The bench press is one of the most impressive lifts in bodybuilding, and it’s undoubtedly the most famous. Rarely will a lifter get asked how much they can curl with their wrists or what weight they use for lunges; no, what people want to know, and tend to get asked is how much they can bench. It’s the truest gauge of upper body strength there is.
Although relatively simple on the face of it; you bring the bar down to the mid chest or slightly lower, and then press it back up with all of your might, the bench press is actually a fairly complex and involved lift which involves many muscle groups.
In bodybuilding, the bench press is used to build the chest muscles, more commonly known as the pectorals. It may be a strange idea that by pressing something straight out in front of you can build the chest muscles, and you may get stuck into thinking that it’s all in the arms. Well, if you were to hold your arms in front of you, loosely, around shoulder width apart, and then squeeze your pectorals as hard as you can, you’ll notice that your hands are pulled in together slightly. The pectorals are used to pull the hands across the body, and when you have a heavy weight above your chest, believe me, your pectorals are working hard.
The bench press also involves the deltoid (shoulder) muscles, and as most bodybuilders bench press with the bar high on their chests, the majority of the stress on the lift is placed on the shoulders. I don’t necessarily think this is a good way to bench, and prefer to have the bar lower so it incorporates the chest more and takes some of the strain off the deltoids, but nevertheless, however the bench press is performed, it involves the deltoids.
Finally, the triceps are involved. The triceps are the muscles opposite your biceps, on the back of your upper arm. The sole purpose of the triceps is to straighten the elbow up. As you push the barbell up, the triceps are constantly working to straighten the elbow and ‘lock out’ – and bench pressing is known as one of the greatest triceps building exercises.