The standard bench press is a main stay in all gyms. Whereas the power rack is usually ignored, squats being perennially unpopular, the bench press racks are always swarming with men, such that they resemble morsels of food surrounded by ants. Given the bench press’s popularity, it’s not surprise that there are several variations on how to perform this exercise. First it’s important to understand the value of the classic bench , and then we will discuss the value of each main variation.
The classic bench press is an excellent addition to any workout, because it allows you to lift heavy loads through a compound exercise, utilizing shoulders, chest, triceps, and core. There are a host of stabilizer muscles that are called into action, and thus it results in a good general workout. For that reason, I will not be discussing any mechanized versions of the bench press; these machines eliminate a great range of motion and recruited muscles, and are thus inferior and not worth discussing. If you are using machines, stop. Do yourself a favor, and start using a barbell.
The classic bench uses a grip that is slightly wider than shoulder width. This grip results in your forearms being vertical at the bottom when the barbell is lowered, and thus uses the longest range of elbow motion. It causes the greatest amount of muscle to be stressed, resulting in the greatest strength increases. Any deviation from the classic grip should be understood and the goals should be clear before they are attempted.
The first variation most commonly seen is the wide grip. Basically, the wider you grip the bar, the less the triceps have to extend over the elbow, and the less the bar has to travel to reach your chest. Thus your pecs and delts end up doing most of the work, allowing you to lift greater weights due to the shorter range of movement.
The second variation is the close grip. The closer your hands are to each other, the more inclined the towards your center your forearms are at the bottom, and the sooner the elbow stops moving down as the bar touches your chest, and the less work your chest has to do. The less work your chest does, the more work your triceps do. Thus you’ll be pressing less, but more actively using your triceps.
Another useful way of varying your bench press is to change the angle of your bench , known as elevated or decline bench presses. The decline press is essentially a useless workout; it decreases the distance the weight has to move, resulting in greater weights being used. The danger here is that if you miss your sternum, the next spot is your throat, which when coupled with heavy weights and a bad spotter can be lethal. Of much greater utility are dips, which involve greater coordination, more muscle mass, more balance and coordination. Skip decline benches , and go do weighted dips.
The incline bench press however can be a useful workout. However, note that if you are doing the shoulder press and the bench press, this variation is redundant. The point of the incline is usually stated to be to work out the ‘upper’ pecs, though they are thoroughly activated during a regular bench . If you are going to do an incline bench though in order to stress your body for that particular range of movement (say for sport related reasons), than be sure to keep your butt on the bench . Lifting it means you should just quite wasting time and go do a classic bench , since that’s what in effect you are doing.
So there you have it. For maximum muscle stress and strength development, skip these variations and do the classic bench and the shoulder press. However, if for any particular reason you want to train for the isolated benefits these variations bring, now you know why and how.