How to do bench press the right way: this classic exercise will build a massive chest and big arms and shoulders too

We'll show you how to do bench press correctly and its variations, the perfect complimentary exercise to deadlifts

how to do bench press
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Ever wondered how to do bench press correctly? If there is one exercise that doesn't need introduction, it's the bench press. This gym staple exercise is associated with gym workouts, along with bicep curls. Even if you don't know how to work the assisted pull up machine or have no idea what a reverse leg curl is, you know how to perform a bench press, or at least think you know.

The bench press is one of the big five 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.

Don't forget: safety first!

You can't be careful enough when working with big weights. When you perform a bench press with a barbell, you are placing 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 gain 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 do bench press

Keep your elbows tucked in and your core engaged

(Image credit: Future)

To perform a bench press, lay down with your head resting on the bench under the bar, feet on the ground, hands holding the bar with an overhand grip, core engaged. You want your feet to dig into the floor a bit, make sure they are firmly pressed down before you lift.

As you exhale, lift 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, press the bar up again.

The best way to activate your pecs is to lower the bar slowly (for roughly 3 seconds) and then press it up hard. The slow negative movement will activate your biceps, a muscle not worked too hard doing a plain vanilla bench presses.

Bench press variations and alternatives

More on these in due course…

  • Flat bench barbell bench press
  • Close grip barbell bench press
  • Incline bench barbell bench press
  • Flat bench dumbbell bench press
  • Incline bench dumbbell bench press
  • Floor press (use dumbbells)
  • Press up (best bodyweight variation)
  • Hammer strength chest press (machine)

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.