Perhaps the most iconic and famous weightlifting move known to beginners and advanced lifters alike, the bench press is another compound movement you will assuredly see members performing in your gym. As with each other movement in the exercise series, knowing the proper form and equipment your gym patrons will need in order to stay safe and healthy puts you ahead of the game in terms of being able to provide a quality experience for your members.
The bench press is known for sculpting fit and strong upper bodies. Chiseled pectoral muscles and bigger arms are the main draws for lifters aiming for a specific physical aesthetic, but the most significant benefit of doing bench presses is the huge increases in overall bodily fitness this movement can provide.
The bench press is one of the “big six” weightlifting movements that, all together, cover every muscle group in the body in a balanced way. Doing bench presses challenges the muscle groups of the anterior upper body, including the chest, arms, and shoulders.
Almost everyone, even complete beginners and elderly exercisers, can benefit from doing bench presses for functional fitness as part of a healthy exercise routine.
To do a great bench press and activate all the correct muscles optimally, you’ll want to pay attention to details like the width of your grip on the bar and the incline (if any) on the bench you use. Bench presses can be done in many different ways by adjusting these variables to maximize a certain muscle group over another. As you get comfortable with the exercise, feel free to experiment a little bit with a narrower or a wider grip on the bar, or an inclined or declined bench. Just remember to do this with lighter weights on the bar so you don’t risk injuring yourself if your form isn’t perfect.
For now, however, we will focus on the standard bench press form, done on a flat bench with no incline and with a neutral grip width.
Start by lying on your back, on the bench with your face under the racked barbell, staring up at the bar. Reach up and grab the bar with both hands at a comfortable distance apart. Make sure you wrap your thumbs around the bar and stabilize it within a strong grip, so you don’t risk dropping the bar on yourself.
When you’re ready, lift the bar off of the rack. Pause for a moment before you begin, and keep your arms extended straight above you without locking your elbows.
Slowly lower the bar toward your chest. It should stay over the middle section of your chest, not too high or too low. You’ve reached the bottom of the movement when the bar brushes against or hovers just above your chest. From there, straighten your arms again to lift the bar and either return it to the rack or do another rep.
The simple push movement of the bench press can be replicated, or at least approximated, with a wide variety of equipment. For beginners who aren’t familiar with how to use a heavy barbell and weight plates safely, or for anyone who isn’t comfortable asking another person to be a spotter, you may want to provide:• Dumbbells and a flat bench• Resistance bands pushed forward, either from a lying down or a standing position• Cable resistance machines• Weight machines that mimic the bench press push
Your trainers can also remind beginners that the simple chest push movement can be done just as well without any equipment at all, by doing a standard pushup or a pushup from the knees!
However, to do a standard, proper bench press, your gym patrons will need the following equipment:• A bench – this can be a regular flat bench or one that accommodates an incline or decline position as well as the standard flat position. • A barbell with weight plates• Safety clips to hold the weight plates on the bar• A rack to hold the bar at the right height to begin the bench press movement with arms extended safely• Safety pins on the bench and rack setup that will catch a dropped barbell before it falls onto the person using the equipment
Safety and Liability
One of the biggest safety concerns you should definitely address within your gym is the availability of stable, well-anchored safety pins and catches on your bench press racks. In some bench press accidents, pins were the only thing standing between the person exercising and the crushing weight of a dropped barbell on the chest. Pins are absolutely necessary to have and to maintain in good repair on all of your weightlifting racks. Pay close attention to make sure safety pins are set at appropriate heights and that everyone doing a bench press in your gym is using them!
You will probably also want to encourage your gym members to ask each other to spot during exercises using heavy barbells. Spotters can also make the difference between a disaster averted and a lifelong injury. Especially with exercises like the bench press, where exercisers could be pinned and trapped under the weight of a dropped bar, spotters are a vital part of a safe workout routine. You can’t force your patrons to ask each other to spot, but you can post signs notifying people in the weightlifting area that any of your trainers would be happy to step in and spot a few sets whenever they are needed.
Beyond those two crucial items, the safety and liability concerns for bench presses are largely the same as the other weightlifting movements within the exercise series. A clear and uncluttered exercise area, readily available and functional clips to hold weight plates onto bars, and a sharp eye for bad form are likely all you need to make sure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience in your gym.
You will want to make sure each gym member signs an appropriate liability waiver and release form before they exercise in your facility. This is standard practice, and allows you to relax and enjoy running a business to help people get fit, happy, and healthy without worry!
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