The bench press is a compound movement, one of the big 5 lifts and is one of the main chest building exercises!
The bench press is primarily for building strength and mass in the chest, but also has large activation of the anterior part of your shoulder, and your triceps, meaning increased strength in these areas. As you also engage your core, traps and lats, these secondary muscles are also getting some involvement.
Due to the wide range of primary and secondary muscles involved, the bench press is ideal for overload of the muscles, meaning you can lift heavier and under more muscular stress, which is necessary for muscle growth.
You can do a lot more weight on a bench press than you can with isolation movements such as flies or cable crossovers, meaning it has more of an effect on your central nervous system, which causes an increased strength output, meaning you can lift heavier within other movements such as these isolations.
Performing the bench press:
Making sure the bench press is performed with correct form is essential for improved muscle activation, injury prevention and strength gain.
Firstly, set your barbell up with enough weight depending on what you’re working towards (aim to go heavy between 3-6 reps for strength (80-90% of 1RM), moderately heavy weight for 6-10 for hypertrophy (65-80% of 1RM) and 10+ for endurance at a moderate weight (50-65% of 1RM))
Secondly, lay on the bench, with your eyes directly underneath the bar, retract your shoulder blades as if you were doing a row, and then pull them down as if you were doing a pulldown. This is to activate your lats and traps, make sure your feet are planted flat against the floor, and that your glutes are flat on the bench and remain in contact throughout the lift, your lower back maintains its natural curve, and your upper-back is engaged and is flat on the bench.
Thirdly, find a width grip which is comfortable for you, a closer grip increases Tricep activation, whilst a wider grip increases chest allowing a heavier lift. My personal suggestion would be to place your thumb where the gnarling begins, extend it along the bar, and then wrap you hands around, as shown below:
Once you are ready and in a comfortable position, lift the weight off the rack, slowly lower to your chest, once you feel contact from bar on chest/ feel a good stretch in chest and shoulders, press back up, fully extending arms at the top. Repeat this process for desired reps, keeping it at a controlled 2 seconds down and 2 seconds up.
Exercise variations –
Close grip bench press (increased tricep activation)
For the close grip bench press, you are increasing activation in your triceps, in order to maximise tricep activation, you set up the same way you’d set up for the standard bench press, however you’d have your grip at roughly shoulder width apart, you then want to keep elbows as close to your body as possible throughout the movement, to reduce potential wrist pain, place thumb over bar instead of wrapping around like standard.
The close grip press helps break strength plateaus in the extension portion of the bench press.
Pause bench press
With this variation, you would complete the bench press as usual, bring the barbell down to chest/ comfort, press back so you’re halfway up the movement, pause for 1-3 seconds, lower back down to chest and powerfully press back to full extension, repeat this for desired reps.
The pause press helps break strength plateaus in the lower portion of the bench press, as well as increases stretch in the muscle, helping to build mind muscle connection improvements.
Time under tension bench press
The time under tension bench press is perfect for building control, mind muscle connection, and confidence whilst keeping the muscles under tension for increased activation.
You would complete the TUT bench press the same way you would a standard one, however, you control the movement down for 5 seconds, making contact on the chest/ into your comfort position, hold for a second, then press up slowly (5 seconds again) then hold for a second at extension and repeat.
Bench press 21’s
Bench press 21s are a great way to increase volume on the bench press and discover where your weaknesses are in the movement.
To perform this variation, you will complete 21 total reps in each set. The first 7 reps will just be the bottom part of the movement, moving the bar from your chest to halfway up. The next 7 will be the top portion moving the bar from halfway to full extension of the arms, and the final 7 reps will be the full movement.
This is not only very challenging, but it will reveal if you’re weakest at the bottom or top range of motion, which can then allow you to know if you should focus on either pause bench or close grip bench to overcome a plateau.
Underhand press is a great way to increase upper chest activation, and anterior delts, as well as working the eccentric portion of the biceps.
The underhand press also helps with the tucking of elbows which helps with forearm strength, and wrist mobility.
The underhand press is also great to work around injuries or certain impingements you may have in shoulders.
According to the 2005 study by Lehman, it also has greater activation in the upper chest than incline bench pressing and standard bench pressing due to the bar being lower on the chest, increasing shoulder flexion/extension and therefore a stretch in the upper chest.
If you would like to learn how to bench press book a consultation with one of the team which is included in all memberships!