What Muscles Does Bench Press Work? What You Need to Know 

What muscles does bench press work?  

This is a common question, and it is important to know when deciding how the bench press will fit into your routine.  

Let’s take a look at what muscles a bench press works based on studies and EMG data.  

Muscles Worked by a Bench Press  

To give you an answer straight away; the main muscles worked by the bench press are the chest, triceps and shoulders.  

There are also a few secondary muscles used in the bench press, such as the traps and biceps, both of which get worked to some degree throughout the movement. 

However, the main muscles worked throughout the bench press are the lateral tricep head, the anterior deltoids, and the whole of the chest. 

Here’s a more in-depth look at the muscles worked by a bench press. 

Primary Muscles Worked:  

Chest (Pectoralis Major): The bench press is renowned for its ability to target the pectoralis major, which is the large muscle group in the chest. It contributes to the pressing motion and provides the primary power for pushing the weight away from the body. 

Shoulders (Anterior Deltoids): The anterior deltoids, the front part of the shoulder muscles, play a significant role in stabilizing and assisting the chest muscles during the bench press. They help to lift and control the weight as you press it upward. 

Triceps Brachii: The triceps, located at the back of the upper arm, are heavily engaged during the bench press. They act as synergists, assisting the chest muscles in extending the arms and completing the pressing motion. 

Secondary Muscles Worked: 

Biceps Brachii: Although the biceps are not the primary movers during the bench press, they are engaged to some extent to stabilize the arm and provide additional support. 

Rhomboids: The rhomboids, located in the upper back, help stabilize the scapulae (shoulder blades) during the bench press, ensuring proper form and posture throughout the movement. 

Trapezius: The trapezius muscles, located in the upper back and neck, assist in stabilizing the shoulder blades and maintaining proper scapular position during the bench press. 

What Is A Bench Press? 

The bench press is a compound strength-training exercise performed lying on a bench, utilizing a barbell or dumbbells. It involves pushing the weight away from the chest, mimicking the motion of pushing a heavy object.  

The bench press is often considered the king of upper body exercises due to its effectiveness in targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously. 

Not only does the bench press help build strength and muscle mass, but it also enhances upper body power, stability, and coordination.  

It is a staple exercise in strength training, bodybuilding, and powerlifting routines. 

What Effect Do Bench Press Variations Have On The Muscles? 

Bench press variations provide a way to target specific muscle groups within the upper body while still reaping the benefits of the exercise. Here’s a breakdown of how different bench press variations affect the muscles: 

Close-Grip Bench Press: By narrowing your grip on the barbell, you shift more emphasis onto the triceps. This variation helps develop triceps strength and size while still engaging the chest and shoulders. 

Incline Bench Press: Performing the bench press on an incline bench increases the involvement of the upper chest muscles. It places more emphasis on the clavicular fibers of the pectoralis major and targets the front portion of the deltoids. 

Decline Bench Press: The decline bench press muscles worked are the pectoralis major, providing a different angle of stimulation for the chest muscles and allowing you to isolate your chest more than with other variations. It also engages the triceps and shoulders to a lesser degree. 

Other Variations: There are numerous other bench press variations, such as the feet-up bench press, floor press, and Smith machine bench press. Each variation has its own unique benefits and targets specific muscle groups to varying degrees. 

How To Do A Bench Press 

The bench press is a fundamental exercise for building upper body strength and muscle mass.  

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, understanding the proper technique is essential. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform a bench press: 

Set Up the Bench: Position yourself on a flat bench, ensuring it’s stable and secure. Place your feet firmly on the ground, maintaining a stable base throughout the exercise. 

Position Yourself on the Bench: Lie down on the bench with your head, upper back, and buttocks making contact with the bench. Maintain a natural arch in your lower back, and keep your shoulder blades retracted and squeezed together. 

Grip the Bar: Grasp the barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your palms should be facing forward, and your wrists should be in line with your forearms. 

Unrack the Bar: Lift the barbell off the rack with the help of a spotter if needed. Ensure that your arms are fully extended, and the bar is positioned directly above your shoulders. 

Lower the Bar: Inhale and slowly lower the barbell towards your mid-chest. Keep your elbows tucked at a 45-degree angle to your body, maintaining control throughout the descent. 

Press the Bar: Once the barbell reaches your chest, drive through your feet, contract your chest muscles, and press the barbell back up to the starting position. Exhale during the pressing phase. 

Repeat: Complete the desired number of repetitions, maintaining proper form and control throughout the set. 

Traditional Flat Bench Press 

  1. Follow the steps outlined above for setting up and performing a bench press. 
  1. Position the barbell at chest level, ensuring a comfortable grip width. 
  1. Lower the barbell towards your mid-chest, maintaining control and a consistent bar path. 
  1. Press the barbell back up to the starting position, focusing on engaging your chest, shoulders, and triceps. 
  1. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, gradually increasing the weight as you progress. 

Narrow Grip Bench Press 

  1. Follow the steps for setting up and performing a bench press, but position your hands closer together, with a grip narrower than shoulder-width. 
  1. Lower the barbell towards the mid-chest, maintaining control and focusing on engaging the triceps and inner chest. 
  1. Press the barbell back up to the starting position, driving through your triceps and chest muscles. 
  1. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, gradually increasing the weight as you progress. 

Incline Bench Press 

  1. Adjust the bench to an incline position (usually between 30 to 45 degrees). 
  1. Follow the steps for setting up and performing a bench press, but position yourself on the incline bench. 
  1. Lower the barbell towards the upper chest, maintaining control and focusing on engaging the upper chest muscles. 
  1. Press the barbell back up to the starting position, emphasizing the contraction in the upper chest. 
  1. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, gradually increasing the weight as you progress. 

Decline Chest Press 

  1. Adjust the bench to a decline position (usually between 15 to 30 degrees). 
  1. Follow the steps for setting up and performing a bench press, but position yourself on the decline bench. 
  1. Lower the barbell towards the lower chest, maintaining control and focusing on engaging the lower chest muscles. 
  1. Press the barbell back up to the starting position, emphasizing the contraction in the lower chest. 
  1. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, gradually increasing the weight as you progress. 

Incorporating Bench Presses into Your Routine 

In the case that you are not already doing bench presses as a part of your normal workout routine (which you most definitely should be), let’s take a look at how you can effectively and seamlessly add it into a routine.  

Because of the fact that the bench press is a compound exercise that works multiple upper body muscles, you should include it at the start of your routine on your upper body days.  

You will also be much weaker on the bench press if you include it later on in your routine, so your progress will be much slower if you take this route.  

If you do a bro split, then you would obviously want to include it on chest day. 

The bench press is incredibly simple to include into your routine.  

This is simply due to the fact that it is such a good exercise, and in almost all cases, you should prioritise the bench press over other upper body movements. 

The only exception would be if you already have bench press alternatives in your routine, like dips or push-ups. 

If this is the case, then you may want to swap them out for bench press, or you could add just one or two sets of bench press before you perform these exercises.  

As long as you give the bench press the respect it deserves by including it early in your routine, you can’t go wrong.  

Bench Press Strength Standards 

Bench press standards serve as benchmarks to gauge your progress and compare your performance to others.  

Keep in mind that these standards can vary depending on factors such as age, bodyweight, and training experience.  

Here are some general guidelines for bench press strength: 

  • Beginner: A beginner bench presser typically achieves a bench press close to their body weight or slightly below. 
  • Intermediate: An intermediate lifter can generally bench press around 1.0-1.5 times their body weight. 
  • Advanced: An advanced lifter typically has a bench press that exceeds 1.5 times their body weight. 

Remember, these are rough estimates, and everyone progresses at their own pace. 

 Focus on your personal progress and avoid comparing yourself too much to others. 

Consistency, effort, and proper technique are more important than any specific number. 

How To Know if You Are a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Bench Presser 

Determining your bench press level helps you tailor your training program and set realistic goals. Here’s a general guideline to assess your bench press level: 

Beginner: If you’re relatively new to bench pressing, just starting out, or still building a solid foundation, you fall into the beginner category. At this stage, you may be working with lighter weights, focusing on proper technique and form. 

Intermediate: As an intermediate bench presser, you have a decent level of experience and strength. You can lift a significant percentage of your body weight and are working on increasing both strength and muscle mass. 

Advanced: Advanced bench pressers have extensive experience and considerable strength. You’ve likely surpassed your body weight on the bench press and may even compete in powerlifting or strength sports. 

Remember, these categories are not set in stone, and progression is a personal journey. Focus on continuous improvement, challenge yourself, and celebrate your achievements, no matter your current level.  

The most important aspect is staying consistent, pushing your limits, and enjoying the process of becoming stronger. 

How to Increase Your Bench Press Max   

How to Increase Your Bench Press at the Beginner Level   

If you’re new to bench pressing, building a solid foundation is crucial for increasing your bench press strength. Here are some tips to help you make progress at the beginner level: 

Focus on Proper Technique: Start by mastering the correct bench press form and technique. Pay attention to your hand placement, grip width, elbow position, shoulder blade retraction, and leg drive.  

Perfecting your form from the beginning sets the stage for strength gains and prevents injury. 

Start with Lighter Weights: Begin your bench press journey with lighter weights that allow you to perform the exercise with proper form and control.  

Gradually increase the weight as you build strength and confidence. 

Train Consistently: Regular and consistent training is key to making progress. Aim for two to three bench press sessions per week to provide adequate stimulus for your muscles to adapt and grow stronger. 

Incorporate Progressive Overload: Progressive overload is the principle of gradually increasing the demands on your muscles over time.  

It can be achieved by increasing the weight, the number of reps, or the number of sets. Gradually challenge yourself by adding a small amount of weight to the bar or performing an extra rep or set as you progress. 

Prioritize Compound Exercises: In addition to bench pressing, include other compound exercises such as overhead presses, push-ups, and dips in your training routine.  

These exercises engage multiple muscle groups, stimulating overall upper body strength and supporting your bench press progress. 

Strengthen Assistance Muscles: While the bench press primarily targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, strengthening the supporting muscles can help improve your bench press performance.  

Pay attention to exercises that target the back, core, and shoulder stabilizers to enhance overall upper body strength. 

How to Increase Your Bench Press at the Intermediate Level 

As you transition from the beginner level to the intermediate level, it’s time to step up your bench press training and focus on further increasing your strength. Consider the following strategies: 

Incorporate Variation: Introduce variations into your bench press routine to challenge your muscles in new ways.  

Try different grip widths, incline or decline bench presses, dumbbell bench presses, or incorporate resistance bands or chains to add variety and stimulate muscle growth. 

Progressive Overload with Intensity Techniques: Explore intensity techniques such as pyramid sets, drop sets, or rest-pause sets to push your muscles to their limits. 

 These techniques help increase the overall intensity of your workouts and promote strength gains. 

Incorporate Periodization: Implement a structured periodization plan into your training. Periodization involves dividing your training into specific phases, each with its own focus and intensity level.  

This systematic approach allows for proper recovery, prevents plateaus, and promotes continued progress. 

Focus on Weak Points: Identify any weaknesses or sticking points in your bench press and target them specifically.  

It could be a particular portion of the lift or a muscle group that needs extra attention.  

Addressing these weak points through specific exercises or accessory work can help overcome plateaus and improve overall performance. 

Track Your Progress: Keep a training log to monitor your progress and track the weights you lift, reps performed, and any variations you incorporate.  

This allows you to objectively assess your progress and make adjustments to your training program as needed. 

How to Increase Your Bench Press at the Advanced Level 

At the advanced level, increasing your bench press strength requires a combination of strategic training methods and a deep understanding of your body’s capabilities. Consider the following approaches: 

Incorporate Strength Training Programs: Follow structured strength training programs specifically designed to improve your bench press.  

These programs often include specific rep ranges, volume targets, and periodization to optimize strength gains. 

Utilize Advanced Techniques: Experiment with advanced techniques like cluster sets, eccentric training, or accommodating resistance (e.g., bands or chains) to challenge your muscles and stimulate further growth. 

Focus on Power Development: Incorporate explosive movements such as plyometrics, medicine ball throws, or speed bench presses to develop power and enhance your ability to generate force during the bench press. 

Address Mobility and Flexibility: Optimal mobility and flexibility are crucial for maximizing your bench press performance.  

Devote time to mobility exercises, stretching, and foam rolling to ensure proper range of motion and prevent any limitations that could hinder your progress. 

Seek Professional Guidance: At the advanced level, working with a qualified strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer can provide valuable expertise and guidance.  

