Muscles Targeted: The barbell bench press is the ultimate mass building exercise for the chest. This is considered the king of all mult-joint movements if your goal is to add thick slabs of lean muscle to your pecs, so you should really try to make sure you include this core exercise into your chest workout. The primary muscle group targeted in the bench press is the pectoralis major and the secondary muscles being targeted are the deltoids and triceps. The grip position can be adjusted to emphasize different muscle groups with a narrow grip working more of the triceps and a wider grip working the overall chest region. Elbow position also has a direct effect on which muscles are targeted. If you keep your elbows a little more in towards your body during the eccentric portion of the exercise (lowering the bar to the chest), it will work more of your triceps. By keeping your elbows out, you will target the chest muscles more. It’s usually good to start with a normal shoulder width grip position and try to keep your elbows in a neutral and comfortable position during the entire range of the movement.
Exercise Advice: Position yourself on a bench with your back and head fully resting on the bench and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Always make sure to warm up with very light weight for your first set to get the movement down and to get your muscles warm before increasing the weight. It’s usually good to start with just the bar only, especially if you have never performed this exercise before. You want to make sure your technique is correct to get the most out of this exercise. Begin by placing your hands at about shoulder width onto the bar with a closed, regular grip (thumbs wrapped around the bar). You might see some people in the gym who use an open hand grip (thumbs not wrapped around the bar), but you want to avoid this because it’s a safety hazard since there is the possibility that the bar might slip forward and crash down on your chest. With a secure grip, slowly lift the bar off the rack into the starting position where it is hovering over your face. Once you start to add additional weight onto the bar, its good to have a friend spot you with a “lift off” and to assist you during the exercise if you need help. From the starting position, slowly lower the bar down until it touches your chest at about nipple level. If you have any shoulder issues, you don’t have to bring the bar all the way down and actually touch your chest. You can bring the bar down to the point where your elbows are at about 90 degrees. This will take a lot of stress out of the shoulders and especially the rotator cuff which can be heavily stressed when the bar is lowered all the way down where it touches the chest. Try both variations and see which one feels like its placing the most tension directly on the chest muscles and not the shoulders. From the bottom position, slowly push the bar back up to the starting position and repeat. It’s very important to try to avoid locking out your elbows at the top position after each repetition. By keeping a very slight bend in your elbows, you can place maximum tension on the pecs and minimize the stress on your elbows.
Things To Avoid: One of the most important things you want to avoid is trying to bench press too much weight without a spotter to assist you. Always have a friend there to assist you in the event you cant get the weight back up. The last thing you want is a few hundred pounds to come crashing down on your chest! Another thing to avoid is raising your back off the bench on the concentric portion of the movement (pushing the bar back up). You might see people in the gym benching a lot of weight but they are squirming all over the place and their backs are literally arching so bad, they look like a contortionist. You want to always use strict form and proper technique to ensure you place 100% of the tension on your chest muscles. After each rep, make sure to keep a little bend in your elbows at the top position. This will allow you to keep maximum stress on your pecs and it will also help reduce the stress on your elbows by not locking them out. Your grip is also important, so use a neutral grip that is about shoulder width. Avoid a super narrow grip or a super wide grip when doing the bench press. A very narrow grip is used on a different triceps exercise since it places most of the stress on those muscles. When you lower the bar down to your chest, make sure to avoid positioning the bar to low or to high when you touch the bar onto your body. If you bring the bar down and it touches right above your belly button, this is way too low. On the other hand, if the bar touches your neck at the bottom, this is way too high. Try to touch the bar at just about nipple level for the best position for this exercise.
Reps and Sets: For overall muscle building, try to focus on 8-12 repetitions per set. Overall sets for this exercise should be in the range of 3-4. The total overall sets for your entire chest workout should be in the range of 8-10 since its a medium to large muscle group. Make sure to only train your chest once per week. You need to make sure and let your muscles fully recover, repair and grow from each workout and by hitting them hard only once per week, you will ensure you’re maximizing the recovery phase.
Other Exercises To Use: A couple of great exercises to combine with the barbell bench press in your chest workout are the Incline Barbell Bench Press and the Decline Dumbbell Bench Press. By combining different exercises into your workout, you will be able to really hit the chest muscles from different angles and stimulate multiple areas of your pecs (upper, middle and lower).