Top 5 Barbell Exercises For Chest
A strong barbell bench press is synonymous with a powerful chest. However, there are other great variations you can use to bring up lagging muscle groups and improve your upper body strength.
Incorporate these five, key bench press variations into your program, and target your chest from every possible method of attack!
Standard Bench Press
When you’re inevitably asked at the gym “how much do you bench, bro?”, it’s safe to say the standard, flat bench press is what’s being referred to. It stimulates the chest, shoulders, triceps, and if you know how to properly activate them, your lats..
To accomplish this...
- Lay down & grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width (or whatever works comfortably for you as a neutral position).
- Keep a slight arch in your mid-back with your glutes remaining the bench.
- Retract your shoulder blades (meaning you’re squeezing them together). Imagine pinching a quarter between your upper back.
- With your feet planted flat against the floor, you’re now set up properly to support the lift with your legs (quad drive) and core.
As you un-rack the weight, imagine you’re trying to bend the bar inwards with your pinky fingers. This will assure your elbows are pointed inwards which reduces the risk of potential bicep or elbow injuries by properly engaging your upper body musculature.
Keeping your body tight and your head flat to the bench, bring the weight down to the middle/lower portion of your chest slowly, pausing briefly at the bottom before driving the weight back up.
Keep the tension on the muscle throughout the lift and don’t fully lock your elbows out. If you’re making sure to keep your elbows tucked in throughout the lift as you should, you’ll notice the trajectory of the bar follows a slight upward curve towards your face as you push it back up, and this is what you want.
It’ll bring more of your lats into the lift which will ultimately enable you to generate more force on heavier weights!
Related Article: The Biomechanics of the Bench Press
Close Grip Bench Press
Predominantly working the triceps, the close grip bench press is a top accessory movement for upper body strength.
Set your grip so your forearm is relatively perpendicular to your elbow. You do not want your grip too close because this can cause potential elbow and/or wrist pain long term. You will want to begin with lighter weight to develop a strength base. The common error is throwing on weight similar to your standard bench press.
I do not recommend doing heaver sets of 1-5 reps because serious elbow/wrist pain could result if one is not proficient in the exercise. 3 to 4 sets, 10-15 reps is a good sweet spot to elicit some serious tricep gains with this bench press variation
The close grip bench is a fundamental tricep mass builder any serious lifter should implement into their programming!
Wide Grip Bench Press
Opposite of the close grip is the wide grip variation. Exactly as you’d expect, this lift requires you to take a slightly wider grip on the bar than normal. Nothing too crazy, just slightly wider than that of your standard bench press grip. This wide grip bench isolates the chest more by lessening the involvement of the triceps.
Again, when you’re lowering and raising the bar, keep it controlled, keep your core and legs tight.
Keep those elbows in using the pinky technique, and also be aware that the wide grip bench press inherently places your shoulders and chest in more of an awkward position than the other variations. You don’t want to place too much tension on the area as doing so is a recipe for a serious injury, so use a sensible weight and keep your form tight and locked in!
Similar to the close grip bench, 3 to 4 sets at 10 to 15 reps is a good range to get the most out of the lift where hypertrophy (growth) is concerned.
Guillotine Bench Press
The guillotine press is, to be honest, exactly as it sounds. It’s essentially a wide grip bench press whereby instead of lowering the bar to your chest, you lower it down to your neck. The concept and subsequent title of the lift should tell you everything you need to know about the safety concerns associated with it, but when performed correctly; this bench press variation has the propensity to isolate the chest like no other!
Taking the same form & set up as the other variations, assume your wide grip bench press grip, slowly lower the bar down to your neck, ensuring you’re not lowering it all the way down and actually touching your neck.
Considering the precarious nature of the lift, you’re going to want to start light with this one. Start with the bar only and slowly work your way up, focusing on getting your technique. Fully familiarize yourself with the biomechanics of this lift.
NEVER go heavy on this movement. Focus on getting a quality chest pump and not breaking PR's.
Incline Bench Press
Truth be told, any of the above bench press variations (with maybe the exception of the guillotine press) can be equivalently performed at an incline.
Keeping the rock solid form discussed earlier, slowly lower the bar down this time to your upper chest and press up. Incline bench press variations predominantly target the clavicular head of the pectoralis major - the upper chest. Adjust your grip accordingly if you want to use the incline elevation for any of the other variations.
The bench press is truly the undisputed champ when it comes to developing a show-stopping chest, along with being a foundation for building your triceps and shoulders.
Intersperse these variations into your own program while focusing on progression with proper execution, and you’ll reap the physical benefits each movement has to offer!