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A man performs a barbell bench press while another spots him.
A man performs a barbell bench press while another spots him.

The bench press, or chest press, is an upper-body weight training exercise in which the trainee presses a weight upwards while lying on a weight training bench. The exercise uses the pectoralis major, the anterior deltoids, and the triceps, among other stabilizing muscles. A barbell is generally used to hold the weight, but a pair of dumbbells can also be used.[1]

The barbell bench press is one of three lifts in the sport of powerlifting alongside the deadlift and squat, and is the only lift in the sport of Paralympic powerlifting. It is also used extensively in weight training, bodybuilding, and other types of training to develop the chest muscles.


The person performing the exercise lies on their back on a bench with a barbell grasped in both hands. They lower the barbell to chest level, then press the barbell upwards, extending the arms until the elbows are locked out. This is one repetition (rep).

Powerlifting: Take position on a flat bench with body weight resting on buttocks and upper traps having an arched back and feet driven into the floor. Movement requires the weight to be taken at full arms' length, lowered to upper torso, paused, and then lifted to starting position.


The bench press has evolved over the years, from floor, bridge, and belly toss variations to the methods used by bodybuilders and powerlifters today. It became popular from the late 1950s onwards.[2] Despite the fact the parallel dip is safer (the dip does not require spotters or safety bars[2]), in the 1950s the bench press took over the dip in popularity and became the standard fare for chest exercises.[2]

At first the strict floor press was the most popular method. In 1899, using a barbell with 48 centimetres (19 in) discs (plates), George Hackenschmidt, inventor of the barbell hack squat, rolled a barbell over his face (which was turned to the side) and performed a strict floor press with 164 kilograms (362 lb). This stood as a record for 18 years until Joe Nordquest broke it by 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) in 1916.

Around this time, new methods started gaining ground. Lifters started figuring out that strong glutes could help them get the bar from the ground to overhead. They would lie on the floor and position the bar over their abdomen, then perform an explosive glute bridge movement, catapulting the bar upwards and catching it at lockout.[3]

Lifting techniques, training and drugs have improved over the years and the bench press record lift has grown from 164 kilograms (362 lb) to 501 kilograms (1,105 lb) (equipped, record held by Will Barotti) in approximately 100 years.[4]

The bench press is used as a test of upper-body explosive strength during the NFL combine, where prospective NFL draft picks attempt to get as many reps of 225 lbs as possible. [5][6]


A female athlete performing a bench press at the IPA world championship 2007, in the "Bench Only" category
A female athlete performing a bench press at the IPA world championship 2007, in the "Bench Only" category

A conventional bench press uses the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, and Triceps brachii to horizontally adduct the shoulder. It also uses predominantly triceps and anconeus to extend the elbows. Wider hand spacing places a greater emphasis on shoulder flexion and narrower hand spacing utilizes more elbow extension. Because of this, wider hand spacing is associated with training the pectorals and narrower hand spacing is associated with training the triceps.

In addition to the major phasic (dynamic) muscles the bench press also uses tonic (stabilizing) muscles: scapular stabilizers (serratus anterior, middle and inferior trapezius), humeral head stabilizers (rotator cuff muscles), and core (transverse abdominis, obliques, multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum)


Variations of the bench press involve different groups of muscles, or involve the same muscles in different ways:

A woman explains how to properly perform the dumbbell bench press and the dumbbell incline bench press.
A woman explains how to properly perform the dumbbell bench press and the dumbbell incline bench press.

Possible injuries

A man (lying down) performs a bench press with a spotter using a thumbless grip.
A man (lying down) performs a bench press with a spotter using a thumbless grip.

Performing the bench press can contribute to multiple types of injuries:

Many of these possible injuries can be avoided by using dumbbells instead of a barbell since dumbbells can be dropped without hitting the chest or neck, while also allowing greater external rotation of the shoulder which can help prevent shoulder injuries. Studies have also shown dumbbell bench press activates the pectorals more, which can lead to increased muscle growth.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b A movement may be considered as having any number of strength phases but usually is considered as having two main phases: a stronger and a weaker. When the movement becomes stronger during the exercise, this is called an ascending strength curve i.e. bench press, squat, deadlift. And when it becomes weaker this is called a descending strength curve i.e. chin ups, upright row, standing lateral raise. Some exercises involve a different pattern of strong-weak-strong. This is called a bell shaped strength curve i.e. bicep curls where there can be a sticking point roughly midway.


  1. ^ John F. Graham (August 2000). "Dumbbell bench press". Strength and Conditioning Journal. 22 (4): 71. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b c McRobert (1998), p. 210.
  3. ^ a b Contreras, Bret (2011-12-15). "The Best Damn Bench Press Article Period". T Nation. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
  4. ^ "Powerlifter Will Barotti benches 1,105 pounds for a new world record".
  5. ^ "What Is The NFL Combine? | How Does The NFL Combine Work?". Football IQ Score. Retrieved 2021-09-25.
  6. ^ Kahler, Kalyn. "NFL Combine Drills and Workouts, Explained". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2021-09-25.
  7. ^ "How to Bench Press like a Pro: A deep look at Bench Press Form". LIFT. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
  8. ^ Hutchison, Dan. "Using variable resistance for the bench press". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  9. ^ John Jaquish, Henry Alkire (2020). Weight lifting is a waste of time. Lioncrest publishing. pp. 33–36.
  10. ^ Dickinson, Josh. "Full And Partial Repetitions For Massive Gains!". Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  11. ^ IOC Sport Medicine Manual 2000 available in .PDF form online
  12. ^ "Petition Requesting Labeling of Weightlifting Bench-Press Benches to Reduce or Prevent Deaths Due to Asphyxia/Anoxia" (PDF). US Consumer Product Safety Commission. May 13, 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
  13. ^ Sgobba, Christa (2017-07-12). "This Kind Of Bench Press Will Hit Your Pecs the Hardest". Men's Health. Retrieved 2020-12-17.