Bench presses are an exercise that can be used to tone the muscles of the upper body, including the pectorals, arms, and shoulders.

Depending on your goals, there are different variations of bench presses that work slightly different muscles, too. For example, a narrower grip bench press also works the triceps and forearms.

Other benefits of adding bench presses to your weight-training regimen include increasing upper body strength, improving muscular endurance, and even preparing your upper body to do movements like pushups. They also can be an effective strengthening exercise for sports like sprinting, hockey, and football.

Read on to learn more about bench presses and how to get the most out of this exercise.

Each bench press variation works slightly different muscle groups. Variations include:

  • Traditional bench press. This exercise is done lying down on a flat bench and pressing a barbell up and down at chest height. It works the pectoral muscles, shoulders, and arms.
  • Incline bench press. For this variation, the front of the bench is angled between 45 and 60 degrees so you are leaning back slightly. It targets muscles of the upper chest and shoulders.
  • Decline bench press. For this variation, the front of the bench is angled upward, so when you lie down your feet are in a higher position than your head. It works the lower chest muscles and shoulders.
  • Narrow grip bench press. During this variation, your hands are narrower together on the barbell. It works the triceps and forearms.

It’s not necessary to do all of these variations in the same workout. Overusing a muscle group can lead to injuries. That’s especially true if you’re working with heavy weights.

If you like variety, you can pick two variations per workout. Try to give yourself a rest day allowing muscles to recover before switching between the other variations.

Traditional, flat bench press

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Equipment needed: barbell (additional weights optional), flat bench

  1. Lie on your back on a flat bench. Grip a barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Press your feet firmly into the ground and keep your hips on the bench throughout the entire movement.
  3. Slowly lift bar off rack, if using, and lower the bar to the chest, allowing elbows to bend out to the side.
  4. Stop lowering when elbows are just below the bench. Press feet into the floor as you push the bar back up to return to starting position.
  5. Perform 5-10 reps, depending on weight used. Perform up to three sets.

Narrow grip bench press

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Equipment needed: barbell (additional weights optional), flat bench

Use the steps above for a traditional bench press, but grip barbell with hands shoulder-width throughout the movement.

Incline bench press

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Equipment needed: 2 dumbbells or barbell, incline bench angled between 45 and 60 degrees

  1. Place feet flat on the floor as you lean back slightly so your back rests against the bench with a neutral spine.
  2. Start by holding dumbbells or a barbell at chest height. Palms should be facing forward, with the thumb wrapped around the handle.
  3. Press the weight upward over your eyes or slightly higher, elbows fully extended.
  4. Inhale and slowly lower dumbbells or barbell slowly and with control until they touch or reach just above the chest, elbows and wrists staying out to the sides.
  5. Repeat the press and perform around 5 reps, or more if you’re advanced. Base the number of reps you’re comfortable with on the amount of weight you’re using, too. Perform up to 3 sets.

Decline chest press

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Equipment needed: Bench angled down at -30 degrees.

  1. Slowly lie down on the decline bench so your legs are higher than your head, keeping your back firmly planted into the back of the bench. Place your feet in provided stirrups.
  2. Have a spotter help you lift the bar off the rack or grip dumbbells, if using. You should be holding the weight at chest height, arms slightly wider than shoulder height.
  3. Push the weight up until your arms are straight and locked out at the top.
  4. Slowly lower the weight back down to chest height, elbows out to the sides.
  5. Repeat the press and perform around 5 reps, or more if you’re advanced. Base the number of reps you’re comfortable with on the amount of weight you’re using, too. Perform up to 3 sets.

If you want to add bench presses into your weightlifting routine, try to perform bench presses only two to three times per week. Give yourself at least a day between doing bench presses to allow your muscles to recover.

The number of reps you perform per each session depends on your fitness goals. If you are using very heavy weight, doing just 3 to 5 reps at a time may be enough to be effective. You can perform up to 3 sets, resting a few minutes between sets.

If you’re looking to build up cardiovascular fitness, you can perform a higher number of reps — around 5 to 10 — with a lower weight.

Other exercises you might want to perform on chest and back day include bent-over rows, chinups, and diamond pushups.

For a full-body workout, spend another day focusing on legs and shoulders by doing squats, lunges, and overhead presses. You should also include cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming, or cycling in your weekly routine.

Following this type of varied routine is important for making sure you are working your entire body. This type of weekly routine also lets you take rest days to allow different muscles to recover.

Full-body routines can also be more effective than spot training, or always performing the same exercise to try to build up that muscle. Remember, your body quickly adapts to exercise, so it’s important to switch up your workouts to keep your body challenged.

Bench presses can be an effective exercise for building up chest, arm, and shoulder muscles. If you’re new to the bench press, work with a spotter. They can watch your form and make sure you’re lifting the correct weight for your fitness level.

If you aren’t sure how to add bench presses into an effective fitness routine, work with a certified personal trainer. They can create a routine based on your goals.