The bench press is a central exercise in many resistance-training programs because it targets several muscle groups, including the pectoral muscles of your chest, the front of your shoulders and the elbow extensors of your upper arms. Although many individuals do the exercise at a gym, you can perform the bench press at home if you have the necessary equipment, which includes a flat bench and a barbell, dumbbells or weight machine.
Performing the bench press as part of a well-designed program strengthens the involved muscles, which prepares them to function properly and helps prevent injuries, and increases your muscular endurance and power. Additionally, the bones of your arms and shoulder girdle get stronger. The exercise is helpful if you play sports because the involved bones, connective tissues and muscles are essential for many athletic tasks, such as hitting a softball, shooting a basketball and striking a volleyball.
Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press requires a flat bench and a barbell rack, or you can have a partner hand you the barbell if you don't have a rack. You'll also need weighted plates if you want to progressively increase the amount of resistance. After loading the barbell with your desired amount of weight and placing safety clips on the ends, lift the barbell off the rack with your hands at least shoulder-width apart and center it above your chest. Lower the barbell down to your chest slowly, then extend your arms powerfully to press it back to the starting position and repeat.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Sit on a flat bench while holding dumbbells in your lap to prepare for the dumbbell bench press, then lie down and position them over your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Alternatively, you can have a partner hand you the dumbbells while you're already lying on your back. Execute the exercise just like the barbell variation, but start by pressing the weights upward.
Machine Bench Press
A variety of machines exist on which you can perform the bench press. One has a flat bench positioned near two cables that are attached to a stack of weights through a pulley system. Lie on the bench, grasp the handles that are attached to the cables and position them above your shoulders, just like the dumbbell bench press, and then extend your arms straight upward to lift the stack of weights and return to the starting position slowly to lower them.
Always have a spotter stand behind you when performing the barbell or dumbbell variations of the bench press. Perform three sets of eight repetitions on two or three nonconsecutive days of the week at first, and then increase the weight every two weeks, completing four sets of six repetitions during the third and fourth weeks of your program, five sets of four repetitions during the fifth and sixth weeks, and six sets of two repetitions during the final two weeks. Visit your doctor if you experience pain at any time during the program.
- NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training; Roger Earle, et al.
- American Council on Exercise: Barbell Bench Press
- American Council on Exercise: Dumbbell Bench Press
- ExRx.net: Cable Bench Press