How to Bench Press to Build Strength vs. Building Muscle

You probably bench press every week as part of your workout routine (and maybe even multiple times a week). The exercise is a workout staple because of its reputation for being a surefire method for building big chest muscle. Barbell bench press is also one of the big three exercises powerlifters base their entire existence around, with the goal of piling ever more plates onto the bar for the highest total weight they can manage.

But those two aspects of the bench press mean that there are different ways to approach the lift, both in terms of training philosophy and technique, in order to accomplish the goal at hand—and if you want to make the most out of your time and effort under the barbell, Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. says you should make sure you’re targeting one or the other.

First, it’s important to understand the difference between the two approaches. Think of them as the bodybuilder style (to build muscle) and powerlifter style (to push the most amount of weight possible).

Bodybuilder-Style Bench Press

●Engage your core

●Maintain a slight arch in the thoracic spine

The point is maximizing time under tension, making your chest work as much as possible.

Powerlifter-Style Bench Press

●Arch the back as much as possible, keeping your butt on the pad

The point of this position is that it helps to change the angle of the bar to a decline and shortens the distance the bar needs to travel, making it easier to move heavier loads.

How to Choose the Right Bench Press for You

Now comes the question: What is most important for you? What are your goals in the weight room?

If you’re looking to build big muscles but you don’t care as much about your gym stats, go with the bodybuilder-style bench press. You’ll get plenty of chest stimulation (and eventually, you might find you prefer swapping the barbell for other options that allow you to home in on the muscles to accentuate growth and shape). This is going to be the best option for most people.

Brute strength might be your end goal, and that’s okay too. There are few more satisfying feats than adding a new plate to the bar and crushing a rep. Go with the powerlifter-style bench press, and focus on progressively adding more weight to your PR max by training smart with a program that allows you to scale up safely.

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Aish Barbara

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