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The bench press is a popular compound exercise for both at home or in the gym. Find out what equipment you need and what options you have.
Bench presses are an exercise where you lie down on a surface, usually a weight bench, and push a weight, usually a barbell, up and down with the help of your chest and tricep muscles.
So to do bench presses you basically need two categories of equipment. The first is an elevated platform that is sturdy, stable, and preferably comfortable.
The second is some type of resistance to push up and down. Especially if you are more experienced this is preferably something with high resistance since your chest muscles are relatively strong.
In both categories, there are a variety of options with each their advantages and disadvantages.
1. Weight bench
A weight bench is a type of padded bench without back support that is a very standard piece of equipment at most gyms. It is also generally considered to be the ideal thing to lie down on for a bench press.
Within the category of weight benches there are a variety of different options. In the case of the bench press exercise this can make an important difference.
First of all, you have the simple flat weight bench. If you choose this option you will have to get a barbell rack separately.
Secondly, you have weight benches with adjustable angles. This allows you to do either incline or decline bench presses depending on the bench and your personal preference.
Incline bench presses focus more on the upper part of your chest muscles and shoulders. Decline bench presses focus more on the lower part of your chest muscles.
Both types of weight benches can also come with a barbell rack attached to do bench presses. These models generally require a bigger budget than without a barbell rack. However, this way you don’t have to invest in an extra barbell rack to do a bench press.
If you also plan to do back squats it may be more budget-friendly to just get a power rack and separate weight bench. The best choice depends ultimately on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and budget.
2. Barbell and weight plates
A barbell is a long bar that can hold weight plates. It is one of the most popular equipment options to add resistance to bench presses.
One reason for this is that you can easily load a barbell with many weight plates which may be needed to grow and strengthen chest muscles if you are more advanced.
A benefit of investing in a barbell for your home workouts is that it allows you to do many other exercises for a variety of body parts.
Another benefit of a barbell is that it generally lasts an extremely long time. One investment can potentially improve your workouts for many years and potentially even decades. On top of that, a barbell does not really lose its value a lot.
This means that if you decide to stop using the barbell you can likely sell it for a very similar price as what you put into it.
A downside of the barbell when it comes to doing bench presses at home is that you likely don’t have a spotter to help you out if you come close to failure. It may be smart to invest in safety bars to avoid any accidents.
Another potential disadvantage is that a barbell with weight plates often requires a slightly bigger investment compared to more short-term fitness equipment like resistance bands.
3. Barbell rack
To get in position to do a bench press you also need equipment that holds the barbell. In case your weight bench came with a barbell rack attached you can skip this option. If not you have a few options to choose from.
If you only need a barbell rack for bench presses and you do not lift very heavy, you can consider some of the simpler equipment options.
It is also possible that you also want a barbell rack for squatting heavy weights. In that case, it can be worth it to get a slightly bigger and sturdier rack with extra safety bars.
Even though steel power racks do not lose their value fast, keep in mind that this piece of bench press equipment does require a higher investment.
4. One-handed free weights
One-handed free weights are basically the free weights category excluding the barbell and the EZ curl bar. This distinction is relevant when talking about bench press equipment.
Some examples of one-handed free weights are dumbbells, kettlebells, the right types of weight plates, certain sandbags, wrist weights, etc.
As you become more and more advanced when it comes to chest and tricep training, you may need relatively heavy equipment to make bench presses challenging enough.
A potential disadvantage of one-handed free weights is that they have a lower weight ceiling compared to a loaded barbell which may not be heavy enough. If you are more of a beginner or intermediate this may not be an issue yet.
A benefit of using one-handed free weights for bench presses, especially when working out alone at home, is that it becomes safer to do the exercise without a spotter or safety bars.
Similar to a barbell, weight plates, and barbell rack, one-handed weights like dumbbells or kettlebells can last a very long time. On top of that, many of these weights do not really lose their value.
5. Chest press machine
The chest press machine is basically the popular bench press exercise in machine form. Instead of using a barbell and lying down on a weight bench, the weights have a fixed motion and you are sitting down with your back against back support.
Some of these machine chest presses even come in incline or decline form to resemble bench presses on a tilted bench.
A potential upside or downside of this piece of bench press equipment is that you have to pay less attention to balancing the weights compared to the free weight setups.
This can lead to more focus on training your chest, tricep, and shoulder muscles which can in turn lead to more and faster muscle gain.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this type of bench press equipment can be relatively expensive.
If you decide to invest and/or use a chest press machine make sure you adjust the seat and handles to the right settings for you personally.
Your upper arms should be at about a 45-degree angle to your upper body in starting position. If your shoulders hurt during the motion it may be a sign that the machine settings or your technique are suboptimal.
6. Exercise ball
While the bench press is traditionally done with a weight bench, you can also use an exercise ball as a bench press “bench” in certain situations.
An exercise ball, also known as a stability or yoga ball, is a soft elastic ball. Using this piece of equipment for a chest press will mostly be for beginners and possibly intermediates who use resistance bands or don’t use very heavy weights.
Before using an exercise ball as back support in a “bench” press make sure the weight capacity of the ball is enough for you and the weights you intend to use.
A benefit of exercise balls is that they can also be used in a variety of other exercises, especially in balance and flexibility workouts. Exercise balls are also relatively inexpensive, especially compared to a weight bench.
7. Resistance bands
Resistance bands are an inexpensive type of fitness equipment that are basically elastic cords. You can use this piece of exercise equipment instead of free weights as resistance for bench presses.
This is more of an option for resistance training beginners and intermediates when it comes to how much resistance it can create. Some people also find free weights a more comfortable option for bench presses.
The main benefit of resistance bands compared to these other equipment options is that resistance bands are very inexpensive. Besides that, they are also easy to store, versatile, and very portable.
One downside is that resistance bands are not the type of gym equipment you can use for the rest of your life. At least every few years you will need to replace the last set with new resistance bands.
So heavy resistance bands can mainly be a good piece of bench press equipment for beginners that don’t (yet) want to commit to or have the budget for some of the more expensive weight options.
What equipment do you need for bench presses?
In essence, you need something sturdy to lie down on and resistance to press up. A weight bench and barbell are the most popular equipment choices. Besides that, you can use one-handed free weights, a plyo box, resistance bands, and an exercise ball for “bench” presses in certain situations.
What are bench press racks called?
There is not really a standard name for bench press racks. Some other names include bench press station, barbell rack, bench press stand.
What can I use as a bench for bench presses?
A good weight bench is generally recommended since it is so sturdy and has a high weight limit. For light weights and with caution you may be able to use objects like an exercise ball, plyo box, and stepper as a “bench” for bench presses.
How much does a bench press cost?
At the time of writing a standard bench press setup can go from about 350 USD to 1300 USD and more depending on quality, amount of weight you use, what pieces of bench press equipment you choose, etc. There are also less typical equipment alternatives that allow beginners to do a form of bench presses in a cheaper way.