Shortly after I implemented a structured warm-up routine for my bench press workouts, I felt more prepared to handle heavier weights confidently.
What’s a great bench press warm up?
- Stationary bike or rower for 15-minutes
- 1 to 3 mobility drills using a foam roller
- Dynamic stretching routine for 2 to 3 minutes
- 1 to 2 activation exercises including wall slides and a scapular push-up
If you’ve never heard of these, don’t worry.
When I first stepped into the gym I had no idea either. Since then, I've researched how to warm up for the bench press, and found that going through each of the steps above was shown to increase both my strength and performance.
Read on as I walk you step-by-step through a successful bench press warm up, and explain why each step works. Plus, you’ll learn alternatives to tailor your routine to your goals and strengths.
What Makes A Good Warm Up?
A good bench press warm-up should generally prepare your body for the exercise by:
- Increasing body temperature
- Increasing blood flow to restricted muscles
- Improving range of motion
- Priming the stabilizing muscles
Remember, a good warm-up routine should take 10-15 minutes and be tailored to your individual needs and abilities.
If you have any specific mobility or injury concerns, consult with a qualified fitness professional or physical therapist to develop a personalized warm-up routine.
An Effective Bench Press Warm Up
The right bench press warm up could be the difference between a new personal best and an injury. Try these steps to add one to your routine.
1. Stationary Bike or Rower for 15 minutes
The purpose of riding a stationary bike is to increase your core body temperature through some form of light cardiovascular training.
Is this step necessary? There's good research to suggest that this phase can boost your max strength.
A study by Barroso et al. (2006) concluded that a low-intensity warm-up of 15 minutes was superior in improving 1 rep max strength when compared with other styles — “low intensity” was defined as breaking a ‘light sweat'. The difference in 1 rep max strength was 3-4% higher for the group that performed this style of warm-up.
My favorite way to break a ‘light sweat' for bench press is either by doing 15 minutes on the stationary bike or rower. Sometimes I do a combination of both the bike and rower, but I never skip the general warm up.
If you're rushed on time and can't fit a 15-min general warm up into your routine, then other studies have suggested that even 5 minutes can have a positive impact on performance (Wilson et al., 2012).
The lesson: Skipping the general warm up is one of the top bench press mistakes.
Check out my article on bench press cues to learn how to best leverage your technique under max loads.
Want to improve your bench press technique?
2. 1 to 3 Mobility Drills
Mobility drills increase the blood flow to your muscles and restore motion.
My recommendation is to pick 1-3 mobility exercises listed below, apply pressure to the muscle, and perform 5-10 strokes for 60-90 seconds. Feel free to choose different mobility drills over time.
You can perform these drills using self-massage therapy techniques, such as using a foam roller or lacrosse ball to apply pressure to the muscle.
When a muscle is tight it limits the mobility at the level of the joint. Every exercise in the gym will require a certain level of mobility to perform. In the bench press, you'll need to have requisite mobility through your shoulders and thoracic spine to bring the bar through a full range of motion.
A. Lats Drill
Here’s how to do this: Lie sideways on the foam roller and apply pressure on the lat muscle. Roll areas that you feel tight whether that's higher or lower. This exercise is a great lat warm up before bench press.
Many people aren’t sure how to warm up lats before benching, and don’t understand why doing so is important. The lats are key in helping your body be stable under the weight. Mobile lats will also allow you to have a better set up before taking the bar out of the rack.
Not warming up lats before bench is a common mistake that will keep you from adding pounds to the bar. Once the tissues are mobilized, as shown in the picture, you can add in a light lat exercise during the dynamic portion of your warm up. Do this by performing a few light sets of a lat exercise such as a lat pulldown, to further help warm up back before bench press.
B. Pec Major Drill
The pec major is a bigger muscle group. Areas of the upper pec, closer to the shoulder, will be tighter, so start there and roll inwards to the midline of the body.
The pec major is one of the prime movers in the bench press, meaning that it does most of the work. The pec major experiences an extreme stretch when bench pressing.
The most likely time to strain this muscle is when it is stretched and required to contract very hard. It is important to prepare this muscle for the range of motion demands of bench pressing by performing the pec major exercise pictured above.
C. Pec Minor Drill
The pec minor is another important prime mover in the bench. Although it is not as big and strong as the pec major, it is equally important. Pec minor effects on the entire upper body, because it attaches to your shoulder blade.
When the pec minor gets tight, it pulls the scapula down and forward. When this happens, it causes a lot of instability in the shoulder and can make it hard to lift heavy. In extreme cases, it can even make it hard to lift your arms overhead.
It is important to make sure this muscle is mobile before benching. Using a pec release technique, as shown above, can help prepare the body to execute the bench safely.
D. Thoracic Spine Drill
Move your upper and mid-back through flexion and extension on the foam roller. You can also apply pressure to the erector spinae, which sit on either side of your spine.
A mobile thoracic spine is essential for proper setup in the bench press. When setting up for the bench press, you want to pinch your shoulder blades together and keep your chest up. This shortens the range of motion and allows you to handle as much weight as possible.
