Barbell Bench Press Exercise Form Guide with Video & Pictures

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By Alex
Last updated on
Exercise NameBarbell Bench Press
Also CalledFlat Bench Press, Bench Press
Primary MusclesChest
Secondary MusclesShouldersTriceps
Required EquipmentBarbell, Weight Bench with Uprights (or in a Power Rack)
Optional EquipmentChalk, Lifting Belt
Rep Range3-12
VariationsBarbell Incline Bench Press, Barbell Decline Bench Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Incline Bench PressClose Grip Bench Press
AlternativesDips, Floor Press, Push Up

Barbell Bench Press Instructions

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Lie down on bench with chin/neck under bar.
  • Grasp bar with a wide pronated grip.
  • Plant feet flat on floor with heels behind knees.
  • Retract scapulae and tighten upper back muscles.
  • Arch back, but keep glutes on the bench.
  • Unrack the weight and bring bar above nipples.

2. Eccentric Repetition

  • Flex elbows and horizontally abduct shoulders to lower bar to nipples.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause. Touch bar to chest and go (no bouncing).

4. Concentric Repetition

  • Extend elbows and horizontally adduct shoulders to press straight up to the starting position with elbows locked.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the bench press motion until the set is finished.
  • The 3-12 rep range provides the greatest utility (3-6 for strength; 7-12 for muscle).

Common Bench Press Errors to Avoid

Glutes off the benchKeep your glutes and abdominals flexed at all times. Push your knees out. And, most obviously, don’t lift more weight than you can reasonably handle.
Poor range of motionLockout at the top of each rep (or barely before elbows are fully locked). Touch the bar to your chest at the bottom; if this strains your shoulders, your grip may be too wide or your elbows not tucked enough.
Elbows flaredMany folks flare their elbows to hit the chest more, without realizing they’re grinding down their shoulders! So, tuck your upper arms in. Also, rotate your arms in slightly before lowering the weight on each rep (since the elbows turn out, when locked).
Feet off the floorPlant heels as far behind the knees as possible. Once planted, don’t lift your feet up or shuffle them around. Drive through your heels and push your knees out, continuously. If you do this, you physically can’t pick your feet up.
Bouncing weight off chestBouncing the weight off your chest is not only cheating, but is potentially very dangerous (not to mention you’ll look like the gym idiot if you do it. ;-D So slow down as you approach the bottom of the rep, and gently touch the bar to your chest before pressing the bar up.

Barbell Bench Press Tips

  1. Never use barbell collars! I’ve witnessed the following scene (or some variation of it) in the gym, way too many times:
    • Some bozo with no spotter loads on a questionable amount of weight.
    • He uses collars to lock the plates on the barbell. They ain’t going nowhere!
    • He lifts to failure (usually with increasingly atrocious form on each successive rep).
    • Despite a dramatic final attempt to rack the bar, he ends up pinned under it.
    • He can’t dump the plates off each side since he used the collars.
    • If I’m having a good day, he lives. ;-P
  2. Arms should be perpendicular to the floor (from side view) at the top of the rep.
  3. Elbows should be at 90° at the bottom of the motion, when the bar is touching your chest.
  4. Keep your head on the bench and retract your chin into your face. Don’t tuck your chin down by flexing your neck forward; and don’t extend your neck back, either. Keep it neutral.
  5. Look at the point on the ceiling where the barbell should be at the top of each rep (i.e. elbows extended, bar above nipples). This way, you start and finish each rep from the same point.
  6. Drive through your legs to push your torso into the arched position, and to support and stabilize your body throughout the movement.
  7. Point knuckles up by keeping the bar against the bottommost point of your thumb. This lets you lift heavier because it puts your wrists in neutral alignment (i.e. straight up, not extended backward), which is a much more efficient way to bench press.
  8. Use the Valsalva maneuver breathing technique, especially if you’re lifting heavy weight (use caution, though, if you have health risks, like high blood pressure).
  9. Squeeze your glutes to protect your lower back by preventing it from extending excessively.
  10. Push your knees out to support your back arch. This is especially helpful for balancing and keeping your body tense when the bar is over your chest at the top of the motion.
  11. Use a spotter to lift off, even if you’re not lifting heavy or going to failure. The point is to have someone to hoist the bar off the pins for you, and guide the bar over your chest. This way, you don’t mess up the position of your scapulae or your back arch.

See 23 More Bench Press Tips

Is This Exercise Right for You?

Whether you’re brand new to lifting or a seasoned vet, the barbell bench press can be an incredible exercise selection for anyone.

It’s a must for beginners. There is no other movement that will improve your upper body pushing strength (and mass) as quickly.

However, unless otherwise reminded, beginners almost always use way too much weight and end up using form so bad it’d make Arnold cry…

…So, I’m reminding you. Make sure good form is your top priority. And resist the powerful urge to lift like an idiot with your ego. ;-P

Consider skipping this exercise if you:

  • Have shoulder problems; current injuries/issues, or past ones that could easily be re-injured.
  • Have no access to a spotter or any type of spotting apparatus (e.g. power rack, half rack), and are using heavy weight. The floor press might be a suitable alternative.
  • Are past the beginner stage and want to focus on pec development much more than strength. Do incline dumbbell press and/or flat dumbbell press instead.
Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

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