Bench Press Tips To Build a Powerful Upper Body

The bench press is the best for upper body exercises. It’s the most preferred exercise of choice for a lifter to add mass to the pecs, shoulders, biceps and triceps.

We are going to focus on the best tips to make sure you are not only performing the exercise correctly, but getting the most from it. With a few alterations, you will be growing and defining your upper body with a clean and comfortable press.

Performing the bench press correctly makes all the difference, using correct form, weight selection, intelligent programming and understanding technique will all make the bench press successful.

With these tips, you will also find a strength increase and a fantastic pump after, so let’s get started!

Form & Technique:

Your set up and technique depends upon whether your primary goal is to move the most weight or build the biggest chest. The big difference between the two is the use of the arch. Powerlifters maximise their arch as it decreases the range of motion while increasing leverage, allowing more weight to be moved. Bodybuilders need less of an arch so that the muscle is worked through a greater range of motion.


The powerlifting setup:

  • Lie down on the bench and grab the bar with an underhand grip.
  • Slide backwards along the bench and under the bar until your upper ab area is directly under the bar.
  • Tuck your feet back under the bench directly beneath the hips, with the balls of the feet in contact with the floor and heels raised.
  • Slide or “contract” your body back towards the bottom of the bench until the torso is in the proper position to bench.
  • Lower back should be arched quite high.
  • Make sure the hips are in contact with the bench and dig the traps and shoulder blades (which should be pulled back together tight) into the bench.
  • This provides stability under heavy weights and helps decrease the range of motion as it pushes the chest up while pulling the shoulders back.
  • Adjust your grip, un-rack the bar and perform your bench press.

For bodybuilders:

  • The feet can either be placed underneath the hips as in the description above or flat on the floor in front of you.
  • If you have difficulty keeping the hips on the bench while pressing.
  • Start with the feet underneath as this still allows a good degree of leg drive but is more conducive to keeping the hips on the bench.
  • Lie back and dig the traps into the bench for stability.
  • There’s no need for a big arch as you don’t want to decrease the range of motion.

Related Article:

Many lifters are confused by leg drive and how to effectively use it, so:

  • With either foot placement, keep your feet planted firmly against the floor and maintain a moderate amount of tension in the legs as you lower the bar to the chest.
  • As the bar touches the chest, reverse direction and push hard with the legs, driving the bar off the chest.
  • This will help “pop” the bar off while the added momentum will assist in getting through the sticking point through lockout.

Bar Path:

  • The most mechanically efficient bar path is a gradual arc from just below the nipple line at the bottom to roughly above the base of the neck at lockout. The exact points will vary slightly depending on individual leverages.
  • To perform this properly, tuck your elbows in towards the sides as you lower the bar, aiming for a point just below the nipple line when the bar is touching the chest.
  • The lowering of the bar must be performed in the correct groove as the body will naturally want to follow the same path as you press upward.
  • The concentric and eccentric portions of the bench press should appear as mirror images of each other.
  • As you begin to drive the bar from the chest keep the elbows tucked, but as the bar approaches the midpoint gradually rotate the elbows out until they’re fully flared at lock out.
  • This should be performed carefully as flaring too fast or too soon will send the bar back over your head and into the racks, stressing the shoulder joint.

Elbow Position And Grip:

Tucking the elbows at the bottom decreases shoulder rotation and takes stress off the shoulder joint. This takes pressure off the pec tendon and decreases the chance of a pec tear, allowing more weight to be lifted through improved leverage.

  • When the bar is at the chest, the elbows, wrists and the bar should all be in a perfectly straight line when viewed from the side.
  • Do not allow the wrists to bend backward. Not only does this place stress on the wrist, it can negatively affect leverage.

Related Article: 6 Technique Points To Increase Bench Press Weight

Selecting the appropriate grip ensures you’re working with and not against your own strengths and leverages.

  • There are three different ways to grip the bar: with a full grip (thumb wrapped all the way around the bar), a false or thumb-less grip (thumb behind the bar) and with the thumb held straight out along the bar.
  • Regardless of the grip, always attempt to squeeze the bar hard and push out to the sides as if trying to pull the bar apart. This will help engage the triceps.
  • Changing the position of the thumb affects elbow position. The full grip rotates the hand outward to a greater degree, thereby rotating the elbows out and emphasizing the chest.
  • With the thumb-less grip the hands are turned in more towards the body, making it easier to tuck the elbows on the descent and recruit the triceps.
  • Gripping the bar with the thumb along the bar is a compromise of the two.
  • A lifter with a comparatively stronger chest (or one looking to work the chest to the highest degree) would benefit from a wide, full grip.
  • Lifters with extremely strong triceps would get the most out of a relatively narrow thumb-less grip.



Effective programming for the bench press requires well-planned progression, prevent overtraining, stimulate hypertrophy and reinforces correct technique.

Use a current true max weight, that’s obtained using proper form. Failure to do so will only result in over training and difficulty progressing from week to week.

Here is an example of a bench programme: Sets x Reps x Weight capacity.

16 Week Weight Progression:

  • Week 1:  5 x 10 x 60% (5 sets of 10 reps @ 60%)
  • Week 2:  5 x 8 x 65%
  • Week 3:  5 x 5 x 70%
  • Week 4:  5 x 3 x 75%
  • Week 5:  5 x 10 x 60%
  • Week 6:  5 x 8 x 70%
  • Week 7:  5 x 5 x 75%
  • Week 8:  5 x 3 x 80%
  • Week 9:  5 x 10 x 60%
  • Week 10:  4 x 8 x 75%
  • Week 11:  4 x 5 x 80%
  • Week 12:  4 x 3 x 85%
  • Week 13:  5 x 10 x 60%
  • Week 14:  3 x 8 x 80%
  • Week 15:  3 x 5 x 85%
  • Week 16:  3 x 3 x 90%