A Beginner's Guide to the Bench Press

club member using a Planet Fitness bench press machine
When it comes to strengthening the muscles in your chest, nothing is more effective than the bench press.

by Steven Auger

When it comes to all the exercise options you have in the gym, the bench press exercise might be one of the most misunderstood.

It's easy to assume that the bench press is reserved for advanced gym-goers or those looking to build bulk. But believe it or not, the bench press is an ideal part of any workout routine — and it's fit for beginners and regular gym-goers alike! It's a versatile exercise that can be adapted to target a number of muscles, and it offers a wide range of benefits.

Why the Bench Press Is Such a Good Exercise

When it comes to strengthening the muscles in your chest, nothing is more effective than the bench press, according to a study performed by theAmerican Council on Exercise (ACE). Aside from chest muscles, bench presses are also great at working your arms, shoulders, and core. It's a multi-faceted exercise!

Bench pressing can increase muscle tissue, improve flexibility, and strengthen bones. This kind of muscle building exercise can even reduce the body's LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Just be sure to initially select a weight that you can comfortably lift (as opposed to challenging yourself right out of the gate). Remember that increasing your ability to bench press isn't a sprint; it's a marathon.

Bench Press Basics

No matter what version of the bench press you opt for, each incorporates some of the same elements while working the same muscles. The bench press exercise can be performed with dumbbells on either a flat bench or an incline bench. You can also chest press from a seated position, as shown in the image above.

Breathing is another critical aspect of the bench press. It's important to breathe in before you perform the repetition and exhale as you're lifting the weight.

A Beginner's Guide to Bench Presses

There are a number of movements you can perform to become more comfortable with the bench press exercise. Consider giving one of these three variations a try during your next gym visit.

Standard Machine Chest Press

This is a great machine to start with if you're new to the gym. To begin, select an appropriate weight on the chest press machine and adjust the seat so you are at a comfortable height. When everything is calibrated properly, position your back flat against the seat and grip each handle. Slowly extend your arms so they are parallel to the floor and inhale as you bring the handles back toward you. Then, exhale and use the muscles in your chest to push the handles away. You'll also feel this exercise working your triceps as they assist your chest muscles with the movement.

Dumbbell Bench Press

To begin, sit on a bench and rest the dumbbells (one in each hand) on your thighs. As you lie back on the flat bench, raise the dumbbells to each side of your chest with your palms facing away from your face. Your upper arm and forearm should form a 90-degree angle. Now use your chest muscles to straighten your arms and raise the dumbbells up into the air, exhaling as you go. After a brief pause, slowly lower them, inhaling on the way down.

Smith Machine Bench Press

The Smith machine is another great option when it comes to the bench press — and more beginner-friendly than it looks! With the Smith machine, there's no need to worry about dropping the barbell or finding a spotter. It features a sliding barbell and numerous safety stops attached to each side of the machine so that you can lock the safety hooks by rotating the bar forward if you feel unable to complete a full rep.

To start, you'll need a flat bench centered under the bar. Rack the barbell at a height you can reach while lying down on the bench with your arms fully extended. Now lie down and grip the bar with your hands a little farther than shoulder-width apart. After unlocking the bar and extending your arms, slowly lower the bar to your mid-chest area. Engage your core and use the muscles in your chest to push the bar back upward. When you're done, remember to lock the bar safely in the rack.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.