Focused muscle: Chest muscles
Bench press is one of the basic exercises in the weight training area, together with squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups. It probably is the most popular chest exercise. It also represents a training for the triceps of the arm and the front part of the deltoid. The exercise is familiar with push-ups.
The bench press exists in different variations. The exercise can be practised with barbell, dumbbells, or on the machine. For the training with barbell and dumbbell we can choose between different bench adjustments to work out regular or inclined bench presses. The exercise on the machine is usually practised in seated position. Beginners should only exercise machine bench pressing. Advanced and experienced athletes can practise with free weights.
Bench press basic execution
The regular bench press is performed on the flat bench with barbell. We start in supine position with the barbell right above our eyes. We can either remain with our feet on the floor, cross one leg on top of the other, or raise both from the ground. Pleas note that to prevent a hollow back it is better to lift the legs. But this requires more balance and is especially difficult with higher weights. Grab the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width and actively stabilize your wrists. Tense your trunk muscles and press your lower back onto the bench. Now lift the barbell out of the holders to have it floating on your extended arms above your shoulders. In a controlled movement lower the weight toward the chest (not the throat) performing a slight bow. Bring it back up again to complete one repetition. Working out with narrower grip increases the activation of the triceps.
Bench press – special note
Deep bench presses especially with higher weights strain the shoulder joint capsule and ligament structure significantly. The head of the bone of the upper arm (humerus) presses forward against these soft tissues when the elbow passes the shoulder level. This bears the risk of injuries. To avoid complaints and injuries it is recommended to not lower the barbell until it touches the chest. Stop a few centimetres above the chest as soon as the elbows reach shoulder level and bring it back up again. Investigations by Buskies W., Boeckh-Behrens W. (2009) showed that a training of deep bench presses doesn’t increase the effectiveness and does not lead to better strengthening or muscle building effects.
Bench press variations
Bench presses can also be performed on the incline bench with either positive or negative angle adjustment. The execution stays the same. Also the workout on the multi press machine is possible. Here, we have to perform less stabilization work since the weight bar runs in a fixed construction. Due to that the intensity decreases what allows us to work out with higher weights.
All versions of the bench press can also be performed with dumbbells. Here, we have to perform more stabilization work what allows us to only train with lower weights only.
Bench press on the machine
Bench pressing on the machine is performed seated. Sit upright and choose the highest seat adjustment to have your shoulders above the level of the handles (most effective). The entire back touches the back rest. Hit the support lever (if available) with your foot to bring the weight handles forward. Grab the handles actively stabilizing your wrists. Bring your elbows up toward the outside to have them in one line with your wrists and shoulders. Against the resistance you extend your arms almost completely. Bring your arms back until your elbows reach the shoulder level (not further back, see “special note” above). After the last repetition of the set bring back the weight handles using the support lever with your foot again.
Stretching: Chest stretches
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