How to Bench Press: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Bench Press Exercise

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Bench press muscles worked

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Bench Press with Proper Form

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and keep a proud chest.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up while exhaling.
  6. 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 Calculator

Use our bench press calculator to estimate how much you can lift in a one-rep max.

Simply enter the number of reps you can do with a given weight (in any unit) and hit enter, and we will calculate not only your one-rep max but also your 1–10RM.

Estimated 1RM

Estimated Rep Maxes

100% of 1RM
94% of 1RM
91% of 1RM
88% of 1RM
86% of 1RM
83% of 1RM
81% of 1RM
79% of 1RM
77% of 1RM
75% of 1RM
100% of 1RM
94% of 1RM
91% of 1RM
88% of 1RM
86% of 1RM
83% of 1RM
81% of 1RM
79% of 1RM
77% of 1RM
75% of 1RM

The results are calculated using Epley’s equation. It is one of the most accurate formulas for calculating 1RM in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.1

Epley’s equation looks like this:

1RM = Weight (1 + Reps/30)

Note that this calculator is also available for free in our app StrengthLog.

Bench Press Strength Standards

How much can the average man and woman bench press?

Here is some data from 45 148 users of our app StrengthLog last year. The charts below show how much you need to lift in order to bench press more than 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on of all our users.

Note that the users of our app are hardly “average” men and women. Rather, these are strength training enthusiasts actively trying to increase their 1RM.

How to read: If you are a man bench pressing 100 kg, you are stronger than 50% of our male users. Likewise, if you are a woman bench pressing 50 kg, you are stronger than 50% of our female users.

Bench Press Strength Standards for Men
Bench Press Strength Standards for Women

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.2

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 levels 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.3

Read more: Bench Press Grip Width: Wide vs Close-Grip

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, and especially in the time leading up to competitions.

If you don’t train for powerlifting, pausing on the chest is optional.

Should You Bounce the Bar on Your Chest?

No, never. Bouncing the bar on your chest puts you at risk of injuring your ribs or your sternum, which can put a stop to 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.

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Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

References

  1. The Accuracy of Prediction Equations for Estimating 1-RM Performance in the Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 1997 – Volume 11 – Issue 4 – p 211-213.
  2. Interv Med Appl Sci. 2012 Dec; 4(4): 217–220. Time course for arm and chest muscle thickness changes following bench press training.
  3. J Hum Kinet. 2017 Jun; 57: 61–71. The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance.