10 Bench Press Progressions From Beginner To Advanced

bench press progressions from beginner to advanced

Oftentimes when we lifters meet each other at the gym, one of the first questions you’ll hear is “how much ya bench?”. So how do we go about learning the bench press? How do we progress to a level where our answer to this question is an impressive amount? 

Here are my top 10 bench press progressions:

The bench press is arguably the most technical of the competition lifts, but this technique can be mastered with these progressions to yield a bigger bench! In this article, I’ll discuss how-to perform each variation, the differences between beginner and advanced lifters, and when it’s time to progress.

To prepare the body for the bench press we should first warm up; check out our science-backed Bench Press Warm Up

Bench Press Progressions: 10 Exercises

The following are variations of the bench press exercises that progress from a beginner to advanced level:

1. Scapular Push Up

The scapular push up is the first progression for the bench press because in order to master the lift, we first must be able to learn to retract the scapula (shoulders blades) to create a solid base to press from.

  • Place hands on a wall with arms extended, at eye level
  • Without bending the elbows, pull shoulder blades together. The chest will naturally come forward in this position
  • When scapula are squeezed together (retracted), ensure that they are also away from the ears (depressed), instead of shrugged up towards the neck
  • Push into the wall, release scapular retraction and try to round the upper back by pulling scapula away from one another (protraction) 
  • As we go through our pushups (retraction to protraction), ensure the core is staying fairly neutral. The motion should be coming from the thoracic spine instead of the lumbar spine. 

2. Elevated Push Up

While it is not a requirement to be able to do a pushup from the floor in order to bench press, it is important to learn the basics of a pressing motion. For this reason, a push up to an elevated surface is sufficient to incorporate the proper scapular movements, and the elbow positioning that will be required in the bench press.

  • For this progression, the lower the elevated surface the harder the movement will be
  • Choose an elevated surface that is the appropriate amount of difficulty, and position the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Place the body in a plank-like position with a neutral spine and hips at the same level as the shoulders
  • As we break at the elbow to start the movement, ensure that the elbows are maintaining a 45 degree angle in reference to the body (elbows pointing slightly behind us) – the elbows should not be at 90 degrees (pointing directly towards the sides)
  • The movement should be initiated by breaking at the elbows, and allowing the body to travel downwards as a unit until the chest touches the target surface.
  • Once the chest is in contact with the target, the shoulder blades should be retracted and depressed (squeezed together and away from the ears)
  • While maintaining the plank-like position, push the body away using the arms and return to the starting position

To learn more about the muscles involved in the bench press, checkout the Complete Guide For The Muscles Used In The Bench Press

3. Floor Press

The floor press is the first progression with a barbell that is used to teach the bench press, as it can help the lifter adjust to the weight of the barbell in their hands and teach them how to control the bar path in a limited range of motion 

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to easily unrack the bar while laying on the floor
  • Laying on the floor with knees bent, set up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar
  • Place hands slightly-wider than shoulder width and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (this creates a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar to straight arms
  • Start the movement by unlocking the elbows, and allowing them to descend to the ground at a 45 degree angle from the body. Elbows should be stacked directly under the wrist.
  • Once the triceps contact the ground, keep tension in the muscles and push the bar up and slightly back to the starting position

Want to learn more about the diffferences between the floor press and bench press? Check out my comparison of the floor press vs bench press to learn more.

4. Board Press

The board press is the next barbell progression because it teaches us to control the barbell to the board, to keep tension once the bar has reached the board, and to practice bar path in an increasing range of motion.

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to easily unrack the bar while laying on the bench
  • We can place a board under our shirt to hold it in place, or have someone else hold it in place for us
  • Set up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet should be in full contact with the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Place hands slightly-wider than shoulder width and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (this creates a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar to straight arms
  • Start the movement by unlocking the elbows, and ensuring they are approximately 45 degrees from the body. Elbows should be stacked directly under the wrist.
  • Lower the bar with control to the board, that should be sitting on the chest, and maintain tension as the bar touches the board (avoid letting the chest collapse)
  • Press the bar up and slightly back towards the rack to return to the starting position

5. Touch & Go Bench Press

The touch and go bench press is the first progression that utilizes the full range of motion of the bench press. At this point, we have mastered the basics and we are applying these skills to the full lift.

