The first step is to decide whether or not the bench press is an appropriate exercise for you. You should consider another exercise if any of the following apply to you:

  • You are new to the gym and haven’t developed adequate strength and technique performing push ups, a chest press or a cable press.
  • You have any underlying shoulder or elbow joint injury
  • You’re range of motion is limited: if you can’t place your chest on a wall and lower your chest to the wall.
  • You suffer from lower back pain (more on this later)

The bench press is an excellent option for anyone who doesn’t have any of the above conditions and even then with appropriate adjustments and supervision, the bench press can be performed safely. The bench press is generally classified as a ‘chest’ exercise but it is a far more complete exercise than that. The major muscle groups involved are the pectorals, deltoids, triceps and serratus anterior. 


The bench press also requires a complex movement of many stabiliser muscles (E.g. rotator cuff) and is an excellent way to develop all-round upper body strength. As with most resistance exercises, the bench press will greatly improve your neuromuscular function i.e. it improves your co-ordination and efficiency of your movement by allowing the nervous system to recruit appropriate muscle fibres and fire them in a synchronistic pattern. This is of particular use for athletes training to improve their power and more importantly the transferral of power from their body through a foreign object. A good example for those Superbowl fans is a defensive lineman using a similar movement to block or hold their opponent up to allow the quarterback more time to complete a pass to a receiver. 


Now for some pointers on technique:

  1. Warm up with some light push ups or light weight.
  2. Position your body with only a small margin between the rack and your line of action.
  3. Lie flat with your: toes tucked under your body (advanced), feet flat (beginner/intermediate) feet on the bench (if you suffer from lower back pain).
  4. Take the bar from the rack and move it into a position directly in front of your chest with your elbows straight. The nipple line is a good guide. This is your safe position. If you don’t feel comfortable here, do not attempt the lift.
  5. Breathe in as you lower the bar to your chest. Breathe out as you push the bar back to the start position. 
  6. A wider grip will recruit more pectoral and shoulder muscles which are horizontal adductors.
  7. A narrow grip will recruit more triceps muscles. The narrow grip is generally a weaker position so decrease your weight if you attempt this.
  8. 8. Always use a spotter for heavy lifts. There are a number of serious injuries that can be caused by bench press including death by asphyxiation. This can happen by pressing the bar above the nipple line, closer to the chin and attempting a lift without a spotter. Generally speaking, the bench press is a very safe exercise if you follow proper technique guidelines.
  9. 9. The spotter should not be required to assist on multiple lifts. If you are performing 3 sets of 12 reps, the spotter should only be required for the final 2-3 reps of the final set, if at all.
  10. 10. The spotter can also provide important feedback on technique and ensure that the lift isn’t being compromised by offering too much assistance. A spotter can be of great assistance but it defeats the purpose if they are providing a significant part of the lifting power.
  11. For more advanced lifters try picturing your muscles pulling the bar down to your chest, like a piece of elastic being stretched and then exploding back into position like a recoiling spring. You should notice a marked difference in your power output.

Please share these tips with your friends and happy lifting!