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I Want to Start Bench-Pressing at Home, What Kind of Bench Should I Lie Upon?

The kitchen table is just killing my back

For many years, roughly 25 million Americans have considered the home gym to be the foundation of their fitness regimen. This being the case, and given that it isn’t the most hygienic practice to be doing chest flys in the middle of the dining room — let alone smack dab in the middle of the dining room table — many people allocate either a portion of their basements, or their entire basement, to their home gyms.

I’d argue that the foundation of a solid gym begins with a hard, stable floor, but I wouldn’t argue too strenuously with those who would proffer a weight bench as the centerpiece around which a proper home gym is meant to be erected. Regardless as to whether you assign preeminence to the floor or a weight bench, it would be altogether unthinkable to refer to your home gym as home gym if it lacks a bench of any kind. 

How can I support this claim? By virtue of the fact that almost every gimmicky, innovative or compact home-gym replacement still makes some use of a weight bench, either outright, or within its fundamental design.

To deduce which weight bench is most appropriate for your home gym, let’s start with the reasons why certain weight benches aren’t ideally suited to be utilized in your home gym — at least not as your very first purchase. The first thing we should keep in mind is that some weight benches are the most ideal choices for certain lifts, but they may lack the adaptability that would make them the best option for engaging in the greatest number of common lifts.

Really? Isn’t a flat bench the best option?

I understand why you’d think so. The bench press is the exercise you were probably taught to regard as the most important measurement of upper-body strength from the time you started high school and heard the football players obsessing over their maximum numbers on the bench. Or it may have something to do with the publicity surrounding the NFL Combine, where all participants must press the 225-pound bar as many times as they possibly can, with the results publicly disclosed and evaluated by folks who couldn’t lift the bar once if their lives depended on it.

We’ll get into whether or not the bench press is honestly that important another time, but there’s no denying that a stable, flat bench is the most ideal surface upon which to perform the traditional bench press. Also, the flat bench will further provide you with the most stable surface for performing single-arm dumbbell rows, and lying tricep extensions, aka “skull crushers.”

But aside from these exercises, the flat bench wouldn’t be the optimal first purchase if you require the greatest amount of adjustability for the sake of performing the most ample number of exercises (if, for example, you want to do anything incorporating an atypical or inclined angle, or anything necessitating back support).

So I need an incline bench?

That’s what I’d suggest, but I wouldn’t stop there. Several exercises are most effective when the body is placed at a position of declination. This includes certain types of chest, tricep and back exercises. Therefore, if you only have room for one type of bench, it would help if the portion for the upper body could be placed in a decline position, and if the lower-body portion can be inclined in order to further support the declined positioning of said upper body.

But wait… Doesn’t my weight bench need those rack things on it to hold and elevate the weight if I’m going to bench press it?

Great question! You’re talking about getting a bench with the built-in barbell rack or barbell rest. The answer is, you only need one if you’re going to be performing heavy pressing exercises with a barbell. If you’re going to ask me whether or not you should be doing heavy pressing exercises with a barbell, I’m going to tell you that it depends on a lot of factors, including your specific strength goals. If you’re a wrecking ball like my colleague Oliver Lee Bateman, and you’re routinely chucking around barbells in the 400-pound range, you will need a barbell rest built into your bench.

Why? Because Bateman may be the second coming of Samson, but he’s still merely a mortal man. He’s not going to power clean a 400-pound barbell off the floor, and then casually lie down on the bench to begin repping it out. This would mean he’d need to perform a lift that would qualify as elite for a 300-plus-pound man simply in order to position himself to be able to perform a second elite lift. Obviously then, Bateman needs the weight to begin from a stable overhead position so that he can control its descent, before placing it back where he got it from without leaving potholes in his basement floor, or shattered mirrors against the walls.

If you’re a member of the 400-pound bench club, then you’re a beast among men, and probably rank among the top 0.5 percent of men who actually train. Aside from these demigods, most people can achieve the level of strength training they require by pressing far less weight with dumbbells, so I’d rank the necessity of weight bench adjustability as being of far greater importance than any requirement for a barbell rest.

In summation, don’t think of the bench as merely a bench-pressing tool; think of the bench as a multi-purpose tool intended to help you work the greatest percentage of muscles from the highest percentage of angles. Taking all things into consideration, a bench capable of inclining and declining is your safest, smartest bet, as long as you don’t need to impress any of your accomplished friends with your strict bench-pressing aptitude.