In this guide I am going to show you step by step how to do a barbell bench press.
The bench press is one of those “staple” movements that I believe every lifter should know how to perform correctly.
Yes, every lifter, not just the meathead guy who is looking to get all jacked up.
Male, female, young, old.
It is a fundamental movement pattern that can be great for developing upper body strength as a whole.
So no matter who you are or where you are in this lifting journey, I know this guide can help you out.
Without any more blabbering, let’s get right into it.
How To Do A Barbell Bench Press : Step By Step
Step 1 – Lie On The Bench
You may think this is a pretty simple, basic step.
Lie on the bench.. Ok Eric?
But, there is some nuance to this that you want to ensure you get correct.
A lot of people will actually slide too far up on the bench, putting them in a disadvantageous position.
This is because when you unrack the bar, you will have next to no room to actually perform the movement correctly.
You will more than likely bring the bar too far down or too far up on your body.
Your elbows will either have to flare out super wide or you will feel like the barbell is about you topple down in front of you, leaving a not so pretty scene.
So when you get set up on the bench, make sure you get set up to where your eyes are around in line with the barbell / maybe even a little bit behind the barbell.
You don’t want to be directly underneath it, you want your arms to be somewhat “reaching back” towards it to grab and unrack it.
See how here my arms are reaching back towards it and then I am unracking it into position.
Step 2 – Set Your Feet
Um, Eric.. A guide on how to do a barbell bench press and you are telling me what to do with my feet?
^ that was probably your thought just now, I know, I am a mind reader, duh.
The answer is yes to that question my friend and here is why.
While yes, the bench press is in fact an “upper body movement” for sure, one of the critical components that is most overlooked is having proper leg drive.
You want to have a strong, steady, stable surface to push from, right?
If your legs aren’t involved in the movement, how are you going to have a strong surface to push from?
That’s like if you were to go and push someone, but you were super off balance and or not sturdy.
Not only would you not push them, YOU would probably fall over as a result of having nothing to push from.
The same goes for a bench press.
When it comes to leg drive on a bench press, I personally like to have my feet flat on the ground, kind of digging my heels into the ground.
I would walk your feet up as far as they can without arching your lower back or lifting your butt off the bench (we will talk about that later in this guide) and set up shop for the bench press.
Then, think about bracing your core (if you need to learn how to brace your core, read this article HERE).
As well as squeezing your glutes like you are trying to trap a 100$ bill between your butt cheeks.
You should also then think about pushing the ground away from you with your feet, again, without lifting your butt off the bench.
With that set up right there, I believe for most people this gives them the best leg drive they can have.
Now, I know some people may not have as long of legs as I do.
For that, I would say you may be able to stack a weight plate underneath your feet while you do this to still allow you to have that flat and stable surface to push from, just simply a bit higher up.
You will also see some people come up on their toes as they bench press.
I don’t want to say this is inherently bad or wrong, because it isn’t.
It’s just not my preferred way to do it as I believe it cuts out some leg drive. Again, imagine if you were to push someone on your toes vs pushing someone with your feet flat, dug into the ground hard.
Which do you think would be more effective?
Step 3 – Brace / Use Your Lats
Again, one of the most underrated and underutilized tools in a bench press is using your lats.
Once more, yes this is a “chest” exercise per say, but that doesn’t mean your back isn’t going to work.
During a bench press, you want to be sure you can engage and brace your lats, to do a few things..
- Help brace your core that much more because your lats are a part of your “core” musculature to a degree
- Keep your elbows from flaring out too wide (we will talk about why later on)
- Keep your shoulders from rounding forward and causing very, very painful front shoulder pain
- Create an even stronger, stable base to be able to push up to lift the most weight possible
How you brace your lats is actually quite simple.
Again, I will drop a video here below of it for the visual learners.
But essentially I want you to think about doing two things.
First, think about shoving your shoulders down and back into your back pockets while you kind of “wrap” your shoulders around the bench.
You want to almost think about creating an arch in your mid to upper back while you do this on the bench.
I should be able to fit 2-4 fingers in between your mid to upper back and the bench.
Then, second, think about squeezing the air out of a tennis ball between your armpit.
Or, think about breaking the bar in half with your hands.
With those few things, you will have braced and engaged your lats, getting you finally ready to perform the movement!
Step 4 – Grab The Bar ( Where To Place Your Hands)
When talking about gripping the barbell, everyone may be different here.
Some people like a bit wider, some people like a bit closer in.
For a general rule of thumb, I would say grabbing the barbell a little bit outside shoulder width is a good place to start.
I would play around with it slightly though. If a little wider feels or little closer better for you, cool.
The one thing I would caution against is sometimes I see people go too far or too close and it ends up putting a lot of stress on the shoulders / wrist.
Therefore I would start with slightly outside shoulder width and work either slightly in or slightly out from there depending on what feels best for you.
Step 5 – Unracking The Barbell
Now starts the fun part of how to do a barbell bench press.
You need to be able to unrack the barbell correctly, because if not, you will put yourself at a massive disadvantage before you even start the movement.
I mentioned earlier that you need to be reaching back to the barbell. Your arms should not be directly above you and pick it off the rack.
You almost want to think of your arms like a lever, taking the barbell off the rack and levering it into position.
See that right here once again…
You want to get it so that you position the bar slightly above your sternum level (closer towards your neck area than your belly button area).
Towards the lower part of your chest.
You then want to make sure your elbows once again are not flaring out wide, you want those elbows to be “tucked” as much as you can.
I used “tucked” in quotations there because you will only be able to tuck the elbows so much with the barbell because you can’t move your hands.
