The Ultimate Bench Press Guide – Everything You Need to Train Effectively

Never tackled this exercise before? Then this bench press guide is for you. Been benching a while and have a niggling suspicion you could be getting more out of your training? Then here’s the perfect refresher to get more out of your chest workouts.

The humble bench press is one of the absolute best things you can work into your home gym routine. Yet this seemingly simple strength exercise can be tricky to get right.

The rewards are worth it. Mastering the bench press will give you a seriously good way to build pretty much every part of your upper body

Benching for beginners – easy to get wrong

Be warned: if you’ve never done the bench press before, don’t get one of these set up in your home gym, whack a plate on both sides of a bar and start benching.

While this exercise is a great tool for building muscles in your arms, chest, and shoulders, you need be properly guided as a starter/beginner.

Beginner's Guide To Bench Press

But the rewards are worth it. Mastering the bench press will give you a seriously good way to build pretty much every part of your upper body and it’s got infinite scale that you can always increase. It’s also relatively cheap to get the equipment you need to do at home.

But first…

Do I really need to bench press?

We’ll dive into the ‘how to bench press‘ in this guide in a few moments. But first, lets look at why the bench press is so important for your routine.

The bench press is one of the most important lifts to determine how strong someone truly is. That’s why you tend to hear questions like “do you lift,” “how much do you bench,” etc.

This exercise has been around forever too; it became popular in the 40’s and 50’s as it helped a lot of bodybuilders work their pecs.

Asides the strong pecs, the bench press can benefit you in the following ways. Here’s some obvious, and some not-so-obvious reasons you should bother with the bench:

  • Increased upper body push strength
  • Bigger pec major
  • Shredded serratus anterior
  • Stronger pec minor
  • Predict upper body strength
  • Strong Triceps
  • Improved bone health
  • Great look in shirts

What muscles does the bench press work?

The bench press represents one of the “big 4” basic lifts

The other three include the deadlift, the squat, and the overhead press. When you include the bench press in your strength program, it doesn’t only work on your chest. It also strengthens other body parts and muscles, including:

  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Lats
  • Forearms
  • Rhomboids
  • Pecs
  • Traps

Obviously this is a key exercise in smashing your upper body into shape and building strength and size in those muscle groups.

Bench press every day?

Having bench press as the only movement in your exercise program may trigger some issues such as tight chest. But coaches record that this issue usually disappears when you incorporate the bench press as part of a well-rounded strength program.

But note that the bench press is a full body movement even when it focuses on specific muscle groups. So, it’s not just your lower back, legs, and hips. The rest of your body are also engaged.

How the drive is generated?

When you bench press, your lats are engaged, your shoulders are pinched together, and your hips and legs are tightened. This stabilizes your entire body, helping you create a solid base to generate the drive to push from the ground.

What you’ll need to bench press

We will show you the standard and safest way to bench press. But note that you’re likely to see some powerlifters benching a ridiculous amount of weight. This does not mean they are using the safe or good form- they might want to try some compromises to bench higher numbers.

You don’t have to imitate others. We will show you the right method. But before then, here are the materials you’ll need to perform the bench press:

  • Barbell
  • A weight bench with uprights
  • Spotter (Optional but helpful!)

Setting up your bench press correctly

You might have seen different bench press setups in powerlifting competitions or in your local gym. Some might slide in under the bar, some get on the bench and curl under the bar, and others simply lie down and get tight.

But we will show you the proper set up. But before then, it is advisable to roll the bar forward on the upright to ease your lifting.

The best way to position yourself correctly during bench press:

Bench press position 1

  1. Grab the bar shoulder width. You can try the wide grip and close grip in addition to a standard bench press, but the shoulder width to just outside will put you in a safe position that protects your bicep tendons, shoulders, and pecs.
  2. Squeeze the bar tightly and position your eyes underneath the bar. Put your shoulder blades in your back pockets or squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. You can imagine you’re pinching the bench between your shoulder blades. This works to protect your shoulders, locking your technique (making you stronger).
  3. Do not arch your back. Keep the natural curve of your spine and use it to connect your legs to your upper body.
  4. Leave your legs in front of you or tuck them. The aim is to get your hips higher than your knees, transfer leg drive into the bar to bench more weight.
  5. Breathe in and fill your belly just like the squat. Then squeeze the bar and use a toaster to unrack it. If you don’t want the weight to drop on your face or throat, then you better get spotters.
  6. Allow the bar settle and keep your shoulder blades squeezed tightly and flex your lats, assuming the pull up position.
  7. Start the downward (eccentric) movement with your elbows at 45 degrees. Move the bar just below your nipple line (or bottom of your sports bra for ladies). Raise the bar back up, keeping your elbows at angle 45 degrees.
  8. Make sure your bench is set on some proper gym flooring – it will add stability and protect the weights if they’re dropped.

