Want to get a big chest, big pecs, pecs appeal, and so forth? If there is one exercise that doesn't need introduction, it's the bench press. It's the old school of old school exercise. 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.
- The best dumbbells for your home gym (dumbbells)
- The best barbell – Olympic bar, bicep curl bar and trap bar
- The best weight bench, also for your home gym (the Opti bench has a rack and it's only £69.99)
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.
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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.
- Is this THE best exercise?
- Maybe, but this is the HARDEST abs, biceps and core exercise
- Best kettlebell – in case you want to mix up your bench press routine
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.