Bench presses are one of the best workouts for building upper body strength and because of the variation of the bench press, it is a workout that can train multiple muscle groups at the same time.
The traditional bench press works muscles in the arms, chest, and shoulders, different variations of the bench press can work different muscles in those muscle groups.
As with all workouts, it is important to know how many sets of bench press you should do, and to maintain a schedule so that you don't bench press too little or too often.
Bench pressing too often means that the muscles involved will not have time to repair themselves and could cause serious injury, however, if you bench press (or any other workout that trains these certain parts of the upper body) too little, then you may not get the muscle growth you want.
What Muscles Does Bench Press Work?
Bench pressing works different muscles over three muscle groups, these groups are the chest, the arms, and the shoulders.
The chest is the main muscle group that is active during a bench press. The chest is made up of one major muscle called the pectoralis major, or the ‘pec’.
The ‘pec’ splits up into two different muscle heads, the sternocostal head that connects your ribcage to your upper arm, and the clavicular head that attaches your upper arm to your collarbone.
The sternocostal head is usually referred to as the lower pec head because it sits below the clavicular head.
Traditional bench press normally focuses on the sternocostal head, as your sternocostal head is used to push your arms out in front of your chest.
Variations of the bench press such as the inclined bench press are used to focus training more on the clavicular head as the clavicular is used when lifting your arms slightly above your chest.
Your arm muscle group is made out of three muscles, the triceps, biceps, and forearms. The biceps consist of two muscle heads, the larger brachii, and the smaller brachialis, the smaller bicep head sits underneath the larger and supports it during flexing.
The triceps are the muscles on the back of your upper arm that help push your forearm away from your upper arm, this is why they are the muscle that is used during bench pressing, as you are pushing the bar away from your chest.
There are some variations of the bench press that focus on the tricep a little more, such as the close grip bench press that makes sure the majority of the pushing is done by the tricep and not the sternocostal head of the pec.
The narrow grip bench press also has a part in training the forearms as well.
The shoulders have three major muscles called deltoids or ‘delts’, you have the anterior deltoid, which is found between your pec and upper arm, your posterior deltoid that is found in your back in between your upper arm and lat, and your lateral deltoid that is found on the top of your shoulder in between your pec and trap.
The anterior deltoid is the muscle mostly used in bench presses as it is the muscle that helps bring your arms out and forward. Different variations such as the incline bench press can focus more on your anterior deltoid as the incline bench press has you pushing slightly up instead of straight ahead.
How Often Should I Bench Press?
Training each muscle group twice a week has been proven to be the most effective when growing muscle. Working a muscle group triggers a 48-hour window in which the muscle continues to grow.
If you train the same muscle group again after the 48-hour window or toward the end of the window, then the growth will carry on for another 48 hours, getting you a maximum of 96 hours of muscle-building per week.
Working muscle groups more often than twice a week could result in injury as your muscles have not had enough time to fully prepare from the last focused workout.
It has also been found that training a muscle group more than twice a week doesn’t have much of an added effect on muscle growth than if you were training twice a week.
As we have established, however, the bench press works three muscle groups, chest, arms, and shoulders, so these muscle groups will have to be worked together when doing a bench press.
There are many workouts that work more than one muscle group so when you are planning your workout schedule, you will have to group some of these workouts together. When it comes to the upper body, this can be done by splitting workouts into ‘push’ and ‘pull’.
‘Pull’ workouts will normally focus on muscles like the back, biceps, and the posterior and lateral deltoids of the shoulder. This is because all of these muscles are used when your arms are bringing a weight toward your body, whether it is curls for biceps, pulldowns for lats, or using the rowing machine for your shoulders, they all require some sort of pulling.
Bench pressing comes under the ‘push’ category, as you are pushing the bar away from your chest. The push category focuses on the chest, triceps, and anterior deltoids. All of these muscles are required when pushing something away from your body. When you are planning a workout schedule it should look something like this:
- Day 1: Push
- Day 2: Pull
- Day 3: Legs
- Day 4: Push
- Day 5: Pull
With this sort of schedule, you are allowing that 48-hour window between both upper body workouts to get the most effective muscle growth possible.
Bench pressing works three major muscle groups, the chest, arms, and shoulders, but only certain muscles in the arms and shoulders.
When planning your workout schedule using the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ separation for the upper body workouts, then you should be bench pressing twice a week with a 48-hour window in between each bench press workout. Following this schedule, together with strategies to increase bench press, will definitely help you achieve serious improvements and speed up your progress.