You may see mainly men using the bench press and wonder if it is an exercise for women too. It is. The bench press strengthens your upper body and concentrates on improving the muscles in your chest. Although you may not immediately be able to lift as much weight as an experienced bench press user, you will see gains with proper form and technique.
The bench press is located in the free weight area of the fitness center. A barbell rests across two supports on either side of a flat bench. Lie face up on the bench with your eyes underneath the barbell. If your feet reach the floor and you can keep your lower back, head, butt and shoulders pressed onto the bench, you are in the right position. If not, bend your knees and place your feet on the bench or on a box on the floor. Grasp the bar with your palms facing toward your feet. Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart. Push up to lift the barbell off the supports. Inhale, bend your elbows and lower the bar toward the middle of your chest. Allow your elbows to drop lower than your sides. Exhale, straighten your elbows and push the barbell up. Keep a slight bend in your elbows at the top of the movement.
Select a weight with which you can perform between eight and 12 presses. If you cannot complete eight, the weight is too heavy. If you can complete more than 12, the weight is too light. A standard Olympic barbell weighs 45 pounds. If the barbell alone is too heavy, select a lighter bar. If the barbell isn't heavy enough, you can slide weight plates onto both ends to increase the resistance.
Once you master the bench press, you can vary your workout by changing the bench. Raise the top of the bench to a 45-degree angle from the floor and you have an incline bench. This exercise concentrates on the upper portion of your chest and involves more of your shoulders. If you lower the top of a bench to a 45-degree angle from the floor, you have a decline bench. This exercise concentrates of the lower portion or your chest. The exercise uses the same form except you bring the bar to the top of your chest with the incline and the bottom of your chest with the decline.
If you do not enjoy free weight exercises, you can use a bench press machine. You sit upright in the machine with the handles at chest level. The movement begins with your hands next to your shoulders and then you press forward as you straighten your arms. This upright position is helpful if you experience vertigo or if you have a pre-existing shoulder injury.
Aim to add the bench press into your workout routine two days a week. Allow two days of rest in between workouts.
A mother of two and passionate fitness presenter, Lisa M. Wolfe had her first fitness article published in 2001. She is the author of six fitness books and holds an Associate of Arts in exercise science from Oakland Community College. When not writing, Wolfe is hula-hooping, kayaking, walking or cycling.