Everyone reading this has one thing in common: we were all beginners at one point or another. Some of you that are here may be a beginner now. Regardless of the level you’re at, we have all learned the basic movements when we started working out. Even if you’re someone who is training at an advanced level or for a different sport, revisiting those simple exercises like the barbell bench press can help you achieve a new level of personal fitness success.
FLEX magazine social media director David Baye is going to revisit these classic lifts so you can become masters of the movements and take your physique to a new level. The first exercise in this “Back 2 Basics” series is the flat barbell bench press.
About the Flat Barbell Bench Press Exercise
Eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney calls the bench press a “bread and butter” exercise. It’s well-known for being one of the “big three” lifts in powerlifting, but it does serve bodybuilders well also. It’s primarily a chest movement, but the anterior head of the shoulders and your triceps will also play a positive role. Those areas will see their own benefits as a result.
Who Shouldn’t Bench Press
Baye advises that anyone who may have shoulder issues or trouble with mobility should avoid this particular exercise. “If you do have shoulder mobility issues or someone who’s had a previous pec injury, the bench press may actually not be the best chest exercise for you. If you’ve had pec injury issues, shoulder injury issues, or mobility issues, you may want to talk to a doctor or physical therapist before doing the bench press.”
Proper Form Is a Must
Most of the advanced lifters know this already, but you beginners need to take heed. Proper form and execution is a must if you want to achieve muscular growth while minimizing the risk of injury. Throwing plates on for ego lifting, or assuming you know what you’re doing without instruction will not help your cause.
Hand Placement – Your hands should be wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar. You may see powerlifters go super-wide to minimize the range of motion. Slightly wider is better for training the muscles, which is the focus here. Going narrow can benefit your triceps, which will be covered in the future. Most bars have rings that you can use as a guide to help you determine the best hand placement for you.
Elbows – When you have the bar un-racked and you begin the descent, keep your elbows tucked in. They should stay in when you’re pressing as well. Many bodybuilder’s pec injuries have come while bench pressing with the elbows out. Keeping the elbows in will decrease the odds of you suffering a similar fate.
Range of Motion – We’ve all seen people who lower the bar halfway or move the bar a couple of inches off of their chest. These shortcuts won’t help you in the long run. Bouncing the bar off of the chest and generating momentum won’t help your cause of developing the pecs, either. Slightly touching the bar on the chest and pressing back up to your starting position will work well.
Back Arch and Foot Placement– You should have a slight arch in your back, but you don’t want to create a large arch like you may have seen in some online videos. Your feet should also be flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart. If you have shorter legs, Bays suggest placing plates on the floor and setting your feet on those.
In the video, Baye is using light weight for instructional purposes, but he does advise having someone available when you start going heavier. “It’s always imperative to have a spotter, especially with bench press, because this is an exercise that when you get stuck, you can really be stuck.” You can have one spotter behind you to unrack the weight or have partners on both sides of the bar ready to assist if needed.
Sample Chest Routine Featuring The Bench Press
Below is a sample routine that Baye offers for beginners to try. There are two warmup sets listed, but do as many as you feel you need to before you begin your work sets. All work sets should result in you being on the verge of failure within the recommended rep range.
Back 2 Basics Barbell Bench Press Workout
Flat Barbell Bench Press*2 warmup sets of 8-10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press