Barbell Bench Press

How To Do A Barbell Bench Press
By Alli McKeeFebruary 11, 2016

Barbell Bench Press Exercise

The barbell bench press is a great exercise to strengthen the musculature of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Equipment needed:

A barbell should be used for this exercise. A traditional barbell may be used, and to increase the resistance, lifters may add weight plates to each side. Some gyms have fixed weight barbells which are shorter than a traditional barbell and the resistance is not adjustable. These fixed weight barbells often increase in resistance by 5-10 pounds (50 lbs, 55 lbs, 60 lbs, 65 lbs, and so on). Also, some gyms have barbells that weigh 35 lbs, and occasionally less.

Ability level:


The barbell bench press may be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. Because most gyms commonly have traditional 45 pound barbells, unless you have access to a lighter barbell, beginners may prefer to start with an alternative to the barbell bench press. Some great bench press exercise alternatives for beginners include the dumbbell bench press, dumbbell floor presses, Landmine press variations, and push-ups (perform the modified version if need be).


The barbell bench press is a great option for lifters with an intermediate level of experience, who have mastered some of the bench press alternatives for beginners that are listed above. If an upper body pushing workout is being performed, lifters should place the barbell bench press somewhere in the first half of their workout when their body is fresh. If a full-body workout is being performed, the barbell bench press can be paired with a lower body compound movement, or an upper body pulling movement. You can also make it part of a conditioning circuit. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the bench press.


Women who are comfortable with the barbell bench press may choose to use this variation as well as increase their weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). The barbell bench press may also be used as part of a conditioning circuit. Women can also make this exercise more challenging by performing negative bench presses and lowering the bar in 3-5 seconds as this increases the eccentric component of the movement, they can perform pause bench presses where they pause for 3-5 seconds part way down, or at the bottom of the lift, or they can add band/chain resistance to the barbell.

Benefits of Barbell Bench Presses:

How a woman chooses to use a barbell bench press is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where it falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general barbell bench presses can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing upper body strength, primarily in the chest, shoulders and triceps
  • increasing upper body strength in the biceps and the musculature in the upper back
  • increasing core strength
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)

How to perform a Barbell Bench Press:

When it comes to your bench press technique, you must determine what your goal is. For instance, if you are a powerlifter and are looking to lift as much weight as possible, your bench press form will look very different from that of a bodybuilder, or the general population who is just looking to add muscle, get stronger, and feel good. If you are looking to develop your triceps, you will adopt a slightly narrower grip:

  • Lie on the bench and position your body so your eyes are directly under the bar. Your feet should be in a shoulder width stance, and should be flat on the floor.
  • As for the setup of the bar, it is important that the bar is positioned not too high up, but also not too low down as this will make it tougher to lift up the bar to get into the starting position.
  • Grab the bar so your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and your wrists should be straight. This grip width seems to work best for most.
  • Before you press up the bar to the starting position, take a deep breath into your belly (360 degrees of air around your spine), brace your core (I like to pretend that I am about to block a soccer ball with my stomach), lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), tighten the muscles in your upper back and draw shoulder blades together and down (towards the opposite back pocket in your pants), and squeeze your glutes.
  • Once you've unracked the bar, it should be directly over your shoulders and your elbows, forearms and wrists should be in a vertical position. Your shoulders should remain packed (keep your arms in their sockets).
  • Before you lower the bar down in a controlled manner (you can think of it as a rowing motion rather than letting the bar drop), take another deep deep breath into your belly, brace your core, lightly tuck your rib cage towards your hips, tighten your upper back, squeeze your glutes, and lower the bar.
  • The bar should touch between your sternum and mid-chest, your elbows should remain at about a 75 degree angle with your body, and your forearms should remain vertical.
  • Once the bar touches your sternum to mid chest, press the bar away from your body so it returns to the starting position (just over your shoulders), and lock your elbows at the top (but do not hyperextend them).
  • Drive your feet into the floor for the duration of the exercise as this helps engage the muscles in the lower body, and also provides additional stability to your entire body. The bench press is a full body exercise.
  • Unless you’re doing more of a powerlifting bench press, make sure that your back is not excessively arched. A slight arch is ok. Do not allow your hips to leave the bench.
  • Reset and repeat for the desired number of reps.

Video Transcription:

When it comes to determining what proper technique for a barbell bench press looks like, first and foremost you must figure out what your specific goal is. For example: if you’re a bodybuilder and you’re trying to hypertrophy your chest as much as possible, your bench press technique is going to look different than a powerlifter who's trying to lift as much weight as possible. Now in general, most women want to look good, they want to feel good and they want to feel healthy and strong so the bench press technique that I’m going to be talking about today is going to lead them towards that goal. It’s going to be keeping us safe, it’s going to be making us strong and it’s going to be helping us add lean mass.

First and foremost you want to master the dumbbell bench press and you want to master push ups before you move on to the barbell bench press. Both of those exercises, for me, are precursors before you start doing this more advanced exercise. Now a couple things -  you’re going to get the bar set up and get the bench set up. And something that you might not think about when it comes to a barbell bench press is that it’s actually a full body exercise. Your glutes should be tight, your core should be tight, you should be driving your feet into the floor, you should be squeezing your back together, all just to get set up to bench press. You want to make sure that your base is as stable as possible.

So you’re going to get back on the bench, you’re going to lie on your back. Make sure the bench is set up so that when you lift the bar out of the hooks that you’re not hitting the hooks, that it’s not too high up for you. You’re going to pull your shoulder blades together and you’re going to brace your core. You might have a slight arch in your back because when you pull your shoulder blades together, it’s going to prop you up on the bench a little bit. You have to make sure that you’re not excessively arched unless you’re doing a more powerlifting style bench. When it comes to your grip, a little bit wider than shoulder width apart works really well for most people. Again, powerlifters or bodybuilders may go a little bit wider, but we’re going to be right outside shoulder width. If you go for a more narrow grip that’s fine too but just know that it’s going to hit your triceps a little bit more than your chest.

So you’re here, you’re going to pull your shoulder blades together, you’re going to squeeze your glutes here, take a big breath in through your nose. Get that rib cage in position, get nice and tight. You’re going to breath in and lift the bar out. You’re going to row the weight down, keeping your elbows slightly tucked. Hit about your sternum and you’re going to drive the weight up.

Now where exactly you hit the bar on your chest is going to depend on what feels comfortable for you, but for most people, again right about the sternum height works really well. Another thing to think about, when you’re pressing the bar up, think of almost pulling the bar apart, that helps you keep your elbows tucked, and it helps you activate your triceps. So that’s what a barbell bench press looks like.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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