How to build strength vs. build muscle in the bench press

You probably bench press every week (and maybe even several times a week) as part of your training routine. The exercise is a staple of the workout because it has a reputation for being a surefire way to build big pecs. Barbell bench press is also one of the big three exercises that powerlifters build their entire existence with the goal of piling more and more plates onto the bar in order to reach the highest total weight they can handle.

But these two aspects of the bench press mean that there are different approaches to the lift, both in terms of training philosophy and technique, to achieve the goal at hand – and if you want to make the most of your time and effort under the barbell, men health Fitness Director Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS, says you should make sure you’re aiming for one or the other.

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

Bodybuilder style bench press

● Engage your core

●Maintain a slight arch in the thoracic spine

It’s about maximizing time under tension and getting your chest to work as much as possible.

Powerlifter style bench press

● Arch your back as much as possible and keep your buttocks on the pad

The point of this position is that it helps change the angle of the bar on a slope and decreases the distance the bar has 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 to you? What are your goals in the weight room?

If you want to build big muscles but don’t care that much about your fitness stats, opt for the bodybuilder-style bench press. You’ll get plenty of chest stimulation (and you may find that you prefer to swap out the barbell for other options that allow you to focus on the muscles to emphasize growth and shape). This will be the best option for most people.

Raw strength might be your end goal, and that’s okay too. There are few feats more satisfying than adding a new plate to the bar and crushing a repeat offender. Opt for the powerlifter-style bench press and focus on gradually adding more weight to your PR max by training intelligently with a program you can safely scale with.

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