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How to Correctly Perform a Bench Press

written by: Jamil Karim • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 6/10/2010

An explanation of the benefits of the bench press as well as a step by step process on how to perform this exercise, including tips for improving working out as a whole.

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    Resistance Training Explained

    Resistance training is a highly effective form of exercise that promotes improvements in strength and body composition as well as overall health and wellness. This includes significant benefits to: posture and mobility, balance, muscle and bone density, blood pressure, immune system response, blood pressure, and circulation. By using the resistance of an external force against the body's muscular contractions, one is able to overload their muscles, causing accelerated growth and strength, as well as burning numerous calories in the recovery process (often far more than what can be achieved with traditional cardio and aerobics). Beginners should focus on the major compound exercises incorporating multiple muscle groups to elicit the most growth and burn the most calories. The best examples of these include the bench press, deadlift, squat, and pull ups (these are also staples for even advances lifters).

    The basic principles of resistance training remain the same, although the form and procedures may vary among the numerous types of exercises. The most important of these is to maintain the form of the exercise in a slow and controlled manner. For this reason, it is often important to begin with a light weight and then gradually add more only when the current weight grows easier. The typical number of repetitions for each exercise varies drastically depending on one's goals, but a good place to start is the range of 8-14. It is recommended to begin with a lower weight for a higher number of repetitions and to slowly adjust this accordingly as strength and weights increase. It is also equally important to rest for an adequate time in between each set to allow your body to recover sufficiently before beginning again. (except in certain programs such as Circuit Training which utilize a prolonged period without rest to maximize weight loss) Give yourself at least one minute to recover and make sure to drink water frequently to keep yourself hydrated.

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    Bench Press Explained

    The bench press is one of the most used machines in any gym, and is indeed the one most associated with weightlifting. A glance in virtually any gym can give witness to scores of kids waiting in groups for their turn at the bench. After a few short bouts of struggling and groaning to heave the weight into an awkward position, they force out a few speedy reps with the help of a spotter and hop off satisfied to hang around for another hour. Unfortunately for them, the bench press, while maintaining its status as one of the most effective exercises, is also one of the toughest to master safely. Like every other lift, it is the form and the tempo of the exercise far more than the weight itself that dictates what will be gained.

    When performed correctly, the bench press targets primarily the pectoral muscles, or the chest. It is a compound lift, however, and involves the use of the triceps, deltoids (shoulders), and forearms to hold the bar steady, as well as the core and abdominal muscles to maintain a rigid form. It is a compound lift incorporating many muscle groups, translating into impressive gains in size and strength for those eating to bulk up, or rapid weight loss for those looking to get leaner.

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    The Procedure for a Barbell Bench Press

    1. Warm up and stretch thoroughly. It is important to stretch the shoulders completely to avoid injury. Try arm circles, and then arm circles holding added weight (5-10lbs).
    2. Begin by lying down on the flat bench under the barbell with your feet planted firmly on the ground and shoulders touching the bench. Grip the bar at medium width (grip can be adjusted wider to target the outer pecs or narrower to target the inner chest and triceps) with the elbows bent at 90 degrees and the hands locked tightly around the bar with the thumbs on the outside.
    3. Lift the bar off the rack and slowly lower it to your chest. Aim for a count of two seconds during this process. Make sure to inhale as you lower and stop once the bar reaches your chest. Do NOT drop it rapidly or bounce it off your chest.
    4. After a brief pause, exhale sharply and force the bar back to it's starting position. Try to take at least one second to do so. Focus on squeezing the pectoral muscles and not just pushing with the arms. It should be felt in your chest. Keep the feet firmly planted and hold your waist steady, do not squirm on the bench. To help, visualize the bar staying in place, and you pushing your body away from the bar instead. It will assist with movement.
    5. Repeat this process for the defined number of repetitions in one set. Repeat for up to five sets. Ideally you should begin light to warm up, and slowly add weight. Set 4 should be the heaviest, then drop weight as strength fails and try one more light set.

    IMPORTANT NOTES- These are the most commonly neglected practices in benching

    1. Make sure to keep elbows and shoulders locked in position during the movement. Do NOT let them flare out. To increase the tension on the pecs, keep your shoulders tightly at your side and pull your elbows behind you. This will cause your chest to arch and force it to lift the weight on it's own. (you will have to lower the weight before attempting this) Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground and your lower body and core do not move or twist.
    2. Do not arch your back too much.
    3. Make sure to breathe correctly, but there is no need for unnecessary yells or grunts. This will not help you lift the weight and is very annoying to others.
    4. Lift with a spotter or do not go as heavy as possible. Keep in mind that your strength will begin to fail after a few sets and do not keep trying to raise weights when alone.
    5. Rerack the weights upon completion.
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    Further Information on Resistance Training

    Resistance Training for weight Loss Part 1

    Resistance Training for Weight Loss Part 2

    Circuit Training for Strength and Fat Loss

    The Fundamental Principle of Losing Weight and Problems with Diets