If you're looking to build strength or size in the upper body, bench press should be a workout regimen staple. The bench press is classified as a compound weight lifting exercise, which means that it requires movement at multiple joints and works several major muscle groups. While the exercise primarily targets the pectoralis major in your chest, it also demands contributions from the deltoids in your shoulders and the triceps brachii muscles at the back of each of your arms.
Bench Press Technique: Learning The Basics
Load any weighted plates onto the ends of the bar and lock them into place with clips. Lie on your back on the bench and adjust the position of your body so that the bar is positioned directly over your eye line. Make sure your feet are placed firmly on the floor. Reach up and grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, thumb fully around the bar and palms facing your feet. Take a deep breath and lift the bar up off the rack. With your arms fully extended, hold the bar over your shoulders.
Lower the bar toward your mid-chest, tucking your elbows in 75 degrees from the sides of your torso. Your forearms should remain vertical throughout the entire movement. Continue lowering the bar, keeping it horizontal, until it's 1 to 2 inches away from touching your sternum. Extend your arms and flex your shoulders to press the bar up and over your shoulders. Your elbows should be fully straight at the end of the rep.
Tighten Your Technique: Tips for Mastering Bench Press
Keep Your Back's Natural Arch
When your bench-pressing with a weight that's challenging, you'll find that your lower back will want to over-arch. To protect your spine, you want to maintain a natural arch. Someone should be able to just barely slide a flat hand between your lower back and the bench.
Use a Full Grip
When gripping the bar, wrap your thumbs around the bar. You'll notice that some lifters like to bench press using a "thumbless" grip. They most often do this because it reduces the stress on the wrists. However, without the thumb's support, the bar can slip out of your hands and fall onto your chest or face. If you feel discomfort in your wrists when bench pressing, rather than use a "thumbless" grip, check to make sure your wrists are held straight throughout the exercise rather than extending back.
Tuck the Elbows Slightly on the Descent
As your lower the bar to your mid-chest, your elbows should move in toward your torso slightly. You don't want to flare your elbows out perpendicular to the torso because doing so puts excess stress on your shoulder capsule and can lead to impingement.
Training to Meet Your Goals: Strength Versus Size
Whether bench press will build strength or size in your chest, shoulders and triceps depends on your training volume and intensity. Training volume is the number or sets and reps you do of the exercise. A higher training volume encourages muscle growth because its high stress creates microscopic damage in the muscle that stimulates the muscle to repair and grow larger.
Training intensity is the load that you're lifting. Building strength is about increasing the amount of force your muscles can produce, so training at a higher intensity encourages muscle strength.
If you're looking to build size, do 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions. If you want to build strength, opt for 5 to 6 sets of 4 to 6 reps.
Additional Note: Consider recruiting a spotter when you're bench pressing. If you lose control or your muscles reach failure when you're bench-pressing, you could lose control of the heavy bar and have it drop onto your face or chest. Ask another lifter if he or she will stand at the head of the bench and remain close in case you need assistance. On particularly heavy sets, where you're going for a personal record or pushing yourself, it's best if they keep their hands near the bar while it ascends and descends.