Bench press position 2

Most important tips for the beginner bench presser

As a beginner who’s new to the bench press exercise, you should keep the following tips in your mind:

  • You should see your body as one solid unit.
  • Keep your bottom, upper back and neck on the bench as you tighten your body.
  • (Keep your heels and feet planted on the ground too).
  • Tighten your entire body, drive your feet into the ground and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Avoid keeping your lower back flat as you push, or try not to form an arch. Many powerlifters form extreme arch when lifting, but try not to do this to stay in proper form.
  •  Ensure you squeeze your shoulder blades together as you drive your heels through the ground. Raise your chest to the bar, forming just a small arch.
  • Keep your body tight throughout this movement and bench with a full range of motion.

Mastering good form in your bench press

Bench press with a spotter

You don’t need a spotter when you bench press, but it is helpful

After setting up, the next thing to work on is how to maintain good form during bench press. As you keep your hands on the bar, you need to learn how to keep you elbows tucked in without flaring out as you push.

So, a good way to achieve this is to imagine yourself bending the bars in half upwards towards the sky. This cue will help you engage your lats, keeping your body tighter throughout the press.

Here’s how to perform the bench press with good form every time:

  1. Setup: Lie flat, lift your chest, and squeeze your shoulder-blades together. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your eyes under the bar.
  2. Grab the bar: Place your little finger on the ring marks around your bar. Hold the bar with a full grip in the base of your palm and straight wrists.
  3. Unrack the bar: Take a deep breath, straighten your arms, and position the bar directly above your shoulders.
  4. Lower the bar: Tuck your elbows 750 and lower the bars to your mid-chest. Maintain your forearms in a vertical position, and let the bar touch a few inches below your clavicles. If it gets on your stomach or up on your throat, then it is in the wrong position.
  5. Press: Once the bar gets to your mid-chest, press up the bar to the starting position. Lock your elbows at the top and keep your butt on the bench.

Take note that the bench press is not in a straight up and down motion- which is characteristic of the deadlift and squat. The bar will usually move in a slightly diagonal path down, and then follow the same path back up.

While pressing, do not allow your body parts touching the bench to come off the bench, and keep your feet on the floor. More so, to ensure your butt sticks to the bench, think of pushing up and back, towards the front.

After completing the desired number of reps, re-rack the bar by moving bar backwards to the uprights, and ensure the bar touches them before letting go. However, you know the racks are there, so there’s no need for looking at the bars. You can get a friend to help you ensure the bar is placed in the right position in the rack.

How much weight should a beginner bench press?

Choosing your starter weight is one of the most critical parts when you’re starting out

Man doing bench press

Picking the perfect weight is crucial when you’re starting out

As a beginner, this is one of the most critical questions that might come to mind.  You want to know how much you can put on the bar as a starter. This is important because you will be doing more harm than good to your body when you’re tempted to add a very heavy weight on the bar.

So, keep a check on your ego and start with the bar only. The bar weighs 45 pounds, so it’s a good way to start. It’s quite small right? No! It isn’t. As a matter of fact, many veteran power lifters who can bench press over 400+ pounds still start out with the bar alone.

Don’t try to impress anyone as a beginner. Remember, the goal is to get stronger and not to show off. Start with the bar (weighing 45 pounds). If you think it would weight too heavy for you, you can try finding smaller barbells or dumbbells in the gym and use those to build strength.

Adding more weight safely

If you try the bar only, and you can bench press with it comfortably, do 3 sets of 10 for a start on your first day. You can then add 2.5lbs on both sides of the bar when it’s time to bench press again. That will make a total of 50lbs that you’ll be lifting.

You can add 5 pounds to the bar every week. This will look smooth and steady, but you will get to point in the next six months that you will find it hard to lift the weight.

