How to bench press effectively and safely: this classic exercise will build a massive chest and big arms and shoulders too

We'll show you how to bench press correctly and the most popular variations, too

how to bench press
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once you mastered how to bench press correctly, you mastered gains. If there is one exercise that doesn't need introduction, it's the bench press. Yet, many people perform it incorrectly, hindering their gains and potentially risking the integrity of their skulls as well.

The bench press is one of the BIG 5 exercises that can give you a full body workout and is an essential upper body compound exercise that work your arms, shoulders and – of course – your chest muscles or pecs if we're getting scientific.

You think you know how to bench correctly? After reading through this article, you sure will.

how to bench press

Get someone to spot you when you bench press

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Don't forget: safety first!

You can't be careful enough when working with big weights. During bench press, you place your body (head, neck, etc.) under a bar loaded with heavy plates. If it slips or falls, you can seriously injure yourself.

Best way to avoid injury is to get a training buddy who can spot you when you perform bench presses. Second best thing is to set the bench up so even if you can't lift the bar up, you can safely slide out from under it. Check that the fasteners are on and the weights are secured properly on both ends.

And always, always warm up before exercising and make sure you don't push your muscles too much. Rest is equally as important as the exercise itself.

Needless to say, you can also focus on each of the areas individually the bench press works: we have the golden rule to follow to get bigger shoulders as well as the secret to get bigger arms. And, you know, you can always just concentrate on building big biceps too.

how to bench press: men performing bench press with barbell

Keep your elbows tucked in and your core engaged

(Image credit: Future)

To perform a bench press, load the bar up with the weight plates you would like to use and secure both sides with the spring collars. Both sides of the bar have the same amount of weight on it.

Lay down on the weight bench with your head resting under the bar, feet on the ground. Place your hands on the bar, a bit further apart than shoulder width. Use an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) and engage your core. You want your feet to dig into the floor a bit, make sure they are firmly pressed down before you lift.

As you exhale, push the bar up off the rack and extend your arm fully. Inhale as you lower the bar down to your chest, tucking your elbows in slightly. Come close to the chest as you lower the bar, then as you exhale, pressing the bar up again.

The best way to activate your pecs is to lower the bar slowly (roughly 3 seconds) and then press it up hard. The slow negative movement will activate your the muscles longer, making every rep double up in efficiency.

Be careful how you hold the bar in your hands: your fist should be pointing upwards and be in line with your forearm, also pointing right up. If you let it fall back, the weight will put a lot of pressure on your wrists.

As always, form is more important than the amount of plates on the bar and you will see results sooner by applying good technique than if you tried to up the weights for every session.

how to bench press

Dumbbell bench press is equally as effective as the barbell variant

(Image credit: Future)

Bench press variations and alternatives

More on these in due course…

  • Close grip barbell bench press: this will work your triceps more
  • Incline bench barbell bench press: to activate the pecs from a different angle
  • Flat bench dumbbell bench press: will have to work more on stabilising two weights
  • Incline bench dumbbell bench press: same as above
  • Floor press (use dumbbells): to isolate the pecs more
  • Push ups (best bodyweight variation): more on this – how to do push ups
  • Hammer strength chest press (machine alternative)

On recovery and nutrition

To avoid any injuries and to help recovery, stretch after every strength training session. Foam rollers can be found in most gyms and you can buy them on Amazon too, a quick and inexpensive way to massage the tired muscles. 

Also, keep an eye out on your protein intake. If you are doing strength training, try taking in around 2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 70 kg, you'll need to eat 140 grams of protein per day. Humans haven't got protein reserves, so you have to continuously take protein in throughout the day. 

And make sure you drink plenty of water as well. A decent gym water bottle doesn't cost all that much.