While the majority of this site is dedicated to improving your bench press poundages, I believe it would be a good idea out together an article dedicated to the bodybuilding bench press.
The bodybuilding bench press is an altogether different animal that is completely separate from the max bench press. There is not one particular “best” way to bench and how you use the bench press may vary wildly based on your goals.
For example, most lifters seem to think of the bench press as a chest exercise but the truth is that it hits your chest, shoulders and triceps very hard. The muscle the bench favors depends on the person’s anthropometrics (body proportions and measurements), grip position, and development of the mind-muscle connection.
To clarify, the powerlifting-style bench press tends to work the shoulders and triceps in the long-limbed lifter and does not hit the chest as hard as it would in a lifter with shorter limbs. Additionally, a more advanced lifter can mentally force the chest to participate, whereas a novice will favor whatever his strongest muscle group is when benching.
The Bodybuilding Bench Press for the Short-Armed Lifter
If your arms are proportionally short to your body, a powerlifting style bench press will suit you just fine. Short-armed lifters can generally build a great chest just by improving their bench press strength. See the bench press technique article for details on this type of bench press.
If bench pressing for a lot of reps is uncomfortable on your shoulders, try benching with dumbbells using a neutral grip (palms facing each other). I would also recommend incline benching with a barbell, dumbbells, or on a plate-loaded machine to build the upper chest. You should not need any significant lower chest work.
Note that I am talking proportions here and not just the length of the limb. There are plenty of tall guys with relatively short arms and shorter guys with longer arms. As a rule of thumb, short-armed lifters will be stronger with a closer grip, whereas long-armed lifters prefer a wider grip.
The Bodybuilding Bench Press for the Average Lifter
For the average lifter, the flat bench press is still a good exercise but will not be the only exercise you need to build a big chest. For this population, the bench press is good to use as an initial heavy exercise to start a workout, which can then be followed up with other chest variations.
For example, the average lifter might start out a typical chest workout by working up to 5 rep max on the bench, then doing a few sets of 6-10 reps on the incline bench, moving over to the dip station and knocking out a few sets of 10-12, and then finishing with a few high rep sets of flies, during which the lifter would focus on the mind-muscle connection (feeling the chest contract).
The Bodybuilding Bench Press for the Long-Armed Lifter
If you are trying to build up your chest as a long-armed lifter, the bench press can be quite frustrating. Many lanky trainees simply use the shoulders and triceps to bench with minimal chest involvement.
The best way for a lanky lifter to get their chest in the game is by using the pre-exhaust method. This involves doing a chest isolation movement like the dumbbell fly for a set of 10-15 reps and then immediately following that up with a set of traditional bench press. The chest will be tired from the flies and the lifter will have a much easier time “feeling” the chest when benching.
Another good method is by changing arm position. A wide-grip guillotine press (bringing the bar to your neck) with the elbows flared will isolate the chest very well. Be warned that this type of bench places a lot of load on the shoulders. If you have shoulder pain, you should avoid this option and opt for pre-exhaust variation instead.
Although I love the bench press, you should know that you do not need to bench in order to build a big chest. Machines and pec deck variations are often a staple in the lanky lifter’s routine. When it comes to bodybuilding, the quality of the muscular contraction is as important as the load lifted.
You should now know exactly how to use the bodybuilding bench press. As the article mentions, everyone is different so you will have to try out the different methods listed in this article to figure out exactly what works best for you.