. Play around with where you grip the bar and if you feel pain then that’s probably a good sign to change the width.
- As you get ready to perform a set slightly push your shoulder blades back with your chest popping up. It’s important not to overdo this! This will stabilize your upper body and you will be able to perform each rep better. Also make sure that your feet are flat on the ground to stabilize your lower body.
- Now take the barbell off the rack and pause for a second at the top. This is your starting position. Begin to drop the bar with your elbows tucked in. Now this is where it gets a little foggy. I have heard people to say that you should only go halfway down with the bar and then bring it back up. And I have also heard to bring it to your chest and then bring the bar back up. I personally use the latter, when I bench. I just barely touch my chest without resting on it and then bring the weight back up. I guess the argument to bring it only half is because of elbow pain, but I have never had any problems. Or maybe that is only for people like Ryan Kennelly that are afraid that their elbows will become like weak tree branches in a storm. I don’t know. But it’s up to you to make the judgment and do what makes you feel comfortable.
- Also take note of where you are bring the weight down. Many people bring the bar down near the upper part of their chest, which is wrong. Make the bar hit the lower part of your chest to avoid shoulder injury.
- Now bring the bar back up, not favoring either arm. And don’t move your lower body.
The Different Variations Of the Bench Press
Although the bench press mentioned above is the most common one; it may not be the most beneficial one. Isolating the different parts of your chest may be the best way to get development and increase your chests’ strength.
Incline Bench Press
This is usually done with dumbbells and works the upper part of your chest. It’s simple to the regular bench except that the bench is at an angle. Therefore you have to adjust the angle in which you raise the weights. This exercise also works your shoulders. You should not put much strain on your neck. And you are going to use less weight in this exercise than you do with the regular bench press.
Decline Bench Press
This is the opposite from the incline versions in that you put the bench at a decline. This will work your lower chest muscles and will make your chest “Pop”. This is usually down with a barbell, but it works just as good with dumbbells.
Fly’s are great to work a lot of your chest muscles that are under developed. They are a variation of the bench press that takes a different approach to work your chest muscles, in that your perform the exercise by bringing the weight from the side. They will fill out your chest nicely. Performed with dumbbells and may take some time to perfect, but great for your chest. There are also machines that allow you to perform these.
Close Grip Bench Press
This exercise has nothing really to do with your chest. Instead they work your triceps. They are performed the same way as the regular bench press, but you perform them with a close grip, generally about four or five inches apart between your hands.
Reverse Grip Bench Press
These are down with a barbell and as the name suggest you perform these with your hands gripping the bar opposite than you normally would. These are down with a more than normal wide grip to work your chest muscles. I haven’t personally used these myself but plan to do so in the near future. Read this interesting article about them.
Smith Machine Bench Press
Nothing really different from the regular bench press, except you use a machine that controls that movement of each rep.