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to easily unrack the bar while laying on the bench
  • Set up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet should be in full contact with the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Place hands slightly-wider than shoulder width and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (this creates a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar to straight arms and maintain scapular positioning
  • Unlock the arms and bring the bar down to the chest, ensuring that the elbows are approximately 45 degrees from the body, and stacked directly under the wrist.
  • As the bar touches the chest, keep tension in the legs and arms and initiate the press up and slightly back, to return to the starting position

6. Competition Bench Press

The competition bench press is the variation that powerlifters use to compete; it may also be known as a “pause bench press” because when we are competing, the lift must be paused on the chest before pressing the bar back up to finish the lift. It requires us to maintain tension and exert force from a static position rather than using momentum.

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to easily unrack the bar while laying on the bench
  • Set up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet should be in full contact with the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Place hands slightly-wider than shoulder width and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (this creates a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar to straight arms and maintain scapular positioning
  • Unlock the arms and bring the bar down to the chest, ensuring that the elbows are approximately 45 degrees from the body, and stacked directly under the wrist.
  • As the bar touches the chest, keep tension in the legs and arms and pause until the bar is motionless (between 1-3 seconds) on the chest
  • Press the bar up and slightly back towards the rack to return to the starting position

To learn more about the competition bench press, check out our Complete Guide To The Powerlifting Rules For The Bench Press

7. Feet Up Bench Press

The feet up bench press is a harder progression of the bench press because it eliminates the leg drive that we use in a traditional bench press, and requires more stability during the lift by eliminating a point of contact.

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to easily unrack the bar while laying on the bench
  • Set up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet can place placed on the bench or elevated throughout the lift
  • Place hands slightly-wider than shoulder width and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (this creates a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar to straight arms and maintain scapular positioning
  • Unlock the arms and bring the bar down to the chest, ensuring that the elbows are approximately 45 degrees from the body, and stacked directly under the wrist.
  • As the bar touches the chest, keep tension in the arms and initiate the press up and slightly back, to return to the starting position

8. Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is the first progression for unilateral bench press variations. It is an important variation to teach lifters how to control and stabilize each arm separately, and addresses any strength imbalances one might have.

  • Sit on a bench and rest dumbbells on the legs
  • Lay back and use the legs to assist in positioning the dumbbells over the eyes with arms extended, then return the legs to the ground
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades back and down (retract and depress scapula)
  • Angle the dumbbells in the hands so that the thumbs are angled slightly towards the face
  • Initiate the movement by pulling the dumbbells down, with elbows maintaining a 45 degree angle with the body and stacked directly under the wrists.
  • Continue to lower the dumbbells until they are even with the chest, and then press up and slightly back, returning the dumbbells to their position over the eyes
  • If the dumbbells are drifting too far apart during the press, focus on bringing them together at the top of the press to practice control

For additional exercises to strengthen the bench press muscles, check out these 9 Highly Effective Bench Press Alternatives

9. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

The alternating dumbbell bench press is a unilateral movement because it allows us to focus on one arm at a time, despite having a weight in each hand. This variation is more advanced because we must stabilize each side individually during their alternating tasks

  • Sit on a bench and rest dumbbells on the legs
  • Lay back and use the legs to assist in positioning the dumbbells over the eyes with arms extended, then return the legs to the ground
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades back and down (retract and depress scapula)
  • Angle the dumbbells in the hands so that the thumbs are angled slightly towards the face
  • Initiate the movement by pulling one of the dumbbells down, with the elbow maintaining a 45 degree angle with the body and stacked directly under the wrist.
  • Continue to lower the dumbbell until it is even with the chest, and then press it up and slightly back, returning it its original position over the eyes
  • Initiate the movement with the other arm
  • Whichever arm is not working will remain fully extended over the eyes

10. Single Arm Bench Press

The hardest progression of the bench press is the single arm bench press, as it is a unilateral movement that requires increased stability of the upper body and trunk while the movement is performed on only one side with no counterbalance.