Why do you need to start with the bar?

Your body needs to be trained correctly to help you build momentum. If you practice the bench press in proper form using light weight, your body, including your joints, muscles, and tendons gets prepared to bear the load of a bar with weights.

The beauty is that you get stronger each week. Once you repeat the exercises and maintain a healthy diet to get stronger, you’ll be amazed at the result.

Common bench press newbie mistakes – and how to avoid them!

A lot of beginners make some mistakes while doing bench press and this limits the results achieved from the workout. Check out these common mistakes to avoid:

Bottom lifting up

You can be distracted and let your bottom come up off the bench, but this is totally wrong. Your butt should stay put on the bench throughout your bench press. Many times, people make this mistake when the weight becomes too heavy and there’s a need to drive through the heels.

However, a good way to avoid this mistake is to think about driving up and backwards instead of upwards through your heels. You can also put plates under your feet or lower the weight if you’re struggling with your butt coming up.

Making half reps

You need to make a full range of motion for each rep while performing the bench press. You may see people doing half reps in the gym, but it is important to note that it is totally wrong.

Keeping your body loose

While performing the bench press, your body needs to be kept tight. You might miss a rep if lose tightness. Try to keep your body tight always, even when the weight is light or you’re simply warming up.

Wrong positioning

The best and safest way to move a bar is at a slight curve.

Don’t worry about moving the bar in a rigid vertical line. The starting and ending positions of the bar is above your shoulders. And the middle position should be below your clavicles. Once the bar goes above your shoulders in the middle position, then it becomes too high.

Bouncing off your chest

You’re be making a mistake if you find yourself bouncing the bar off your chest as you come to the bottom part of the lift. Control that bar and just allow it to graze your shirt before pressing it back up.

Bench press without a spotter: is it the cardinal sin of pressing?

It is not always advisable to bench press without having someone spot you. The spotter is not meant to help you with reps, but to ensure your safety. They may help to give you a lift off, but after that, you are in charge.

However, you can bench-press safely without a spotter, especially when you’re alone in your home gym. All you need is the “power rack.” Just set the pins at a point below your chest, so you can easily get out if you miss a rep.

But what if you don’t have a power rack?

You can either do the “Roll of shame” by rolling the bar down your body and sitting up or leave the clips off the bar, and letting the weight slide off one side a time.

However, you should note that these two alternatives are dangerous and you stand a risk of getting injured.

The best advice for you as a beginner is to bench press with a spotter or a frame or stands of some kind, where you can drop the weight back safely if you get tired during a set.

No bench? No Worries: Doing the bench press on the floor is good for you!

Why floor-pressing is good for everyone, not just those short on space.

While you really should get yourself a decent utility bench for your home gym, there’s plenty of good reasons to do get down on the floor too. Even if you own a bench.

While it takes some getting used to, grabbing some dumbbells, or using the bar from your gym floor is the perfect way to work on your upper body and should be a part of your workout routine.

For one, the floor is always going to be wider than your bench, unless you have a super wide bench. Check out this video to see how it’s done.

Bench Press Guide: The FAQ bit

In this section we’ll take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about bench pressing for beginners. These questions are mostly asked by beginner bench pressers, hence why they’ll be taken care of in this beginners’ guide to bench press.

Is bench pressing everyday good for you?

Short answer is a ‘Yes’. It is usually better if you could bench press more frequently and not sparingly, this way your body would notice the pattern and adjust to it.

Is bench pressing dangerous?

Any exercise routine could be dangerous; it all depends on how they’re carried out. Following the best practices while bench pressing will ensure it doesn’t become dangerous to you. One of such is to always have a spotter by your side.

Which is better push-ups or bench press?

This is a popular question because the two basically do the same thing, but bench press has an advantage over push up because it is done on a bench which allows some levels of stabilization and comfort which lets you focus.

You can also add a lot more weight to your bench press as you get stronger.

Can I skip bench press?

It is not advised to bench press sparingly or skip at all, this is to allow your body adjust properly and accordingly. But there always exceptions, such as when you’re injured you can always skip.

Thanks for reading or Ultimate Bench Press Guide! If you’ve got any questions about the bench press, or any tips you’d like to share with out readers, we’d really appreciate it if you could share them in the comments!

References and Further Reading

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