How to Perform the Barbell Bench Press for Out-Of-The-World Chest Gains

The barbell bench press can give you out-of-this-world chest gains. But that's only if you do it properly — and perhaps more importantly, safely.

How to Perform the Barbell Bench Press for Out-Of-The-World Chest Gains

The barbell bench press is one of the best exercises for building your chest.

It has great potential for progressive overload, hits all regions of your chest, and, let’s be completely honest if it’s good enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger … well, you know how the rest goes.

The only problem?

Getting it right.

So, let’s tackle that today.

Proper barbell bench press form: a 5-part breakdown

1: Set-up

Hopefully, you know the bit about needing a bench, squat rack, and barbell (*fingers crossed*)

Once you’ve got all the equipment ready, position the bench underneath the barbell so that your eyes are directly underneath or ever-so-slightly behind the latter. Then, to find the perfect grip width that works for you (note: this depends on your anatomy):

  1. Pretend like you’re at the bottom of a dumbbell chest press
  2. Shift your elbow angle until your thumb aligns with your nipples (make sure your shoulders feel comfortable)
  3. Note the distance between your hands — that’s what you want to replicate on the barbell
A tiny note on grip width (disclaimer: “wide” and “close” are terms relative to your perfect grip):

1️⃣ Barbell bench press close grip will shift the load away from your chest to your triceps

2️⃣ Barbell bench press wide grip will shift the load away from your chest to your shoulders

It’s generally not recommended to deviate from your perfect grip width; remember that the goal of the barbell bench press is chest growth, not triceps or delt growth.

There are better-suited exercises for those. Just off the top of our minds:

  • Triceps: overhead triceps extension and triceps dips
  • Shoulders (front delts): overhead press and front raises

#2: Brace

Check your feet positioning before lying on the bench; make sure they’re level.

Once your back is on the bench, close your eyes for a nice lil’ nap grip the barbell using the width you determined earlier.

Create whole-body tension by:

  • Creating a slight arch in your upper back (it doesn’t have to be anything extreme, a good cue to think would be ‘Big Chest’)
  • Driving up with your legs, when done correctly, you should feel your glutes contracting
  • Bracing your core — think about filling your stomach with lots of air, like you’re a carbonated soda can

#3: Unrack

To avoid losing all the precious tension you’ve created in the “brace” step, contract your lats and “slide” the barbell out.

It’s important that you don’t lift the barbell out.

This compromises the shoulder position ideal for chest activation you created with that ‘Big Chest’ cue.

#4: Descend

Now, lower the barbell.

Think about replicating the most comfortable elbow position you get into with the dumbbell chest press. This will help you create a natural bar path that will help you feel as strong and comfortable as possible on the barbell bench press.

Of course, your bottom elbow position on the barbell bench press won’t be an exact fit with the dumbbell version because the barbell prevents your wrists from moving freely.

But just try to get as close as possible.

Go as deep as your mobility allows (make use of the stretch-mediated hypertrophy for more gains!) Think of touching your sternum with the barbell as a “nice-to-have”, but it’s not worth it if achieving that additional bit of ROM forces your shoulders to round.

#5: Ascend

Don’t just think about getting the bar up.

Instead, focus on contracting your chest. Think about bringing your arms closer together and only push until you feel a full contraction in your chest.

And … that’s 1 proper rep.

Additional safety tips

Because of all the Final Destination-esque news reports of people dying after getting their necks crushed by the barbell on the barbell bench press, please:

Get a reliable spotter who knows what they’re doing whenever possible
Do not use collar clips (so you can tilt the plates off if needed)
If you don’t have a spotter, be smart about the weight you’re using, i.e., don’t attempt your max or anywhere close to your max
Always use safety arms or pins; set them just slightly lower than where the barbell would be when touching your chest (make sure they’re of the correct height during warm-up sets before moving on to heavier weights!)
Always take a thumbs-around grip on the barbell (prevents the barbell from slipping out of your hands and onto your face or chest — dead)


If the barbell bench press still feels funny to you, try filming yourself in the gym.

Check your form against all the pointers shared in this article.

Sometimes, you may think you’ve done something (e.g., braced), but you haven’t (e.g., because you see your torso shaking violently from left to right in the video).

And if your form looks absolutely on-point on the video?

Well, if you’re 100% sure you’ve done everything correctly, unfortunately, the barbell bench press may not be a great fit for you.

But don’t despair just yet!

You don’t have to give up on your dreams of filling up those compression tees or looking good like Glen Powell did in Top Gun: Maverick (we trust everyone’s familiar with that iconic scene?).

There are plenty of other exercises that’ll target your chest just as well, including the:

You can’t strength-train your way to a massive chest if you’re not…

Eating enough (especially calories and protein)

An article you might find helpful:

Essential Tips For An Effective Bulking Season
When bulking, you want to put on lean muscle - not excessive fat. But this is hard to get right. So, here are 4 tips that’ll help you bulk. Effectively.

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