Bench Press: Muscles Worked & Technique

Bench press exercise technique

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Muscles worked in bench press exercise

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Bench Press

  • Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, with a proud chest.
  • Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a breath and hold it, and unrack the bar.
  • Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to the sternum.
  • Push the bar up while exhaling.
  • Take another breath in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Commentary

The bench press is one of the most classic upper-body exercises and a competitive event in the sport of powerlifting. The exercise can be done with a marked stop at the chest, or by reversing the movement immediately upon contact with the chest.

Another common point of variation is the grip width, where a wider grip generally is a little stronger and uses the chest muscles more effectively, whereas a closer grip lets the triceps take on more of the work.

Bench Press FAQ

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we get about the bench press.

What Muscles Are Worked In the Bench Press?

The bench press will primarily work your chest and front deltoids. Your triceps are worked secondary, typically growing half as much from bench pressing as your chest and front delts do.1

chest and triceps are worked by the bench press

You can read more about this in our article: Does the Bench Press Work Your Triceps?

How Wide Should You Grip the Bar?

Your correct grip width will depend on your anatomy, and also your goal with the exercise.

Typically, people are stronger (can lift more weight) with a wide grip than with a close grip.

Twelve bench press athletes competing at national and international level were found to be 5–10% stronger with a wide grip of 81 cm (about 2x shoulder-width) compared to narrow (1x shoulder-width) or medium (1.5x shoulder-width) grip.2

Is Bench Pressing Bad for Your Shoulders?

No, that would be a misleading statement.

The bench press is an exercise that loads your shoulders. Thus, proper loading can strengthen your shoulder joint and make it more resilient towards injury.

If you train with excessive volume or loads, however, you risk doing too much, too soon, which can result in an injury.

The bench press is a tool that strengthens your shoulders if used correctly.

Should You Pause with the Bar on Your Chest?

In most powerlifting federations, you must pause the bar on your chest when you are competing. When the referee gives the “Press!”-command, you press the bar up to straight arms.

Therefore, if you are training for powerlifting, it is a good idea to incorporate at least some amount of training with a pause on your chest. Especially when you are nearing competition time.

Should You Bounce the Bar on Your Chest?

No, never.

Bouncing the bar on your chest puts you at risk for injuring your ribs or your sternum, which can put a stop on your training for a long time.

Touch the bar lightly to your chest (or pause), and then press it back up. No bouncing.

Should Your Elbows Be Close to Your Body or out to the Sides?

It depends on your purpose with bench pressing, and also your anatomy.

  • If you bench press in order to grow your chest muscles, a rather wide elbow position and a wide grip is effective.
  • If you bench press in order to train your triceps, a close grip with your elbows close to your sides is effective.
  • If you want to lift as much weight as possible, something in between (around 45° to your sides) is probably best. You will, however, have to experiment for yourself and see what suits your body.

How Do You Get Stronger in the Bench Press?

That is the million dollar question, my friend.

The answer could be summed up in two points:

  1. By learning the proper technique.
  2. By following a progressive training program.

For guidelines on how to train, check out our series on how to get stronger:

Alternatively, you could check out the premium bench press programs in our app StrengthLog.


>> Return to exercise directory.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

References

  1. Interv Med Appl Sci. 2012 Dec; 4(4): 217–220. Time course for arm and chest muscle thickness changes following bench press training.
  2. J Hum Kinet. 2017 Jun; 57: 61–71. The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance.