A big chest is a symbol of power. Men and women alike a drawn to the idea of having a big chest. In gyms all across the world Mondays are commonly known to be chest days. Chest exercises are so popular that most gyms have more benches for barbell bench presses than they do squat racks. The barbell bench press is the basic compound chest exercise for building powerful pecs.

This guide will cover the basics of a barbell bench press and how to begin doing it. Many people tend to complain about huge shoulders and tiny chests. This is a common result of the typical bodybuilding bench press. If you are one of those people then try switching your style.

The barbell bench press that we will be talking about is going to be a powerlifting style barbell bench press. The bench press is a favorite of mine when it comes to building the chest. Because it is a compound movement, the bench press calls upon the entire body to work as a unit.

The reason why we will be covering a powerlifting style bench press is due to several factors. But mainly because it will allow you to lift the most weight. And by becoming stronger our muscles will also grow. Another key point to mention is that this method of benching lessens the strain placed on the shoulders.

As you can see in this picture the bodybuilding bench press calls for the elbows to flare out at a 45 degree angle.

A powerlifting style bench press starts with a flat and pinched upper back, an arched lower back, feet firmly planted, and your hands and elbows a little closer in. Where as a bodybuilding bench press calls for a flat back and elbows to point outward.

The Benefits of the Barbell Bench Press

The results of any compound exercise are going to carry over into many of your lifts and day to day activities. Case in point every time you lay down to bench, expect . . .

Gains in Size and Strength—Your muscles are going to grow and you’re going to get stronger. Thats a fact. This simple yet complex movement will shape your body like no other.

Improvements in Flexibility—Hard to believe but yes you will become more flexible.

Better Posture—Is a given. The stronger your muscles are the easier it is for your body to support itself and keep an upright posture. Improper positioning due to daily activities have lead to more and more cases of poor posture and overall health conditions.

Common Barbell Bench Press Misconceptions

Many people are led to assume that the bench press puts too much strain on your shoulders and it can become unsafe to do. This can be true if done improperly. Learning the correct form will help to avoid any unnecessary injuries.

This picture illustrates the back arch in the powerlifting squat. Not all people will have such a pronounced arch. Nor will foot placement be the same.

A Lesson on Barbell Bench Press Form

Attempting anything for the first time poses its challenges. Learning to perform the bench press correctly is essential to any training routine. The barbell bench press is not as challenging as it may look. With time and dedication you will be benching with ease.

This lesson will cover the proper form used for a powerlifting style barbell bench press. I will begin by assuming you currently know nothing about rows and are eager to learn. However, even if you are a seasoned lifter a good refresher course never hurts.

I cannot advocate enough the importance of proper form. Learning to bench correctly without any weight will instill the correct motor patterns in our body and will assist in our efforts.

Note: Smith machines are great inventions and have their purpose. However they are not beneficial for this workout. Bench pressing on a smith machine does not allow the stabilization muscles to engage. Always bench press with free weights.

The Setup

A few things will come into play when performing the row. However a proper setup is key.

  • Begin the bench press by sitting on the end of a bench.
  • Place your feet where you are most comfortable.
    • The idea is to have a solid foundation to push against. Your feet are  your anchors. For those that are ultra flexible your foot positioning will greatly differ from those that are not.
  • With your feet firmly positioned lie back onto the bench. Eyes aligning with the bar.
  • Grasp the barbell just slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Keep ahold of the barbell and lift your chest up to the barbell and return the bench arching your lower back so your upper back is tightly pressed against the bench.
    • Your feet should be pressing into the floor. Your buttocks and your upper back are pressed against the bench. While your lower back is arched enough that someone could slide there arm under it.
  • Keeping your upper back squeezed tightly unrack the barbell by using your lats and bring the barbell over your mid chest.

Beginning to Bench Press

Now that your are setup and in the proper starting position, we can begin the pressing movement.

  • Begin by taking a big breath. Grip the bar firmly and make sure your upper back muscles are tight and your feet are firmly pressing into the floor.
  • Slowly lower the barbell to your sternum by dropping your elbows.
    • Your elbows will act as a hinge. Lower them in a downward path and keep the close to your body, approximately a 35 degree angle.
  • As the barbell reaches your sternum or lower chest area, still holding your breath begin to slowly press the weight back up by contracting your chest muscles exhaling towards the top of the movement.
  • Return the barbell to the starting position.
  • Take a another big breath and repeat.
  • There you go! It’s as easy as that. You just learned how to do a bench press. And you’re well on your way to building some serious size and strength.

Keep at it. Pretty soon you will have a back all your friends will envy!

As a resource a great video on learning the barbell bench press is Powerlifting Bench Press by Scott Abel Coaching.

About the author, Steve Hall

Steve is a strength training fanatic who geeks out over the best, most efficient workouts, nutrition and gear to help get you stronger and healthier!