The bench press is a popular compound exercise performed by many lifters in any commercial gym. This makes the question “How much do you bench?” even more relevant and intriguing. Overall, bench pressing, regardless of the variation, works the pecs, arms, and shoulders. 

The Flat Barbell Bench Press is one of the few moves that do the job as effectively to build the upper body strength and significant muscle gains. It is also versatile and convenient that it makes a great exercise to be carried over to other challenging compound movements such as powerlifts. No wonder why the bench press enjoys the limelight in any workout routine. 

Whether you’re looking to start a lifting program, or your upper body hypertrophy is stalling in the plateau, the more meaningful question isn’t “how much you can bench”, but “how do you bench?”

In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn more about the basics of the flat bench press and its benefits, the variations that emphasize different muscles, and alternatives that you can substitute for the exercise on the agenda. In line with knowing the proper steps, we also teach you the common mistakes to avoid and how to fix your form if ever you’re making these mistakes. Let’s go.

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To Do Flat Barbell Bench Press
  • Benefits of Doing Flat Barbell Bench Press
  • Common Flat Barbell Bench Press Mistakes To Avoid
  • Flat Barbell Bench Press Muscles Worked
  • Flat Barbell Bench Press vs Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Flat Barbell Bench Press Variations
  • Flat Barbell Bench Press Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Flat Barbell Bench Press

How To Do Flat Barbell Bench Press

What You’ll Need: 

  • Barbell: A standard flat bench press exercise utilizes a barbell to target the right working muscles. You could opt for an Olympic or standard bar, depending on your lifting preference. Feel free to start with an empty bar if you’re a complete beginner.
  • Flat Bench: You will also need a flat bench, preferably one that you can adjust to different positions. For alternatives and variations, you may need a longer and more structured bench specifically for exercises like the incline and decline barbell press.
  • Weight Plates: Your weights should vary from time to time, depending on the program based on your lifting goal and depending on how much weight you can lift. To achieve hypertrophy, choose moderate weights. For strength gain, use heavy volume. For endurance, do more work with lighter weights. 

Alternative Equipment: 

  • Dumbbells: You can still perform a bench press sans the barbell. Dumbbells will allow you to develop unilateral strength and technique, although with lower weights. You could perform dumbbell bench presses on a bench or on the floor.

Step 1: Find Your Starting Position

Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the ground. Aim for a straight line across your back, from head to hips. Take note of the 5-point contact position, which are the back of the head, shoulder blades, glutes, left foot, and right foot. For shorter lifters, put a weight plate or exercise step underneath each foot for a more level height.

Step 2: Perform The Eccentric Phase (Lower)

During the phase, the horizontal shoulder abduction and elbow flexion are utilized. To properly perform this phase, grip the Barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Engage your core and retract your shoulders. 

Take a deep breath in as you lower the bar toward the nipple line. You should feel a slight stretch on your chest muscles as the bar touches the middle of your chest. Avoid excessive lumbar extension, a technique optimized by powerlifting athletes.

Step 3: Perform The Concentric Phase (Lift)

In this stage, the lifter performs horizontal shoulder abduction and elbow extension for the full lockout. Exhale as you push the barbell back to the starting position. Perform the recommended reps and sets according to your lifting program.

3 Benefits of Flat Barbell Bench Press

Strengthens Multiple Muscles Efficiently

Performing the flat barbell bench press targets the chest muscles, arms, and deltoids, which makes the exercise not only effective but also efficient when you’re pressed for training time. Moreover, various grips emphasize different muscle groups. For instance, the narrow grip variation works the triceps and forearms.

Increases Upper-Body Strength

Whether you’re focusing on gaining endurance, strength, or muscle mass, performing barbell presses definitely works your upper body and gives it ample strength to do everyday tasks with more ease. As your muscular endurance increases, this results in crossover benefits that can improve your performance of other exercises such as push-ups or a traditional barbell bench press.

Strengthening Exercise For Sports

As your working muscles strengthen and develop over time, you have better chances of improving your performance, form, agility, and endurance for other sports like hockey or football, and even sprinting.

Flat Barbell Bench Press Mistakes to Avoid

Using A Thumbless Grip

Also known as a “suicide grip,” a thumbless grip increases the risk of dropping the bar to your face, neck, or chest. In addition, it has no substantial added benefit to the lifter. For best measures, have your thumb wrapped on the bar and remain consistent with the grip width according to your program.

Not Retracting The Shoulder Blades

The shoulder blades play an important role in stabilizing the barbell. Proper retraction also prevents the chance of a shoulder injury. To properly retract the shoulder blades, imagine pushing your body into the bench instead of simply pressing the bar upwards. Keep your shoulder blades back and down during the entire movement.

Going Heavy Too Early

When your upper body struggles during the concentric phase, your hips naturally raise to control your chest position. This ruins your form and negates activating the right muscles. A quick fix to this is to lighten your load, focus on your form, and stick with weights that are 60 to 70% of your 1RM to have full control of the movement.

Feet Dancing During Lift

“Dancing feet” are often the result of loose positioning during the setup. This makes your entire form stable and shaky and your performance subpar. A key tip to keep in mind is that even with minimal leg drive applied, you should keep your feet flat on the ground. Push through with your legs at every lift to stabilize your form.

Constantly Changing Grip Width

It may be tempting to keep changing your grip width at every session, depending on what feels right at the moment, but this is a major culprit for your lack of progress. It will be hard to gauge your progress and you will be stripped of the chance to master a specific grip width.

Stay consistent with a grip width based on the muscles you want to focus on. Keep that stance unless you want to focus on a different muscle group. Avoid experimenting on your exercises and consult with a personal trainer for a healthy progression into your workout.

