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Bench Press & Sore Muscles

author image Joshua Bailey
Joshua Bailey has been writing articles since 2006 with work appearing at Bodybuilding.com and 2athletes.com. Bailey holds the following certifications: NASM-CPT, NASM-PES, NASM-CES and NSCA-CSCS. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise and sports science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
Bench Press & Sore Muscles
A man is bench pressing. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

The bench press is a compound weightlifting exercise that works several major muscle groups. To perform a bench press, you need a flat bench, a barbell, some weight plates and clips. The lift focuses on the upper body and can be a highly intense exercise. The day after benching, your muscles may ache — a condition often referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness. Although DOMS may not be entirely preventable, you can take steps to minimize soreness.

How to Bench

You set up the bench press exercise by placing weight plates on a barbell and securing them in place with clips. Now, lie with your back flat on the bench so your head is directly under the bar. Reach up and grip the bar with an overhand grip so your arms are wider than shoulder-width apart. Push the bar off the rack by pushing up and move the bar so it is directly over the middle part of your chest. Lower the bar slowly toward your chest by bending your elbows until the bar touches your chest. Push the bar back up until your arms are straight to complete one repetition. Continue the exercise until your chest and arms are tired, then rack the weight.

Muscles Worked

The bench press works several major muscle groups that might become sore the day after your lifting session. The primary ones are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles, located in the chest. The muscles in the back of the arm, the triceps, are also highly activated during the top third of the bench press. In addition, your shoulders, or deltoid muscles, work during the lift to help stabilize the bar and generate some force for upward movement of the bar.

Causes of Soreness

The bench press causes muscle soreness more than many other exercises for several reasons. Muscle soreness is typically caused by the tearing and the breaking down of underlying muscle tissue. This type of tearing is a good thing because subsequent recovery makes the area stronger. More specifically, University of New Mexico researchers Johndavid Maes and Dr. Len Kravitz cite several studies showing definitive proof that eccentric muscular contraction causes the most muscular damage, with a subsequent occurrence of DOMS. Eccentric muscular contracting is simply the lengthening of a muscle against resistance. It makes sense that the bench press causes high levels of DOMS because the descent phase, where the bar comes to your chest, is an eccentric muscular movement. Because the bar is slowly lowered toward the chest — to prevent injury and work the muscles — the amount of muscular damage is great.


There are two main ways to prevent muscle soreness related to muscular damage. Warming up prior to performing a heavy bench press with a 5- to 10-minute jog and a set of lightweight bench repetitions increases the blood flow and temperature to the muscles in the chest, thus mitigating damage that results from non-warm and tight muscles. This reduces tension in the muscles by making the muscle fibers more elastic. It prevents the fibers from more forcefully pulling apart, as they might if not warmed up properly. The other primary method of reducing soreness is to boost muscular recovery. Drinking a carbohydrate-protein shake after your workout increases muscle synthesis and repair. The faster the repair in the muscles takes place, the shorter the duration of muscle soreness.

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