They can assess your form, identify weaknesses, and customize a program to suit your specific needs and goals. 

Remember, progression at the advanced level can be more gradual, so patience and consistency are key. Respect your body’s limits, prioritize recovery, and listen to your body to avoid overtraining and injuries. 

How to Bench Press with Proper Form   

Bench Press Form: Detailed Instructions 

To get the most out of your bench press and ensure safety, it’s crucial to pay attention to your form and technique.  

Let’s dive into the details of proper bench press form: 

Position on the Bench 

Start by lying flat on the bench with your head, shoulders, and buttocks making contact with the bench. Maintain a stable and neutral spine alignment throughout the exercise. Position yourself in a way that allows your feet to be firmly planted on the floor. 

How Wide Should You Grip the Bar? 

The ideal grip width will depend on factors such as your shoulder mobility and personal comfort.  

As a general guideline, a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart is a good starting point.  

Experiment with different grip widths to find what feels most natural and allows for proper engagement of the chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

Hand Position 

Grasp the bar with a full grip, wrapping your fingers around it. 

Avoid using a thumbless grip (also known as a false grip) as it can compromise your stability and grip strength.  

Maintain a firm grip on the bar throughout the movement. 

Elbow Position 

Lower the barbell with control towards your mid-chest, approximately nipple level. 

As you descend, keep your elbows at an angle of around 45 degrees from your body. 

 This position helps engage the chest muscles effectively while minimizing strain on the shoulders. 

Shoulder Blades 

Retract your shoulder blades by squeezing them together.  

This creates a stable foundation and improves overall upper body tightness during the bench press.  

Maintain this retracted shoulder blade position throughout the exercise. 

Foot Position 

Place your feet flat on the floor, creating a stable base.  

Position them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart to provide a solid foundation for your entire body.  

Keep your feet firmly planted throughout the exercise to maximize stability and leg drive. 

Leg Drive 

Engaging your legs and utilizing leg drive is crucial for generating power during the bench press.  

As you push the barbell away from your chest, drive your feet into the floor, activating your leg muscles.  

This leg drive helps create a solid foundation and contributes to a more powerful press. 

Bench Press Arch 

Creating a slight arch in your lower back can enhance stability and improve your bench press performance.  

Lift your chest slightly and maintain a natural arch in your spine.  

However, it’s important to avoid excessive arching, which can lead to injury.  

Aim for a comfortable and controlled arch that allows for optimal muscle engagement. 

Should You Pause With the Bar on Your Chest, or “Touch and Go”? 

Whether to pause with the bar on your chest or perform touch-and-go reps depends on your training goals and personal preference.

Pausing with the bar on your chest enhances control, requires greater strength off the bottom, and can help build explosive power.  

Touch-and-go reps, on the other hand, focus on maintaining continuous tension throughout the movement. Experiment with both methods and find what works best for you. 

Bar Path 

During the bench press, aim for a smooth and controlled bar path.  

Lower the bar in a controlled manner towards your mid-chest, maintain a brief pause (if desired), and then press it back up in a straight line.  

Avoid excessive horizontal bar movement or excessively flaring or tucking the elbows, as these can strain the shoulders and compromise your form. 

Bench Press Variations 

If you’re a fan of the bench press, you’ll be thrilled to know that there are several variations to keep your workouts interesting and target different muscles in your upper body.  

Let’s explore some exciting bench press variations that can add variety and challenge to your training routine. 

1. Close-Grip Bench Press 

The close-grip bench press is a variation where you bring your hands closer together on the barbell, typically around shoulder-width apart.  

This variation primarily targets the triceps while also engaging the chest and shoulders. It’s an excellent choice for building tricep strength and enhancing lockout power. 

2. Feet-Up Bench Press 

The feet-up bench press involves lifting your feet off the ground and keeping them elevated throughout the movement.  

This variation helps eliminate leg drive and forces you to rely solely on upper body strength.  

It places greater emphasis on the chest, shoulders, and triceps, as it removes the contribution from the lower body. 

3. Close-Grip Feet-Up Bench Press 

Combining the benefits of the close-grip and feet-up bench press, this variation targets the triceps while minimizing leg drive.  

By bringing your hands closer together and keeping your feet elevated, you challenge your triceps and upper chest muscles even more intensely. 

