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Luke Zocchi

Nail your bench press form with Luke Zocchi

Luke Zocchi

How is your bench press form? If you want to build your chest, you can’t go past this classic strength training exercise.

I’ve coached Chris through a LOT of bench presses over the years. It’s a key exercise in Centr Power, the 13-week muscle-building program inspired by the training we used to prepare Chris for his role as Thor.

Let’s take a look at why this exercise works so well for building a powerful chest, and how to do it right.

What is a bench press?

A bench press (some people call it a chest press) is pretty simple: you push a weight up and away from your body and then lower it back down with control, usually while lying on a bench.

When performing a bench press, muscles worked are your chest, shoulders and triceps. That makes it a must if you want to achieve serious strength and size in your upper body. But to maximize gains and avoid injury, you need to perform the move with proper form. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Bobby to demonstrate how to bench press correctly. We’ll also show you two bench press variations to target your muscles from all angles. 

Looking for advice on how to get results with no (or low) equipment? Check out our tips to build your chest at home

Now let’s lock in your bench press technique.

How to do a bench press 

Follow these steps to press like a pro.

  1. Lay back on the bench, with knees bent and feet on the floor, then grip the bar -– your bench press hand position should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

  2. De-rack the bar so you are holding it with your arms straight above your chest. Press your shoulder blades back into the bench, then lower your elbows down at a 45 degree angle to your body – controlling the bar all the way down – until the bar just lightly touches your chest.
  3. Press the bar back up until you lock your arms out straight.

Bonus bench press tips:

  • If you are a beginner, remember your bench press grip should be with fists closed, so the bar doesn't slip.

  • Pressing your shoulders down and into the bench will keep them safe.

  • Firmly plant your feet under your knees and drive your knees out to help engage your glutes and stabilize your body.

  • Your forearms should remain straight throughout the lift.

Bench press variations and modifications

Now you’ve nailed your form on the classic press, let’s step it up a level. Try these modifications and variations to hit slightly different muscle groups and challenge yourself. 

Dumbbell incline bench press

The incline bench press shifts the focus of the exercise to your upper pecs, while also activating your shoulders more than a regular bench press. Using dumbbells rather than a barbell is also a good tactic to build up stabilizing muscles and to balance out your strength if you have a weaker side.

The set up for the exercise is largely the same as a flat bench press, except the top of the bench is set up at a 30 degree angle.

Bonus dumbbell incline bench press tips:

  • Plant your feet firmly below your knees for stability.

  • Shoulders down and away from your ears – engaging your lats will help keep them down.

  • Chest up to ensure you're working the right muscles.

  • Activate your core to support your lower back.

Dumbbell or barbell floor press

What’s my tactic when the bench is busy at the gym? Don’t move onto another exercise, just hit the floor. The biggest difference between a bench and a floor press is the range of motion – when you’re on a bench, your elbows can dip below your torso, which challenges your chest muscles further. But a floor press has its own challenges.

You won’t be able to lift as heavy on the floor as you can on the bench, because you don’t have the power assist from your legs, which places a bigger workload on your upper body. When your elbows touch down in a floor press, they lose tension, which means the press back up takes extra effort. 

If you have any shoulder issues, the floor press may be a good option as the decreased range of motion places less strain on your shoulders.

Bonus barbell floor press tips:

  • If you are a beginner, close your fists when gripping the bar so it doesn't slip.

  • Press your shoulder blades down into the floor to avoid your shoulders rounding or back flattening.

  • Engage your core to support your lower back.

  • Keep your chest up high to ensure you're working the correct muscles.

  • Think about "bending" the bar as you pull down to help nail this movement.

If you’re new to lifting, be sure to lock in your bench press form with only a bar (or light dumbbells) before adding weight. 

Are you supposed to arch your back during a bench press?

It is totally okay and natural for your back to arch off the bench. If you’ve got a big arch, but it feels right and natural for you, don’t worry about it.

What muscles does a bench press work?

A bench press targets your chest, shoulders, triceps, with some minor involvement from your core and hip flexors to keep your stable.

How much does the bench press bar weigh?

Most bench press bars you’ll find at your local gym will weigh 44lbs (20kg). If that’s too heavy a starting weight for you, grab some lighter dumbbells before progressing to the bar.

How can I improve my bench press?

Once you’ve got your form down, improving your bench press comes down to utilizing progressive overload and eating enough to fuel your workouts and muscle growth.

What is progressive overload? Simply put, progressive overload is upping the intensity of your training so that your body is forced to adapt and get stronger. The most common way to achieve progressive overload in strength training is to increase the weight you lift.

Say you’re doing a set of 6 barbell curls – you want to be working with a weight that challenges you on the 6th rep, yet still allows you to complete the curl with good form. As you get stronger, you’ll find that the 6th rep becomes easy – that’s when you’re ready to add weight.

We recommend increasing your weight by 2-5 pounds (1-2kg) maximum when you can breeze through your last few reps.

Want more muscle-building tips from the best?

Luke Zocchi
HIIT HIRT • STRENGTH • MUSCLE-BUILDING

Chris Hemsworth may wield the hammer, but it’s his personal trainer Luke Zocchi who cracks the whip. A certified personal trainer, Luke is renowned for his fast and efficient training methods, using weights and bodyweight to get maximum results in minimum time. He’ll also show you how to fuel your training with quick, easy and healthy recipes.

Luke Zocchi

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