Barbell Bench Press – Chest Exercise Guide with Photos


The barbell bench press is the most used of all strength training exercises. Many gym goers start and end with the bench press in their routine along with some curls thrown in for their arms. It is easy to see why the bench press is so popular since it targets the muscles that everyone sees first when they look at someone. Let’s take a look at some information on what the barbell bench press is all about and find out what to avoid when performing this exercise.



Muscles Targeted: The barbell bench press targets your upper body pressing muscles. These include the chest muscles, both the pectoralis major and minor. These muscles are responsible for bringing your arms closer together. It also works your anterior deltoids and triceps. These three muscle groups are the primary movers for the barbell bench press. Your latissimus dorsi is involved in a somewhat lesser role.

Exercise Instructions: Position yourself on a regular free weight flat bench press. Lie flat on your back and grab the barbell above you with a grip about shoulder width apart. Lift the barbell off of the rack and slowly lower it down to your chest at about the nipple level and then press the bar back up to the top position. If you have shoulder issues, lower the bar down to about 3 inches above your chest. Do not touch the bar to your chest when you lower it down since this causes unneeded stress on your shoulder joints. Be sure that when you are lowering the bar that you do so in a slow and controlled fashion. Conversely, when you press the bar upward, you want to do so in an explosive fashion. Repeat this movement for as many repetitions as you can until failure. Remember to always use a spotter when performing this and almost every other free weight exercise.

Why This Exercise is Important: The barbell bench press allows you to move the most weight for your upper body. Most bodybuilders agree that heavy weights equal bigger muscular gains. In the case of an athlete, pressing motions are important for throwing punches or moving opponents away from themselves. The bench press has a great carryover to other pressing motions, including other variations of bench press or military presses. It also has notoriety as being one of the most discussed and compared lift in the gym. Several athletic competitions measures bench press, most notably the NFL, to determine the upper body strength of an athlete.

Things To Avoid: You should never lift the barbell bench press by yourself. Always use a spotter to assist you during the exercise. Even with weights that you can control, you can get injured and pinned beneath the bar leading to further injury. You should never have a grip that is too wide as that can damage the shoulder capsule. Avoid bringing the bar down to the upper neck as this also puts unnecessary strain on your shoulders. It is common for gym goers to put too much weight on and shorten the range of motion. Unless you are doing this for a particular training effect, it is best to use the full range of motion when benching. Always keep your back flat on the bench and avoid raising your lower back off the bench when you press the weight up.

Reps and Sets: The barbell bench press is a fairly stable exercise and can be used in a variety of repetition and set schemes. For beginners who are just learning the movement, stick with 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions until the exercise is mastered. For those looking to improve strength in upper body pressing use sets of 3-5 and repetitions from 2-5. For those looking to add mass, use sets from 2-4 and repetitions from 6-10.

Other Exercises To Use: If you want to take a break from bench pressing try some of these variations out. For more emphasis on your deltoids use the incline barbell bench press. Switching over to the decline bench press will take some of the emphasis off your chest and deltoids and move them onto your triceps and lats. Try standing up and doing some standing deltoid military presses to switch things up. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the chest.

The barbell bench press is a staple in most strength and muscle building routines. Always make sure you have a spotter handy in case something goes wrong. Focus on quality of movement and feeling your muscles contract as opposed to getting focused on just getting up the most poundage possible.

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