Because well, it’s on a fixed barbell.. But you can once again engage your lats and get those elbows “tucked” think more at a 45 degree angle as opposed to a 90 degree angle.
I would then take a big breath into your belly, brace your core, then from here you are set, braced, and ready to now perform the press!!
Step 6 – Lowering The Weight Down
Phew, we are FINALLY ready to do the movement.
Crazy how in depth just the set up is, isn’t it?
Have you ever thought about the bench press this long in your life? No, this is just me obsessing about fitness way more than the average person?
Cool Cool.. figured so..
Anyhwo, now you are ready to perform the bench press.
This part is “relatively” simple, but again, there are nuances.
First, you don’t want to think about going directly down and up.
This is because most people who do this, they end up flaring their elbows out wide at a 90 degree angle as opposed to keeping it tucked more towards that 45 degree angle ish.
We can talk more about why this is bad later on, but for right now, just think about NOT going straight up and down.
Rather, think about lowering the weight not directly straight down, but down and a tad bit in front of you.
So think you are lowering it more towards your sternum / lower chest area, as opposed to your neck area.
This will ensure you keep your elbows where they should be, as well as keep your shoulders healthy for the long haul.
As well as when you are lowering the weight down, please remember to keep your shoulders pulled down into your back pocket and keep the slight arch in your upper back.
The #1 reason injuries occur during a bench press is because people go down, do not keep the arch in their back, round their shoulders forward, and this creates a ton of unnecessary and unwanted force inside your rotator cuff and shoulder joint.
Then, since their shoulders round forward, they then compromise by flaring their elbows out wide, putting even more stress on the shoulder joint / rotator cuff as well.
Therefore it is paramount that you keep your shoulders tucked down and back into your back pockets, keep the slight arch in your upper to mid back, and lowering the barbell down to your lower chest as opposed to mid or upper chest.
Step 7 – Pushing The Weight Back Up
So for this step in how to do a barbell bench press, again it may seem simple, but there are specific steps I want you to take.
First, I don’t even want you to think about pressing the weight up necessarily.
Weird, I know, but stick with me.
I want you to think about
#1 pushing the ground away from you (leg drive)
#2 pressing the weight through the ceiling
This will give you some internal focus to actually make the movement easier because if you just think about “getting the weight off your chest” you will be less explosive than if you focus on what I laid out above.
Then, I want you to do the opposite of what you did with the lowering portion.
In the lowering portion I said lower down and slightly in front, with the press, I want you to press up and slightly behind you.
Slightly. I don’t need you pressing all the way back to the rack.
More so just don’t think you are pressing solely straight up and down, you want to have a slight arc with the bar path as it travels up and down.
A little bit in front on the way down.. A little bit behind on the way up.
Step 8 – Re Racking The Barbell
This step is pretty self explanatory yet nonetheless lets quickly cover it.
Once you finish however many reps you are doing you are going to rerack the barbell.
Again, you are going to re rack it by letting it drive slowly behind you and placing it on the rack.
Remember, to unrack it you reached behind you slightly and brought it out in front of you right?
To rerack it you are going to bring it slightly behind you and rack it like this.
This may feel a tad bit weird at first, but I promise the rack will be there and you will be able to set it right down.
How To Do A Barbell Bench Press : Most Common Mistakes
Whew, okay, that was a lot!
Now that we have gone step by step, let’s cover some of the most common mistakes on how to do a barbell bench press.
Mistake 1 – Lifting Butt Off The Bench
Yep, that is a picture of ME, the author of this guide, making a mistake!
Shocking, right?! Even professionals make mistakes?!
Now I corrected this shortly after, but nonetheless, this is a mistake you don’t want to make.
You want to use leg drive, but you want to use it in a way where your butt does not come off the bench.
If you find your butt coming off the bench too much, I’d either re adjust your feet position or lower the weight.
Oftentimes we lift our butt because the weight we are using is heavy AF and we can’t keep proper form while doing it.
So, we use our lift our butt to compensate!
It’s okay to slightly back off the weight if need be for right now to get the form right.
In the long run, you will get stronger by having proper form and be able to lift that weight no problem…
It just takes patience, my friend.
Mistake 2 – Flaring Elbows Out Wide
We talked about this a bit earlier, but you do not want to have your elbows flared out wide at a 90 degree angle.
You want to keep them tucked as much as you can. Again, you can only “tuck them” so much with a fixed barbell in your hand.
Yet you still want to be sure you are not letting the elbows flare out because this is where gnarly shoulder impingement happens.
This is basically your upper arm jamming into your shoulder joint and it just doesn’t create for a very fun scenario.
The way you correct this is by
- Keeping your shoulders pulled down and back into your back pockets
- Keeping a slight arch in your upper to mid back
- Following the bar path we mentioned earlier, not straight up and down, a slight arc each way
Mistake 3 – Rounding Shoulders At The Bottom
Again, I know we briefly touched on this, but once more please don’t let this happen.
I don’t need the front of your shoulders absolutely screaming from doing bench press anymore.
Trust me, I dealt with that for too long as well!!
To fix this, do all of the 3 things we mentioned above in the previous correction / mistake cycle.
How To Do A Barbell Bench Press : That’s A Wrap!
Well, that’s all I got for you today in this guide for how to do a barbell bench press!
I will also say, I know that some people are visual learners, so for that I am going to drop here below an in depth video of me going over the bench press as well.
I hope both the video, written words, and pictures helped you out in getting your form down pat.
If you liked this article, feel free to check out some of my others where I go over exercises super in depth just like this.
As well as if you are interested in getting some coaching myself or my team,
We take out all of the guesswork for you when it comes to your nutrition, exercise, accountability, everything.
Hope to hear from you soon,