How To Bench Press: A Simple, Step-By-Step Guide
The bench press is one of the best exercises for developing overall upper body strength.
It works your entire chest, your shoulders, and your triceps.
However, although it can seem pretty simple, there is more complexity to the barbell bench press than many people realize.
If your approach to the bench press is to simply lay down flat on the bench, grab the bar, and start pumping out reps, then you’re definitely not maximizing the potential of the exercise…
What’s more, if you don’t get your initial set up right with this, and have a really good handle on the proper form, then you can put yourself at risk of injury – especially once you start pushing heavier weights!
Not too worry, though, because in this guide I’m going to walk you through exactly how to bench press effectively and safely.
This way, you’ll be able to focus on steadily progressing with your weight and reps, building strength and muscle, all while protecting your shoulders and joints.
Let’s dive right in.
How To Do A Barbell Bench Press Properly
When learning how to do a barbell bench press, it helps to break things down into a series of basic steps. You should become familiar with each of these 5 steps before actually getting under the bar and attempting to bench press.
Step 1: Get Into Position
Lay faceup on a horizontal bench, with your butt on the bench and feet flat on the ground.
Step 2: Grip The Bar
Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip wider than shoulder width (typically your ring fingers or pinky fingers will be placed on the rings).
Step 3: Brace Your Body
Tuck your shoulder blades behind your back – this will help keep your elbows from flaring out too much. Also, press on the floor hard with your feet – this will create a slight arch in your back, with your weight of your body resting on the back of your shoulders and your butt.
Step 4: Lower The Weight
Inhale, lift up the bar and lower it to the center of your chest, in a controlled movement, maintaining pressure on your feet the entire time. Note that the bar should travel in a slight arc forward, in order to reach the center of your chest.
Step 5: Press The Weight Back Up
Once the bar touches your chest, press the weight back up explosively, and exhale at the end of each rep.
Here is a video that demonstrates exactly how to barbell bench press with perfect form, so watch it several times carefully before attempting to bench press yourself.
Bench Pressing Safety
If you are bench pressing alone, or without someone that you trust to spot you, you should consider using a power rack, instead of the standard bench press equipment.
When you bench press in a power rack, the safety arms will catch the barbell if you get stuck and are unable to complete a rep, serving as an important fail-safe when you’re lifting heavy weights.
To do this, simply position the safety arms slightly above your chest height when you are lying completely flat on the bench.
When you actually come to do your set, you’ll be slightly arching your back, which should position your chest just above the height of the safety pins.
This way, you’ll be able bench press with a full range of motion (barbell touching your chest for each rep), without the barbell banging into the safety pins – but if you are unable to complete a rep, you can just lie down completely flat on the bench and let the safety pins catch the weight.
Ready To Start Bench Pressing Properly?
This pretty much covers the basics of a barbell bench press.
If you internalize and follow these simple steps, you will already be bench pressing with much better form than the majority of people that you see at the gym!
However, if you’re like many people, you may find that you still end up making some of the common bench press mistakes, even when you feel like you’re benching correctly – so it pays to be mindful of your form each time you get under the bar, never getting complacent, and always doing your sets with deliberate focus.
Finally, as you become more familiar with bench pressing, you may want to make further refinements to your form as you go along.
If so, I would strongly recommend checking out these more definitive guides on how to bench press properly – one from StrongLifts and another from Stronger By Science.
Both are truly excellent, comprehensive resources, which I would fully stand behind.