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The barbell bench press is one of the most crucial exercises for building size and strength in the pecs, front delts, and triceps. But your primary goal of building size or strength will dictate your form and technique in this all-important move. Bodybuilding is about training the muscles to become bigger, more symmetrical, and, ultimately, more aesthetically appealing. Regardless of the exercise, bodybuilders strive to perform moderate rep ranges (8–12 reps per set is standard, although abs, calves, and sometimes even legs respond well to high reps); strict technique (keeping the weight under full control in every rep) and a full range of motion (not stopping halfway).
Yet when it comes to benching, powerlifters have different concerns. Because they use so much weight (the world’s top benchers press about 1,000 pounds), they need to keep their feet planted during the lift. This is fine for bodybuilders, but it’s less critical. In fact, lifting your feet of the floor when benching (assuming you’re not going too heavy) is a good way to train your torso’s stabilizing muscles. Powerlifters also increase stability by pulling their shoulders down and in during the movement and locking out the elbows at the top of the lift.
This isn’t the ideal way for bodybuilders to bench press. As you lift the bar, think about pushing your shoulders forward and squeezing your pecs together at the top of each rep. This increase in range of motion is fairly small, but it’s nonetheless significant: It prevents you from using your triceps too much at the top and keeps maximum tension on the pecs. Locking out your elbows will do little for you as a bodybuilder. Powerlifters also adjust their grip width on the bar (wider or narrower) according to what allows them to lift the most weight. The grip width used by bodybuilders will vary depending on individual proportions, but you need to make sure the pecs do more of the work. With too narrow a grip, you end up working the triceps rather than the pecs. I suggest keeping your bench-press grip outside shoulder width for maximum pec development. Another key benching technique for powerlifters is keeping the elbows in tight to their sides to increase power output. For bodybuilding, keep your elbows out to your sides, to the point where your upper arms are about perpendicular to your torso. Again, this will maintain tension on the pecs and minimize triceps involvement. It’s not about being able to answer the question of how much do you bench with some inflated number. If you’re after bigger pecs, leave the 1,000-pound benches to the powerlifters.