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What Muscles Does Bench Press Work?

Whether you're a novice lifter or a seasoned athlete, incorporating the bench press into your routine is a surefire way to enhance strength and muscle development.

The bench press is perhaps one of the most renowned exercises in the realm of weightlifting.

Its reputation isn't for nothing – this compound movement, when executed correctly, targets a plethora of muscles in the upper body, making it an indispensable exercise for those seeking both strength and aesthetic improvement.

In this blog, we'll delve deep into the anatomy of the bench press, highlighting the primary and secondary muscles involved and shedding light on why this workout remains a staple in many fitness regimens.

The Primary Muscles

primary muscles worked during bench press

Pectoralis Major

Your pectoralis major, more commonly known as the chest muscle, is the primary muscle group activated during the bench press. It consists of two main parts:

  1. Clavicular Head (Upper Chest): Situated below the collarbone, this part gets more engaged during an incline bench press.

  2. Sternal Head (Lower Chest): This portion extends from the sternum and becomes more activated during a decline bench press.

Engaging the pectoralis major helps in pushing the weight away from the chest.

As you press the barbell or dumbbell upwards, this muscle contracts, helping in the movement and stabilization of the weight.

Triceps Brachii

Situated at the back of the arm, the triceps are responsible for the extension of the elbow joint.

When you're pushing the weight up during a bench press, your triceps play a pivotal role.

There are three heads to the triceps – lateral, medial, and long. The bench press primarily targets the lateral and medial heads.

Secondary Muscles

Several secondary or stabilizing muscles are also activated during the movement.
These muscles assist in the motion and provide stability to the joints and body as a whole during the press. Here's a list of the secondary muscles engaged during a bench press:

Anterior Deltoid

anterior deltoid

The deltoids, or the shoulder muscles, have three heads – anterior (front), lateral (middle), and posterior (rear).

The bench press mainly targets the anterior deltoid. As you press the weight up and away from the chest, the front part of your shoulders assists the pectoralis major, offering stability and added force to the lift.

Serratus Anterior

serratus anterior muscle group

Often overlooked, the serratus anterior is located on the sides of your chest, stretching to the upper ribs.

When you're bench pressing, especially during the lockout phase at the top of the press, the serratus anterior stabilizes the scapula (shoulder blades) against the rib cage.

This ensures a smooth movement and protects against potential shoulder injuries.

Latissimus Dorsi

latissimus dorsi muscle group

Although it may seem odd to think of the lats being involved in a chest-dominant exercise, they play a crucial stabilization role.

Situated on your back, the latissimus dorsi muscles help to control the descent of the bar, ensuring it moves in a controlled, linear path.

Properly engaging your lats can also help protect your shoulders during the exercise.

Benefits of Bench Pressing

guy bench pressing

Beyond just building muscle, the bench press offers a range of benefits:

Functional Strength

By working multiple muscle groups, improving pushing mechanics, boosting bone density, and enhancing balance and stability, this exercise ensures that the strength you gain in the gym translates seamlessly to the demands of daily life.

Bone Density

By stimulating bone adaptation through mechanotransduction, encouraging the balance of osteoblast and osteoclast activity, and promoting beneficial hormonal responses, bench pressing can play a significant role in maintaining and improving bone density. 

Improved Athletic Performance

Many sports demand strong chest and tricep muscles, from swimming to basketball.


a guy bench pressing with wrong form

The bench press is not just an exercise to build a more prominent chest.

It's a compound movement that activates several muscles, both primary and secondary, ensuring a holistic upper-body workout.

By understanding which muscles are engaged, you can focus on form and technique to maximize gains and reduce the risk of injury.

Whether you're a novice lifter or a seasoned athlete, incorporating the bench press into your routine is a surefire way to enhance strength and muscle development.

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