The chest press is the quintessential traditional upper-body strength-training exercise. The bench press has been used by athletes, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts for decades. While the chest press with the barbell is so common, there are plenty of variations of the chest press and many different tools that will use the same technique.

Beginner considerations

If you have a history of shoulder injuries, impingement or tendinitis, this movement could give you some challenges. It is best to talk with your physical therapist to determine whether this movement is right for you. If you are new to the chest press, it is best to first practice the technique with a chest-press machine before graduating to a barbell or dumbbells.

Best practices

Start by perfecting the push-up. The chest press is the exact same movement but a completely different setup and reaction to the body. While in a push-up, you are lowering your body to a fixed surface (the ground). In the chest press, you are fixed to a bench where the weights are moving around you. We call this “arms on body” (fixed). We refer to the push-up as “body on hands (fixed). In technical terms and in this example, it is the difference between a closed kinetic chain (body on hands) movement versus an open kinetic chain one (hands on body). It is always good practice to be good at closed kinetic chain movements before progressing to open chain movements.

Master this: Chest Press

  • Lie on your back on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar or dumbbells. (Grab a wider than shoulder-width grip if using the bar.)
  • Lift the barbell off the rack and hold directly over your sternum for a count of two. Lower the bar slowly toward your chest. If you have the capacity and range of motion to lower it to your chest, then do so. Pause for half a second, then drive the bar toward the ceiling. The bar will stay directly over the middle of your chest.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. For most people who want to improve their strength endurance, they will perform 12 to 15 repetitions or for 60 seconds.
  • Make sure you are completely rested in the arms and chest before starting another set. Remember, your heart rate is going to recover before your muscles.

Make it easier: Use the chest-press machine.

Make it harder: Add more weight to the bar, try it with a narrow grip, use a bench that is on an incline or use dumbbells.

Photo credit: Tom Casey,