Bench presses are a great way to tone and work the muscles in your upper body. Because of the nature of the bench press, it works many different muscles in different muscle groups, including muscles in the chest, arms, and shoulders.
There are also many variations of the bench press that you can use to focus on different muscles and get a greater understanding of what muscles you’d like to grow.
What Are The Different Muscle Groups That Bench Press Work?
There are three different muscle groups that are worked when you do bench press, the chest, arms, and shoulders.
The bench press is a fantastic way to build chest muscles at home or at the gym. The chest muscle group is made from one major muscle, the pectoralis major, commonly known as the ‘pec’. The pec’s main function is bringing the arm across the upper body. The fibers of the pec aren’t aligned in the same direction, unlike other muscles whose fibers all run in one direction.
The pec is split into multiple ‘heads’, heads are where the muscle fibers attach to the skeleton. The two major heads on the pec are the clavicular head, which attaches your upper arm to your collarbone, and the sternocostal head, which attaches the ribcage and sternum to your upper arm.
The bench press focuses more on training the sternocostal head as when exercising the sternocostal head you push your arms in front of your chest. However, some variations that push the arm up and away from your chest will work the clavicular head of the pec.
The arms are made up of three major muscles, the biceps, triceps, and forearms. The biceps are split into two muscle heads, the biceps brachii, and biceps brachialis which are stacked on top of each other with the bicep brachialis lying beneath the bicep brachii.
When bench pressing, it is the triceps that do the work in the arm as the triceps is the muscle used to push your forearm away from your upper arm as you are pushing the bar away from your chest. The closer your grip on the bench press, the more you are working your triceps.
Your shoulder muscle group is made out of three muscles, each of these muscles is called a deltoid and is often referred to as ‘delts’.
These three deltoids are the anterior deltoid, which sits at the front of your shoulder between your pec and arm, the posterior deltoid, which sits between your traps and your arm, and the lateral deltoid that is found on the top of your shoulder, between your traps and pecs.
When working bench press, it is the anterior deltoid that is worked the most, as this muscle helps bring your arm out in front of you. When pushing the bar up, the anterior deltoid works as a connection between the pec and the tricep to help raise the bar.
Bench Press Variations And Their Effects On Muscles
There are many different variations of the bench press that all work with different muscle groups as well as different muscles in those muscle groups.
Traditional Bench Press
To perform a traditional bench press, you must lie on your back on a flat bench and grip a barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground throughout the entire movement, with your hips staying stationary throughout as well.
Lower the bar to your chest, allowing your elbows to bend out to the side, and stop lowering when your elbows are just below the bench. Then push the bar back up to its starting position slowly.
The traditional bench press will work the triceps in your arms, the anterior deltoid in your shoulders, and both pectoral heads. Traditional bench presses normally focus on the sternocostal head of the pec and this is the muscle that is trained most with a traditional bench press.
Incline Bench Press
When performing an incline bench press the bench must be angled between 45 and 60 degrees. Place your feet firmly on the floor and sit back on the bench with your back resting and your spine straight and neutral.
Hold the barbell to your chest, your hands should be facing forward with the thumb wrapped around the handle. Lift the weight upwards, slightly above your eyes until your elbow is extended. Slowly lower the bar until it touches the chest, keeping your elbows out to the sides.
The incline bench press works the upper chest and shoulders a bit more than the traditional bench press. It will focus more on the clavicular head of the pec and will work both the anterior and lateral shoulder muscles. However, It will still give a good workout to the sternocostal head and the triceps.
Narrow Grip Bench Press
The narrow grip bench press is very similar to the traditional bench press, and other than the placing of your hands, the form will stay largely the same. With the narrow grip bench press, you need to bring your hands closer so they are both above your shoulders respectively.
The narrow grip bench press will need a lower weight than the traditional bench press as the smaller surface area will make it harder to lift.
The narrow grip bench press also trains largely the same muscles as the traditional bench press but has a higher focus on arms. Your triceps have to work more than your shoulders and chest, and it also helps train forearms as well.
Decline Bench Press
For a decline bench press, you need to angle the bench to -30 degrees. You need to slowly lie down so that your legs are above your head, keep your back straight and your spine neutral and we recommend using the stirrups for your feet that most gym benches have.
Hold the bar at chest height with your arms placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Push the weight up slowly until your arms are straight and then slowly bring the weight back down to chest height making sure your elbows are out to the side.
This variation of the bench press will work more with the lower section of your pec and focus on the sternocostal head. It will also give a good workout to the anterior deltoid, as well as the triceps and the clavicular head of the pec.
The bench press is one of the best ways to build muscle in the upper body, working the chest, shoulders, and arms. Different variations in the bench press can suit different needs for muscle gain and it is a great way to combine different muscle groups into one workout.
We recommend that you always use a bench press with caution and it is crucial to have someone spotting you, even if you are comfortable with the weight on the bench press.
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