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The bench press is an upper body exercise. The person performing the exercise lies on his or her back, lowers a weight to chest level, and then pushes the weight back up, straightening the arms. The exercise focuses on the development of the pectoralis major muscle as well as other supporting muscles including the anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, scapulae fixers, trapezii, and the triceps. The barbell bench press is one of three lifts in the sport of powerlifting and is used extensively in weight training, bodybuilding, and other types of lifting fitness training to develop the chest muscles.
The bench press has evolved over the years, from floor, bridge, and belly toss variations to the methods used by bodybuilders and powerlifters today.
At first the strict floor press was the most popular method. In 1899, using a barbell with 19-inch discs (plates), George Hackenshmidt, inventor of the barbell hack squat, rolled a barbell over his face (which was turned to the side) and performed a strict floor press with 361 pounds. This stood as a record for 18 years until Joe Nordquest broke it by 2 pounds in 1916.
Around this time, new methods started gaining ground. Lifters started figuring out that strong glutes could help them get the bar from the ground to overhead. They would lie on the floor and position the bar over their abdomen, then perform an explosive glute bridge movement, catapulting the bar upwards and catching it at lockout.
Lifting techniques and training have improved over the years, and the bench press record lift has grown from 363 pounds to more than 1,000 pounds in less than 100 years.
A conventional bench press uses pectoralis major muscle, anterior deltoid, coracobrachialis to horizontally adduct the shoulder. It also uses predominantly triceps brachii and anconeous to extend the elbows. Wider hand spacing places a greater emphasis on shoulder flexion and narrower hand spacing utilizes more elbow extension. Because of this, wider hand spacing is associated with training the pectorals and narrower hand spacing is associated with training the triceps.
In addition to the major phasic (dynamic) muscles the bench press also uses tonic (stabilizing) muscles: scapular stabilizers (serratus anterior, middle and inferior trapezius), humeral head stabilizers (rotator cuff muscles), and core (transverse abdominis, obliques, multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum)
Variations of the bench press involve different groups of muscles, or involve the same muscles in different ways:
- The flat bench press involves both portions of the pectoralis major muscle but focuses on the lower (sternal) head as well as the anterior deltoid muscle. The term 'bench press' on its own is assumed to refer to a flat bench press.
- An incline elevates the shoulders and lowers the pelvis as if reclining in a chair; this variation emphasizes anterior deltoids with little emphasis at the upper (clavicular) head of the pectoralis major. This variation is called the incline bench press.
- A decline bench press elevates the pelvis and lowers the head, and emphasizes the lower portion of the pectoralis major.
- A reverse grip bench press utilizes an underhand (supinated) grip on the bar. A supinated grip externally rotates the humerus, which puts the shoulders in a much more favorable position for the lift, decreasing injury potential without compromising range of motion. It emphasises the clavicular head of the pectoralis major more than an incline bench press. On the eccentric phase of the lift, the bar path will create a larger arc and eventually touch a point on the chest that is lower compared to the regular bench press, because the upper arms and elbows are closer to the body and the angle between the humerus and the torso is smaller.
- A bench press performed with the hands close together ("close grip") relies on the triceps to complete the pressing motion. Called the close grip bench press, this variation is best performed with arms in a near-vertical position to reduce strain placed upon the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
- A bench press performed with the hands far apart ("wide grip") shortens the range of motion, lessening the contribution of the triceps.
- A lifter can elect to lower the bar to nipple level, to the xiphoid process, or even further, to the abdomen. On the other hand, a lifter may lower the bar to a very high point on the chest, or even to the neck; the latter variation is called a guillotine press and emphasizes the upper pectorals.
- The bench press can be performed with various modifications to make the lifter or the weight less stable. Examples include lifting on a Swiss ball, using dumbbells instead of a barbell, or lifting with the legs on the bench or in the air
- The bench press can be performed with chains and bands, popularized in powerlifting by Westside Barbell. Chains and bands are used to strengthen the top end of the range of motion in the movement (the 'lockout') and develop explosive power in the bench press.
- An 'equipped' bench press is performed with a stiff, supportive shirt that allows greater weights to be used. The materials and cut of the bench shirt, as well as the skill of the lifter and the rules of performance, will determine how much additional weight can be pressed in the shirt as opposed to without it. The contrast between equipped, and unequipped (raw) bench press weights is illustrated in the progression of the bench press world records, with the record equipped lift exceeding the unequipped lift by hundreds of pounds.
Performing the bench press can contribute to multiple types of injuries:
- Torn ligaments/tendons in shoulders.
- Injuries to the trapezius muscle.
- Elbow/wrist strains.
- Cracked or broken ribs, usually the result of bouncing the bar off of the chest to add momentum to the lift or a loss of strength causing the bar to fall onto the chest.
- Distal clavicular osteolysis: bone spur or erosion at the end of the clavicle. Athletes suffering from this condition should avoid doing bench presses.
- Torn or damaged rotator cuff.
- Death by asphyxiation by being trapped under the bar (several each year).
- NFL Scouting Combine#Bench press records
- Progression of the bench press world record
- Push up
- Chin-up bar
- Contreras, Bret (2011-12-15). "The Best Damn Bench Press Article Period". T Nation. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
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- "Barbell Incline Bench Press". Exrx.net. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
- Phung, John (2013-08-14). "Master the Reverse-Grip Bench Press". T Nation. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
- The Close Grip Bench Press Mistake You’re Probably Making. "The Close Grip Bench Press Mistake You’re Probably Making". Muscle and Brawn. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
- "How to Bench Press like a Pro: A deep look at Bench Press Form". LIFT. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
- IOC Sport Medicine Manual 2000 available in .PDF form online
- "Petition Requesting Labeling of Weightlifting Bench-Press Benches to Reduce or Prevent Deaths Due to Asphyxia/Anoxia". US Consumer Product Safety Commission. May 13 2004. Retrieved 2014-08-14.