4. Incline Bench Press 

The incline bench press is performed on an incline bench with an angle between 30 to 45 degrees.  

This variation places greater emphasis on the upper chest muscles, shoulders, and triceps.  

It helps develop a well-rounded chest and contributes to an aesthetically pleasing upper body shape. 

5. Decline Bench Press 

In contrast to the incline bench press, the decline bench press is performed on a decline bench with an angle between 15 to 30 degrees.  

This variation targets the lower chest muscles and the triceps. It’s an excellent choice for those looking to add definition to their lower chest region. 

6. Floor Press 

The floor press is a bench press variation where you perform the movement while lying on the floor.  

This variation limits the range of motion, placing more emphasis on the triceps and reducing the involvement of the shoulders.  

It’s a great option for individuals who want to focus on tricep strength and lockout power. 

7. Smith Machine Bench Press 

The Smith machine bench press is performed using a guided barbell on a Smith machine.  

This variation provides stability and control during the movement, making it suitable for beginners or those who want to focus on strict form.  

While it may not engage stabilizing muscles as much as free weight bench presses, it can be a valuable addition to your training routine. 

Want to Get Stronger in the Bench Press? 

At this point, we have told you almost everything you need to know about the bench press. 

You now know the answer to “what muscles does bench press work”, how to include it in your routine, the best bench press variations, as well as much more. 

However, the most important thing you need to know about the bench press is that it can take a ton of time to progress. 

The best way you get stronger in the bench press is to stay consistent for years, and if you do this, you will have built an incredible physique and be able to bench huge numbers.  

Keep this in mind throughout your journey to keep yourself grounded.  

What Muscles Does Bench Press Work – FAQs 

What Muscles Does Bench Press Work The Most? 

The primary muscle worked by the bench press is the chest.  

The triceps also play a significant role in the bench press, especially when using a closer grip.  

Why Don’t I Feel My Chest During Bench Press? 

You don’t feel your chest during bench press because you have a poor mind-muscle connection. 

Your chest is most definitely being activated when bench pressing, you just need to pay more attention throughout the movement to feel it being worked.  

Does Bench Press Give You Abs? 

No, bench press will not give you abs. 

While you should engage your core while bench pressing, there isn’t enough stimulus to create muscle growth in the abs.  

Is Bench Press the Best for Muscle Growth? 

Yes, the bench press is the best for muscle growth. 

While there are other exercises that incorporate more muscle groups (such as squats or deadlifts), the bench press is the best exercise for building upper body muscle mass.  

What Muscles Are Worked in the Bench Press?  

The three main muscles that are worked during bench press are chest, triceps, and shoulders.  

You can also target each of these muscle groups more with different bench press variations.  

Is Bench Pressing Bad for Your Shoulders?  

Yes, bench press can be bad for your shoulders if you do not maintain proper form. 

If you do not push your shoulders into the bench when bench pressing, your shoulders will be put under enormous stress and could get injured.  

Why Do I Get Shoulder Pain from Bench Pressing?  

You get shoulder pain from bench pressing because you are not practising good form. 

Try to push your shoulders into the bench when bench pressing, and make sure they have solid contact with the bench at all times.  

Do Push-Ups Increase Bench Press? 

Yes, push-ups do increase bench press. 

Push ups target all the same muscles as the bench press, so if you progress with push ups, you will see some kind of transfer over to the bench press.  

Does Bench Press Work Biceps? 

No, bench press does not work biceps. 

While biceps do act as a stabiliser throughout the movement, they do not experience enough stimulus to produce muscle growth.  

What Muscles do Incline Bench Press Work? 

The incline bench press works chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

The main difference with the incline bench press is that this variation targets the shoulders much more than the standard bench press. 

Does Bench Press Work Triceps? 

Yes, bench press does work triceps. 

However, you will likely need to include other triceps exercises into your routine to get optimal development, as bench press only targets one out of three heads of the tricep.  

We hope we have been able to give you a deeper insight into the question “what muscles does bench press work”. 

The bench press is one of the best exercises for developing a strong and muscular body, and whether you work out for aesthetics or health, it is one that you should include in your routine. 

Feel free to go over to MovingForwards if you would like more fitness content. 

See you next time. 

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