The bench press is the most essential upper body move for overall strength, power and muscular development. It has also inspired the world’s most ridiculous question: Man, how much can you bench?

This query is both embarrassing and meaningful. The amount of weight an athlete can move off of his or her chest translates directly to sport. For non-athletes concerned mostly about aesthetics, the move often correlates equally to chest size and definition.

Tim Henriques, NPTI sums it up nicely.

For the goals of improved strength, increased muscle size, improved athletic function and improved general fitness, the bench press is the best exercise for the upper body.

Ponder how the move translates to the field or court.

If I’m a defensive back and want to knock a wide receiver off of his pattern, I may thrust my arms and hands into his chest or face with as much force as I can muster. This action requires the muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps to fire, the groups targeted by the bench press. As a baseball or softball player, if I dive into the gap to catch a ball and need to pop up quickly to make a throw, I recruit the same muscles to thrust myself back to my feet. A hockey player stick checks with a near identical pattern, and Olajuwon most certainly used his strength accumulated beneath the bar to keep Shaquille O’Neal out of the paint.

Supporting larger quantities of weight than the push-up or cable crossover provides helps create a defined look up and down the torso. The muscles can only grow by training to support heavier loads. While there are alternatives, the bench press is a chesty King Kong.

To perform the bench press properly, follow these steps:

  1. Lie down on a flat bench. Maintain contact with the bench with your back, avoid any arching.
  2. Grab the bar with your hands (palms should face your feet) roughly shoulder width apart. The perfect spot isn’t necessary; comfort is the key, and you’ll experiment over time to find the appropriate distance.
  3. Press the barbell straight up from your chest to an extended position. Lower the weight in a controlled manner. Drive the weight back towards the ceiling.

As with all weight training exercises, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with the weight of the bar alone. If you’re new to weight training, you can use a broomstick. Slow progression is essential to avoiding injury, learning proper technique and ultimately achieving your strength and body composition goals.

Go hard, strong mind,