Wrong Chest-Touch Technique

If you’re completely novice with bench presses, you may tend to make the bar bounce off of your sternum or not have the bar touch your chest at all. This shortens the range of motion and underutilizes the eccentric phase of the bench press exercise. 

Aim to have full control of the movement by letting the bar graze your chest, not fully pressing or bouncing off. Also, remember that the bar path during the flat bench press is not rigidly vertical but slightly diagonal from above the shoulders down to the middle of the chest.

Flat Barbell Bench Press Muscles Worked

Depending on whether you’re applying a wide grip or narrow grip, the following muscles are activated during the flat barbell bench press:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Triceps brachii
  • Coracobrachialis
  • Abdominals
  • Biceps brachii
  • Infraspinatus
  • Supraspinatus
  • Teres major

The chest muscles are the primary movers in the flat barbell bench press exercise. This plays as the agonist or the muscles responsible for the majority of the movement while other muscles are more relaxed. The pecs are consistently activated, regardless of the variation.

The delts, triceps, and coracobrachialis (the thin, long muscle in the shoulder joint) act as the synergists with the delts performing the shoulder flexion and the triceps doing the elbow extension and assisting the pecs. The rest of the muscles act as stabilizers during the exercise.

Flat Barbell Bench Press vs Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbells are great alternative equipment to the barbell bench press. They’re convenient and beginner-friendly. You can do them on the floor or on a flat bench. You can also easily do them in the comfort of your home. All you need is a bench or a mat and you’re good to go.

The Dumbbell Bench Press activates slightly different muscles. Compared with the flat barbell bench, it activates more of the biceps and less of the triceps. It also achieves more chest activation given the deeper elbow flexion and your freedom to change the dumbbell angles. Ideally, lighter weights are pressed with the dumbbells.

A flat barbell bench press, as discussed earlier, makes use of a barbell and a bench. It activates the triceps more than the biceps. As the flat bench press is often optimized for strength training, you can gain leverage with chest activation by lifting heavier weights. That said, you can easily lift 20% more weight in the flat barbell bench press than with the dumbbell bench press.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For Muscle Gains

To effectively gain muscles, put emphasis on the concentric and eccentric phases. Focus on your form and avoid going for too heavy. Perform 6 to 10 reps of 4 to 6 sets using moderate load. Rest for 45 to 90 seconds in between each set.

For Enhanced Muscle Endurance

Endurance can be achieved simply by doing more to expand the lifter’s work capacity. The technique is to increase the reps while reducing the rest period. This means doing approximately 20 repetitions for 2 to 3 sets with less than a minute of rest in between.

For Strength Training

The technique for increasing strength is to decrease the reps while increasing the volume of the work. Select weights that are 75 to 85% of your one-rep max and perform 5 reps for 3 to 6 sets. Rest longer in between each set for 2 to 5 minutes.

Flat Barbell Bench Press Variations

These following variations utilize a bench and a barbell using different grip widths and slight changes to the exercise. When applied, they can help you maximize your pressing technique or discover better grip widths for upper body strength and size development.

Close-Grip Bench Press

Doing this exercise shifts the muscle contraction from the chest to the triceps and forearms. This provides a great variation for lifters with recurring shoulder issues. This also helps you work on weaknesses with the standard bench press.

Incline Bench Press

This exercise works the upper chest and shoulders with the bench angled at 46 to 60º. Lighter weights are ideal for the incline bench press while still increasing your overall strength and development.

Floor Press

By eliminating the bench, you are also eliminating a big portion of leg work or leg drive. This forces you to focus your strength on your upper arms including the chest and shoulder muscles. For novice lifters, Floor Press makes a convenient variation when all benches are taken.

Decline Bench Press

With the bench angled downward, this variation is great for working the lower chest and shoulder muscle more. It’s a bit more challenging than a flat barbell bench press, so consider seeking the help of a spotter for safe lifting.

Reverse Grip Bench Press

A notable variation of the bench presses targets the chest and triceps hypertrophy using a supinated grip. With a slight grip positioning and width, it effectively switches the muscle activation to the triceps from the pectoralis major. It is also easier on the joints especially if you experience shoulder pain from regular bench presses,  or recovering from a related injury.

Flat Barbell Bench Press Alternatives

These alternatives encourage you to explore beyond the flat barbell bench press through different angles, equipment, and training styles.

Arched-Back Bench Press

Popularly seen in powerlifting athletes, the arch technique on the flat barbell press shortens the distance between the shoulders and the glutes. It provides a higher platform to help the lifter achieve a maximized lift. This is an excellent progression to the flat barbell press, especially once you cross over to being an advanced lifter.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Greater chest activation is the main benefit of the dumbbell bench press. It also stimulates unilateral development while accommodating the lifter’s preferred dumbbell angle for comfort and efficiency. This is typically performed with the arms shoulder-width apart.

Spoto Press

The rule of thumb in Spoto presses is to pause the bar 2 to 3 cm above the chest. By doing so, you are isolating the pec muscles for higher activation. Overall, this challenges your upper arm strength and stability.

TRX Press Up

The TRX Press Up is essentially press-ups done on suspension trainers. By pushing your entire body upward and away from the bands, you’re increasing engagement on the chest, shoulders, and abs.

Frequently Asked Questions

The standard hand width for the barbell press is a slightly wider grip with an overhand grip to properly target the major muscle groups including the pecs, anterior deltoids, and upper arms. 

The flat barbell bench press is beneficial for shoulder stability, upper chest size and strength development, and efficient muscle activation of the upper body. Through a specific program, you can increase muscle size, work your way to lifting very heavyweight or strength training, or attain better endurance for pressing movements and other exercises as well.

The flat bench press engages the following muscles:

  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Triceps brachii
  • Coracobrachialis
  • Abdominals
  • Biceps brachii
  • Infraspinatus
  • Supraspinatus
  • Teres major

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