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A soldier (lying down) performs a bench press with a spotter

The bench press is the second of the three powerlifts, and is used to test the upper body strength of a lifter. For bodybuilding purposes, it is used to hypertrophy the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. While the person lies on his or her back, the person performing the bench press lowers a weight to the level of the chest, then pushes it back up until the arm is straight and the elbow must not be locked . The exercise focuses on the development of the pectoralis major muscle as well as other supporting muscles including the anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, and the triceps. The bench press is one of the three lifts in the sport of powerlifting and is used extensively in weight training, bodybuilding and other types of fitness training to develop the chest.



A specific form to the bench press reduces the chance of injury and maximally challenges the muscles of the chest. A barbell bench press starting position has the weight lifter lying on a bench, with the shoulder blades pinched together to create a stable, solid base for the press, also used in powerlifting to reduce the range of motion. The lifter keeps his or her feet flat on the ground or at end of the bench, with the buttocks always in contact with the bench. Powerlifters will arch their back to provide greater stability and to reduce their range of motion allowing them to move more weight. The weight lifter grips the bar with his or her hands equidistant from the center, with the elbows bent to 90° and the elbows beneath the wrists. The movement begins by lifting the bar off the rack, and lowering it until the bar is motionless on the chest before being pressed explosively towards lockout. The movement is completed when the elbows are locked out. After the desired number of repetitions, the weight lifter returns the bar to the pins. Because the load on the bar above the chest can be heavy, a spotting partner increases the safety of the movement.[1]


A generic bench press utilizes pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, long head of biceps brachii and coracobrachialis to flex the shoulder. It also uses predominately triceps brachii and anconeous to produce elbow extension. Wider hand spacing creates larger emphasis on shoulder flexion and narrower hand spacing utilises more elbow extension. Because of this a wider spacing is associated with working pectorals and narrower hand spacing is associated with working triceps.

In addition to the major phasic (dynamic) muscles the bench press also uses tonic (stabilising) muscles: scapular stabilisers (serratus anterior, middle and inferior trapezius), humeral head stabilisers (rotator cuff muscles), and core (transverse abdominis, obliques, multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum)


Bench press works primarily to build the chest. Variations work different subgroups of muscles, or work the same muscles in different ways:



  • The flat bench press works the mid portion of the pectoralis major muscle as well as the anterior deltoid muscle. If the term 'bench press' is used, it is generally assumed to be a flat bench press.
  • An incline elevates the shoulders and lowers the pelvis as if reclining in a chair; this variation works the upper portion of the chest and deltoid. This is referred to as an incline press or incline bench press. Anecdotally this emphasises the upper fibers of the pectorials and middle deltoid.
  • A decline bench press elevates the pelvis and lowers the head, and works the lower portion of the chest and deltoid.[2] This is called a decline press or decline bench press.


A lifter can do certain things to destabilize their lifting. Examples include lifting on a Swiss ball, using dumbbells instead of a barbell, or not using the legs to stabilize oneself on the bench. Narrowing the leg position or bringing the feet onto the bench are other examples of ways a lifter can destabilize the movement, and lessen the amount of weight they can safely press.

Hand position

  • Varying the width of the grip can alter the mechanics of the movement. A wide grip increases stress on the pectorals and deltoids, and shortens the range of motion, while a narrower grip places more stress on the triceps and increases the range of motion. A narrow grip is sometimes referred to as a close-grip bench press. In powerlifting, the legal maximum width a lifter may take on the bar is defined as 81 centimeters between the index fingers. This position is indicated on most barbells by rings.
  • Using different lifting implements can alter the stress on a lifter's grips, a lifter can extend or flex the wrist while lifting.

Chains and bands

A lifter can use chains and bands to increase their bench press (much like other lifts). This is popular amongst those training for powerlifting, the use of which was popularized by Westside Barbell. The use of bands or chains modify the strength curve, making the press more difficult towards lockout. This is achieved through the stretching of the bands or the loading of the chain links from the floor onto the bar, increasing the resistance as the movement progresses towards completion. This allows for the development of a stronger lockout. Chains and bands are also used to develop explosive power in the bench press, which can help the lifter break through sticking points.

Possible injuries

Incorrect form may lead to multiple types of injuries:

  • Torn ligaments/tendons in shoulders.
  • Injuries to the trapezius muscle.
  • Elbow/wrist strains.
  • Cracked or broken ribs, usually the result of bouncing the bar off of the chest to add momentum to the lift or a loss of strength causing the bar to fall onto the chest.
  • Distal clavicular osteolysis : bone spur or erosion at the end of the clavicle. Athletes suffering from this condition should avoid doing bench presses.[3]
  • Torn or damaged Rotator Cuff
  • Injury caused by dropping the bar on oneself, often due to not wrapping the thumb around the inside of the bar.

See also


  1. ^ The Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Lifting Technique. Stuart McRobert, CS Publishing; 2nd edition, September 1999
  2. ^ Cornacchia, Lorenzo; Bompa, Tudor O.; Di Pasquale, Mauro G.; Mauro Di Pasquale (2003). Serious strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. pp. 141, 145, 147. ISBN 0-7360-4266-0. 
  3. ^ IOC Sport Medicine Manual 2000 available in .PDF form online

External links


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