Form is crucial when performing any workout, let alone the bench press. It has been proven that form does more for muscle growth than the weight of the barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell you’re lifting.
Bench pressing is a very popular upper body workout because it trains three major muscle groups in one workout including the chest, arms, and shoulders, but also because of its versatility and variations that can focus on certain muscles in these muscle groups.
It is important to get the form of these variations exactly right and knowing where the bar should touch, how to position your elbows, and how to lie on a bench is crucial to getting the most out of your bench pressing.
In every variation of the bench press, the bar should either touch your chest or come close to touching your chest, however, there is a lot more to form than where the bar should touch. This article will explain how to properly perform the different variations of the bench press and explore the different techniques to make the most out of your workout.
Traditional Bench Press
When performing a traditional bench press, the bench is completely flat. Lie on the bench with your back straight and your spine neutral, making sure that your feet are planted firmly on the floor beneath or behind your knees. Grip the bar with both hands just wider than shoulder-width, making sure that your hands are facing forward.
Bring the bar down slowly to your chest while you breathe in, the bar should either touch your chest gently or be as close to your chest as possible. Then slowly push the bar up as you breathe out until your arms are straight and your elbows are locked.
Bring the bar back down again ensuring that your elbows are out to the side. Repeat this for the number of sets you feel comfortable with the weight you have.
It is important to know and practice how to do a traditional bench press before you go onto any of the bench press variations as the variations largely use the same form with some key differences that help work different muscles.
When practicing a traditional bench press for the first time or any of its variations, make sure to start with just a bar without adding any weight to it, this can help you in learning form and technique without having to focus on weight.
Another technique tip while learning bench press is to pick a spot on the ceiling and stare at that spot while pushing the bar up, this ensures that you don’t look at the bar and it will then travel the same path every time.
Remember, with the bench press and all of its variations, we recommend that you use a spotter, no matter how comfortable you are with the weight. Bench presses can be quite dangerous if you lose control or balance.
Incline Bench Press
To perform an incline bench press you need to set up your bench so it has an angle of around 30 - 45 degrees. Sit with your butt at the base of the incline and lie back so your back is straight and your spine is neutral, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as they would be in a traditional bench press.
Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and have your hands facing forward. Lift the bar slowly straight up into the air until your arms are fully extended, this should be just above your eye line.
Slowly lower it until it touches the top of your chest and your elbows are out to the side. Repeat this process.
The incline bench press focuses on the muscles in your upper-upper body, such as the anterior deltoid of the shoulder and the clavicular head of the pec. You should feel these muscles working harder than any other upper body muscle during an incline bench press.
Decline Bench Press
When performing a decline bench press you need to set up the bench so it is on a decline of around 15 - 30 degrees. You should find stirrups or another support mechanism on the end of your bench for your feet, for the decline bench press, you will need to firmly place your feet under these stirrups.
Lie back on the bench, with your back straight and your spine neutral. Your eye line should be looking right up at the barbell. Grip the bar with hands shoulder-width apart and facing forward, carefully lift the bar straight up so your arms are locked. Your arms should be at around a 45-degree angle in relation to your body.
Slowly lower the bar with your elbows going out to the side, the bar should touch your lower chest. Then slowly push the bar back up until your arms are locked and repeat.
The decline bench press focuses on the muscles in your lower chest area, the sternocostal head, which is the biggest muscle head in your pec. The decline bench press is also the only variation of the bench press that trains the biceps as well, as the angle flexes your forearms closer to your upper arm when the bar is descending.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is very similar to the traditional bench press, the bench needs to be flat, you must lie on the bench with your back straight and your spine neutral, and your feet must be firmly planted on the floor.
When gripping the bar in a close grip bench press, however, instead of your hands being slightly wider than your shoulders, your hands should grip straight above your shoulders and face forward.
They can be slightly closer than that if you feel comfortable but don’t move them too close together as the lift could become unstable and cause injury. Lower the bar slowly to your chest until it touches it or comes very close, making sure your elbows are to your sides, then slowly push the bar back up.
The close grip bench press focuses on training your arms, specifically your triceps and to a lesser extent, your forearms. Because your hands are closer together, you don’t have as much control over a close grip bench press as you do with any other variation, so it is important to use less weight when performing one.
When performing any variation of a bench press with a bar, the bar will touch your chest or come close to touching your chest.
It is important to know exactly how to perform these variations and the purpose of the different variations to make the most out of your workouts. Also, remember to always use a spotter when bench pressing, no matter how experienced you are.
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