Flat Barbell Bench Press

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Flat Barbell Bench Press

Flat barbell bench press is probably the most popular exercise in the gym. It offers huge potential for increasing strength and most people can progress rapidly to heavier weights. This is basic, compound (multi-joint) and one of the best exercise for developing pectoral mass and strength. It is heavy but simple; it requires concentration and, often, assistance.

Flat Barbell Bench Press Perfect Technique

Starting position (setup):

Lie back on a flat bench with your head under the barbell rack and your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the bar (overhand grip) with your hands just outside shoulder width, press the barbell off the rack (unrack the bar), and begin with it directly over your upper pectorals (collar bones) with your arms extended. Your head, shoulders, and buttocks should be solidly on the bench.

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Movement (execution):

Bend your elbows to slowly lower the bar toward your mid-chest – nipple line (or lower chest), keeping your elbows pointed at 45 to 60 degrees from the sides. Touch your chest lightly with the bar, then press it back up in a slight backward arcing motion so the bar ends up over your upper chest with your arms extended but not locked out. Keep your back straight (not arched) and against the bench all the time.

Barbell Bench Press Additional Tips & Key Points to Remember

  • Feet should be wide apart and flat on the floor (unless the program tells you otherwise) to give your upper body muscles a solid platform from which they can generate power.
  • Keep your shoulder blades retracted throughout the exercise. Pull them together before you lower the bar, and keep them together as you lift.
  • A grip slightly wider than shoulder width will assure maximum effort from all areas of the chest.
  • Stabilise by ensuring that your shoulders, head, and hips remain in contact with the bench at all times.
  • Keeping your elbow out will ensure you are using more chest and less triceps.
  • Do not bounce the bar off your chest or arch your back – this reduces the amount of chest work and risks injury to the chest muscles. You may arch your back (which provides greater power) to complete a set, but only if you have difficulty with the last repeat and you do not have the help of a fellow athlete.
  • Keep a firm grip on the bar with your forearms approximately perpendicular to the floor and parallel to each other.
  • Avoid dropping the weight quickly.
  • It’s a very good idea to have a spotter on hand who can help lift the bar off your chest if you unexpectedly fail to complete a repetition.

Muscles Engaged

Flat barbell bench press works these muscle groups:

  • Main muscles: pectoralis major, triceps, deltoids (anterior)
  • Secondary muscles: coracobrachialis, serratus anterior, subscapularis
  • Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids (posterior)

Flat Barbell Bench Press Variations

Possible flat barbell bench press variations

  • Wide-grip barbell bench press. Take a wider grip (much more than shoulder width apart) to target your outer pectorals. Wider grip puts more load on your pectorals and less on your triceps. It can put more strain on your shoulders, so use it carefully.
  • Narrower grip flat barbell bench press. Take a narrower grip (but no closer than shoulder width; otherwise the triceps are targeted) for the inner pectorals. You should be able to use almost as much weight as you would with the conventional bench-press grip – probably 90 to 96 percent of that amount. If you have really strong triceps, you may be able to use equal loads. Do not do this variation if you have problems with your wrists, and use a lighter weight than in the basic exercise.
  • Feet on bench. Place your feet together up on the end of the bench or up in the air. This gives less stability than you’d have with your feet on the floor and it also requires calls on more core and stabilizing muscles.
  • Arched back. Lift your lower back off the bench, shortening the distance between your shoulder and buttocks, and providing a higher platform from which to push the bar off the chest. The higher the platform, the shorter the distance the bar has to travel to complete the lift. This is used only in the max-strength phases of the workout programs, and you shouldn’t do it at all if you have lower-back problems.

Substitutes (Alternative Exercises)

There are many other exercises to target your middle chest area. Each exercise works the middle pecs and supporting muscles slightly differently. Remember, specificity requires that you choose exercises that reflect your needs and goals. Visit our middle chest exercise database.

Closing Thoughts

The motion of the flat barbell bench press resembles an upside-down push-up. Flat barbell bench press requires a great deal of concentration and arm coordination. Though the free weight version of the bench press is described here, some gyms may have a machine bench press option. It is important that you follow proper technique and start with a weight you can handle.

This is the classic chest-building move and a standard test of upper-body strength. It Is also a great all-over mass-builder because it requires a large number of muscle fibres to perform, which triggers the body’s natural growth hormone response.

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