A bench press is an exercise that can be used to strengthen 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 will put extra emphasis on 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.

Muscles worked by a bench press

Bench presses work several different muscles in your upper body, including the chest, shoulders, and arms.

Although the muscles worked may vary slightly depending on the specific variation that you perform, bench presses can target the following muscles:

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

The bench press is a compound exercise that targets the muscles of the upper body.

It involves lying on a bench and pressing weight upward using either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells. During a bench press, you lower the weight down to chest level and then press upwards while extending your arms. This movement is considered one repetition, or rep.

There are several variations of bench presses that each work different muscles. These may involve lying flat, lying at an incline or decline, or placing your hands closer together on the barbell.

Each bench press variation works slightly different muscle groups. According to a 2017 study, 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 bench should be angled upward 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 bench should be angled downward, 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 2 or more variations per workout. Try to give yourself 1 or 2 rest days, allowing muscles to recover before switching between the other variations.

Traditional flat bench press

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

  1. Lie on your back on a flat bench. Grip a barbell with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. The bar should be directly over the shoulders.
  2. Press your feet firmly into the ground and keep your hips on the bench throughout the entire movement.
  3. Keep your core engaged and maintain a neutral spine position throughout the movement. Avoid arching your back.
  4. Slowly lift the bar or dumbbells off the rack, if using. Lower the bar to the chest, about nipple level, allowing elbows to bend out to the side, about 45 degrees away from the body.
  5. Stop lowering when your elbows are just below the bench. Press feet into the floor as you push the bar back up to return to starting position.
  6. Perform 5 to 10 reps, depending on weight used. Perform up to 3 sets.

Narrow grip bench press

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

Equipment needed: two 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 directly over the shoulders. Face your palms forward, with the thumb wrapped around the handle.
  3. Press the weight upward over your eyes or slightly higher, with elbows extended to 45 degrees.
  4. Inhale and 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. Keep in mind that reps depend on your goals and the weight. Someone using heavier weights may do fewer reps than someone using lighter weights.

Decline chest press

Equipment needed: bench angled down at 15 degrees and dumbbells or a barbell

  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. Hold the weight directly over the shoulders, arms slightly wider than shoulder height.
  3. Push the weight up until your arms are angled at 45 degrees 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. Keep in mind that reps depend on your goals and the weight. Someone using heavier weights may do fewer reps than someone using lighter weights.

If you want to add bench presses to your weightlifting routine, try to perform bench presses only 2 to 3 times per week. Give yourself at least 1 day between doing bench presses to allow your muscles to recover.

The number of reps you perform per 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. Number of sets is also dependent on goals. A lifter looking to improve strength may do 4 to 6 sets, while someone who wants to work on muscular endurance may do 2 to 3 sets.

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

Following this type of varied routine is important to make sure you’re 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.

What is a bench press good for?

Bench presses can be used to increase strength, improve endurance, and tone the muscles of the upper body, including the chest, arms, and shoulders.

What’s more, some 2018 research suggests that adding exercises like bench presses to your workout routine could offer other health benefits, including increased bone density.

What is the difference between a press and a bench press?

The term “press” can refer to any type of exercise that uses a pressing movement to increase strength and build muscle. This can include exercises like the leg press, chest press, floor press, or overhead press.

The overhead press, for example, is a common exercise that you can perform sitting or standing. It involves pressing a barbell or pair of dumbbells from your upper chest to overhead.

Meanwhile, the bench press is an exercise that targets the muscles in the upper body by pressing weight upward from the chest while lying on a bench.

While both target the upper body, each exercise affects specific muscles differently. For instance, a small 2020 study showed that the overhead press activates the deltoids more, whereas the bench press focuses more on the chest.

How many days per week should I do bench press?

Some 2018 research has found that training 1 to 3 times per week could help optimize strength gains.

However, the number of times that you should perform a bench press per week depends on your personal goals and fitness routine.

Some may prefer performing bench presses only once per week. Others may find that adding it to their routine more frequently, such as 3 to 4 times per week, works better for them.

For best results, be sure to perform bench presses on nonconsecutive days so that your muscles have a chance to fully recover.

How much should you bench press?

The amount of weight that you should bench press depends on several factors, including your fitness level, size and build, lifting experience, and goals.

You can use these charts to help you get a good idea of how much you can lift. Then, you can adjust the weight as needed to fit your fitness goals.

For example, if you’re focused on muscular endurance, you may want to decrease the amount of weight that you use and perform a higher number of reps. On the other hand, if you’re looking to build strength, performing fewer reps with more weight may be a better option.

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 to an effective fitness routine, work with a certified personal trainer. They can create a routine based on your goals.