  • Sit on a bench and rest dumbbells on the legs
  • Lay back and use the legs to assist in positioning the dumbbell over the eyes and then return the legs to the ground
  • Both arms will be extended, although only one arm is the working arm
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades back and down (retract and depress scapula)
  • Angle the dumbbell so that the thumb is angled slightly towards the face
  • Initiate the movement by pulling the dumbbell down, with the elbow maintaining a 45 degree angle with the body and stacked directly under the wrist.
  • Continue to lower the dumbbell until it is even with the chest
  • Stabilize the body to ensure it does not twist to compensate for the unilateral loading
  • Press the dumbbell up and back to its position over the eyes
  • Complete all prescribed reps on one side, before switching sides

Wondering what is the best frequency to incorporate the bench press? Check out our article for How Many Times A Week You Should Bench Press

Differences Between Beginner And Advanced Lifter’s Bench Presses

differences between beginner and advanced lifter’s bench presses

Beginner and Advanced lifter’s bench presses are determined by their capabilities  in the following categories:

  • Movement Capacities
  • Movement Patterns
  • Maintenance Of Technique With Increased Demands

Movement Capacities

Beginner lifters will have more difficulty with the basics of the lift, such as retracting and depressing the shoulder blades, maintaining tension in the upper and lower body, and positioning of the wrist and elbows

These difficulties are common for beginner lifters as they will be placing their body in positions that do not occur frequently in everyday activities. In the beginning stages of learning they may not know when they are in the correct positions or not, due to a lack of body awareness.

Advanced lifters will have the proper positioning of the scapula, they will maximize their ability to arch to give them a competitive advantage, and maintain these positions to lift heavier weights. In addition, they will understand how to use their legs to help drive the weights up and back, and create more full body tension during the lift.

Interested in learning more about using the legs in the bench press? Check out our article on The Proper Way To Use Leg Drive For Bench Press

Movement Patterns

Beginner lifters will struggle with consistency in where they touch the bar, the path that the bar travels to and from the chest, and the smoothness of the movement. When we are learning, our movement patterns will be more hesitant and it is common to experience shaking or inefficient movements of the barbell when we try to perform the bench press.

Advanced lifters will be more in-tune with their movements, and be more consistent with their technique. They should know where to touch the bar and be fairly consistent with this touch point. In addition, they should know how to utilize the legs to assist in driving the bar up and back of the chest, and be able to tell when their bar path was on target or slightly off.

Check out my other article on the best bench press cues to help develop better movement patterns.  

Maintenance Of Technique With Increasing Demands

Beginner lifters will struggle to maintain their newfound technique when the demands are increased. They may lose control of the bar or the dumbbells as the weight increases, they may lose tension and struggle to achieve an efficient bar path. They may not be able to tell where their technique is breaking down or what movements are inefficient.

Advanced lifters are able to maintain their technique most of the time, even when the demands are increased. If however, they do deviate from their optimal technique they are able to identify why this deviation happened and what they can do differently to correct the mistake.

Here are a few more resources to check out: 

How To Know When To Progress To A Harder Variation

how to know when to progress to a harder variation

It is time to progress to a harder variation when we have mastered the movement patterns of the previous progression, are able to maintain these movement patterns after a number of sets and reps, and we feel confident that we can identify when we are in the right position and when we are not.

The movement progressions for the bench press are all exercises that I believe all lifters should be able to do. These exercises are all movements that would regularly appear in a powerlifting program to strengthen all aspects of the bench press. 


The bilateral movements for the bench press progressions improve strength and technique for the competition lift, and the unilateral movements build stability within the upper body and correct side-to-side differences in strength to prevent injury over time.

Other Powerlifting Progressions

Final Thoughts

By mastering the proper progressions, it is possible to go from a beginner to advanced lifter in the bench press and increase your strength and stability along the way. Completing these progressions not only increases the potential for a big bench, but also decreases our risk of injury by employing progressive loading of the tissues in multiple variations of the bench press.