What Muscles Are Used in a Bench Press?

Man helping woman with weightlifting

The bench press is a fairly popular exercise in most fitness centers. This is due to its effect on overall upper body strength and toning. The bench press is typically performed with a barbell loaded with weighted plates and is performed lying on a weight bench. Because the bench press primarily targets the upper body, it should be considered just one component of a full body resistance program.

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major, or chest, is one of the bigger muscles in the body. It is located across the front portion of the upper body and acts as the major stabilizing force in the bench press. The chest allows the "pressing" of the bar upward by creating movement at the shoulder joint, referred to as flexion. Its other major role is to decelerate the shoulder and elbow as you lower the bar down to your chest.

Anterior Deltoid

The deltoid muscle creates the rounded contour of the shoulder. The anterior segment of the deltoid is in the front part of that shoulder. On its own, this muscle is too weak in strict flexion to push the bar up and requires assistance from the pectoralis major to initiate the bench press. The deltoid also is vital in controlling the eccentric, or downward, phase of the bench press. If the bar is brought down to the point it touches the chest, it could strain to the shoulder.

Triceps Brachii

The triceps brachii, Latin for "three-headed arm muscle," is the large muscle on the back of the upper arm. It is the area primarily responsible for extension of the elbow joint when you straighten your arm. The triceps are worked in isolation or compound elbow extension movements. An isolation movement is an activity that engages one muscle, such as overhead arm extensions. A compound movement incorporates multiple muscle groups or multiple joints. The bench press requires compound action from the triceps. The lateral and long head of the triceps dominate when there is a demand for a high intensity force, as in the bench press. In benching, a full range of motion requires a synergy between the elbow and shoulder.