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The bench press exercise works your chest and arms and is a great addition to any upper-body workout.
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While the bench press exercise is often used in powerlifting competitions to measure strength and power, it's a great exercise for anyone looking to increase their upper-body strength — especially their chest muscles.


Here, we do a deep dive into bench presses and explain exactly how to use them in your workouts for the best possible results.

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  • What is a bench press?‌ The traditional bench press exercise, also called the chest press, involves lying flat on your back on a weight training bench and pushing a barbell straight over your chest.
  • Who can do a bench press?‌ The bench press is a great exercise for most people. But use caution if you have shoulder or rotator cuff injuries, along with acromioclavicular (AC joint) or collarbone injuries or pain, according to the International Sports Science Association (ISSA).
  • What muscles does the bench press work?‌ "The bench press is a great exercise to develop the pectoral — or chest — muscles, [and] to a lesser degree the anterior delts and triceps," Joey Thurman, CPT, author of The Minimum Method, The Least You Can do to be a Stronger, Healthier, Happier You says.
  • How much weight should a beginner bench press?‌ "Everyone has a different starting point, but I would start with the bar first — which is 45 pounds — or something closer to 25 percent of your body weight," Thurman says. You can also gauge how much weight to start with by considering how difficult it is for you to do a push-up. For reference, "doing a push-up is 65 percent of your body weight." And, as always, listen to your body and stop if you have pain.

What Is the Average Weight Someone Should Be Able to Bench Press?

You may have heard that you should be able to bench your body weight, but Thurman says while it's a good goal, it's not a necessity.

“Let’s say you are 300 pounds. Most seasoned lifters can’t even do that. There is a lot that goes into a bench [press], down to how long your arms are, prior injuries, neuromuscular control and, of course, technique,” he says.

As a general guide, use this chart for average bench press standards according to weight, fitness level and sex.

How to Do the Barbell Bench Press

Sets 3
Reps 10
Body Part Arms and Chest
  1. Lie flat on your back on a weight bench with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders with the barbell on a rack above your shoulders.
  3. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip (your palms facing out).
  4. Lift the barbell off the rack and bend your elbows to lower it down with control until it gently taps your chest.
  5. Root your feet into the floor and press the barbell back up until your arms are extended straight.
  6. Pause at the top and repeat.
  7. Repeat 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.


You can also do a dumbbell bench press, using two dumbbells at a weight of your choice, if you don't have access to a barbell.

Benefits of the Barbell Bench Press

The bench press is a fairly simple move, but it has big benefits.

1. It Strengthens Your Chest Muscles

According to the Mayo Clinic, the bench press strengthens the muscles in the front of your chest, called the pectoralis muscles.


Plus, a small October 2012 American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored study compared nine different exercises and found that the pectoralis major was most activated during the barbell bench press compared to the others.

2. It Strengthens Your Anterior Deltoids and Triceps

In addition to your pectoralis major, the bench press also strengthens your anterior deltoids (muscles at the front of your shoulder), triceps (muscles on the back of your upper arm) and even your biceps (muscles on the front of your upper arm) to a certain degree.



You can alter your grip on the bar to work different muscles, according to ACE. Use a more narrow grip to target your triceps and a wider grip to target your pectoralis and anterior delts.

3. It's a Good Measuring Tool for Upper-Body Strength

A March 2013 study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that the bench press is a good predictor for overall upper-body strength. Your one-rep max (1RM) — the weight for an exercise that you can only move for one rep — can also be used to predict your strength when doing other exercises, including hammer curls and triceps extensions. The bench press is also often used in powerlifting competitions.


4. It Builds Stronger Bones

Weight training exercises like the bench press have many benefits, including building stronger bones, according to Harvard Health Publishing. The bench press, therefore, helps prevent bone loss and increases bone density.

How to Fix Common Form Mistakes

To get the maximum benefits of the bench press without injury, it is important you listen to your body and focus on your form. These are the top four most common mistakes and how to fix them to help keep your form in check.


1. Your Grip on the Barbell Is Off

Most experts recommend using a grip slightly wider than your shoulders. An October 2022 study in the ‌Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research‌ found ‌t‌oo wide of a grip can put stress on your shoulders, while too narrow of a grip can put too much stress on your elbows. Keep this in mind if you have previous shoulder or elbow injuries, or if you feel pain while lifting. You shouldn't let your grip be 1.5 times wider or narrower than the width of your shoulders.


It's OK to switch up your grip to work your muscles differently, with a wider grip for an emphasis on your pectoralis muscles and anterior delts and a more narrow grip to work your triceps — just adjust if you have pain.


2. You Don't Have Control Over the Barbell

It's important to keep the movement controlled, especially when you're lowering the bar down to your chest. You want to avoid letting the bar bounce off your chest, according to Thurman. If you can't keep it controlled, reduce the weight.


3. You're Not Pressing Through Your Feet

One of the most common mistakes during the press-up portion of the bench press is that people are "not driving their feet into the ground and keeping their chest up," Thurman says. Your feet should be touching the floor the entire time. If they aren't, try using a shorter bench or placing your feet on stacked weight plates.

4. You're Not Keeping Shoulder Range of Motion in Mind

To avoid shoulder injury, it is important to keep your range of motion in mind. Pull your shoulders back to determine how far back each elbow can go, and don't force it beyond that when doing a bench press, according to the ISSA. If you feel tightness when pulling your shoulders back, try some chest stretches to help loosen up your upper body and improve your range of motion.

Variations of the Bench Press

The barbell bench press is the standard, however, there are variations to make the exercise easier or harder.

1. Incline Bench Press

The incline bench is a great way to work your chest muscles in a different way. An October 2020 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that performing the bench press at a 30-degree incline better strengthens the upper portion of your pectoralis major, while an incline greater than 45 degrees works more of your anterior deltoids.

Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Adjust the weight bench up so you are at an incline of 30 to 45 degrees.
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor and let your spine rest against the bench.
  3. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders with the barbell on a rack above your shoulders.
  4. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip (your palms facing out).
  5. Lift the barbell off the rack and bend your elbows to lower it down with control until it gently taps your chest.
  6. Root your feet into the floor and press the barbell back up until your arms are extended straight.
  7. Pause at the top and repeat.
  8. Repeat for 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.


Make sure you nail the basic bench press before moving onto the incline bench press. You may also need to start with less weight.

2. Dumbbell Floor Press

This exercise is great for beginners who can't quite handle the weight of a barbell — or for those who don't have access to a barbell and/or workout bench.


Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and position them next to your shoulders while your elbows rest on the floor.
  3. Push straight up, so the dumbbells move toward the ceiling.
  4. Pause for a moment at the top, and then return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps.

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How to Add the Barbell Bench Press To Your Workout Routine

The bench press is a great exercise to add to your overall exercise program, which should consist of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. 30 minutes, five days a week) and two days of overall muscle strengthening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Give yourself a rest day between strength sessions.

Thurman says in addition to the bench press, which strengthens your chest, you also need to strengthen the muscles in your back. Back strengthening exercises can include rows and lat pull-downs.

It is important you also incorporate rotator cuff strengthening exercises into your routine, especially if you have any pain while doing the bench press. This will help keep your shoulder strong and stable.

As far as how many reps and sets you should do, it all depends on your goals.

  • If your goal is building muscle mass:‌ Use a heavy weight with fewer reps and sets, like 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps.
  • If your goal is muscular endurance:‌ Use a lighter weight and do more reps, like 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps.
  • If your goal is strength:‌ Lift heavier weights for 2 to 6 sets of 6 reps or less.

The bench press is a great addition to any strength training program, which should also include back, rotator cuff, lower body and core exercises.