Check out my article on the top bench press progressions to take your lift from a beginner to advanced level.
3. Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching is when you move your muscles in and out of a range of motion 15-30 times, unlike static stretching where you would stay still.
Dynamic stretching will help you lengthen the muscle and improve its function prior to lifting.
Here are two routines including dynamic bench press stretches that you can do in your bench press warm up.
- Place your hands on the small of your back with palms facing away from your body. Elbows should be at 90 degrees. Squeeze your shoulder blades together moving your elbows backward and then release. Perform 10 reps.
- Swing your arms as if running. Arms stay at roughly 90 degrees. Perform 10 reps.
- Lift your arms out straight out. Keeping your arms straight, rotate your shoulder in and out as far as you can. Perform 10 reps.
- Keep your elbow high, and bend your arm to 90 degrees. Perform internal and external rotation in this position.
- Lift your arm in front of your body, and bend your arm to 90 degrees. Perform a windshield wiper motion across in front of your face. Perform 10 reps.
- Lift your arm out to the side of your body. Perform arm circles, bending your elbow and bringing your arm towards your head. Perform 10 reps in each direction.
- Starting with your arm, even with your shoulder, extend your arm overhead at a 45-degree angle. Perform 10 reps.
- With your elbows at your side, and arms bent at 90 degrees, perform external rotations. Perform 10 reps. Perform first with palms up and again with palms down.
- With arms bent at 90 degrees, perform shoulder rolls, shrugging your shoulders up and rotating back. Perform in the opposite direction as well. Perform 10 reps.
- Reach your ear towards your shoulder to stretch your neck. Do both directions. Perform 10 reps.
Dynamic Stretching For Bench Press (Dowel Version)
Each routine puts the shoulder through flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, and rotation.
- Holding the dowel in front of your body vertically, with one hand, bend your arm slightly. Keeping the dowel on the ground, move your arm from in front of your body, out to the side. Perform 10 reps.
- Take a wide grip on the dowel. Start with the dowel in your hip crease, and swing the dowel back and forth. Perform 10 reps.
- Using the same wide grip, perform reverse curls. Perform 10 reps.
- Place the dowel on your back as if squatting. Rotate at the waist back and forth. Perform 10 reps each way.
- Take a narrow grip on the dowel with thumbs 1-2 inches apart. Start with the dowel resting on your thighs and with elbows locked out, lift it all the way overhead. Perform 10 reps.
- Take a wide grip on the dowel and perform the same movement. Perform 10 reps.
- With the same wide grip, wrap the dowel around your head. This is a more challenging movement, where visual instruction may be necessary (see video at 1:33).
- Perform a snatch grip high pull. With a wide grip on the dowel, bring the dowel straight up your torso to about chest height. Perform 10 reps.
- With a wide grip on the dowel, perform behind the neck presses. Perform 10 reps.
- With arms shoulder width apart, perform shoulder rolls while holding the dowel. Shrugging your shoulders up towards your each other and rotating back. Execute movement in both directions. Perform 10 reps.
People often include static stretches before bench press, but the type of stretching you want to do prior to lifting is dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching can be used to warm up all muscles of the body.
In a study by McMillian et al. (2006), dynamic stretching showed to improve performance across a number of outcomes, including strength, speed, and power, when performed before the workout.
4. 1-2 Sets of Activation Exercises with 10-15 Reps
Activation exercises stabilize the smaller muscle groups that support the prime movers.
From the list below, I recommend selecting 1-2 exercises below and performing 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps.
Feel free to rotate through different activation exercises over time, and ensure you're moving through the range of motion slowly so that you're not over-compensating for the bigger muscle groups.
Don’t ‘overdo it’ with too many activation exercises. You simply want to prime the stabilizers and keep them fresh for the main work.
Band Pull Apart
Prone Trap 3 Raise
Scapular Push Up
DB Serratus Pullover
Activation exercises can help prevent shaking in the bench press. If you have that problem, read my complete guide.
Benefits of Warming Up
An efficient warm-up is very important if you want to have a good training session. There are many positive effects that can be seen from warming up.
There are many benefits of warming up, which include:
- Increase in body temperature
- Stimulates the central nervous system
- Increase in blood flow
- Lubricates joints
1. Increase in Body Temperature
A good warm up increases the temperature of all of the body’s systems. As body temperature increases, so does the temperature of your muscles. A muscle being warm helps it to contract and relax more quickly.
Increasing body temperature can also help improve mental focus and concentration. With an increase in body temperature comes an increase in heart rate, which leads to more blood flow to your brain and improves cognitive function.
2. Stimulates the Nervous System
An effective warm up using low-intensity movements leads to activation of motor neurons. This increases communication between the brain and the muscles, which helps with muscle function and coordination.
Warming up will also increase neural drive to the muscles, meaning that the brain sends more signals to the muscles to make them contract. This leads to stronger muscle contraction while training.
3. Increase in Blood Flow
A proper warm up increases blood flow to your muscles. This improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles and prepares the body for more intense exercise.
As a warm up is performed, the blood vessels in the body expand making it easier to deliver blood throughout the body. Increased blood flow also makes the delivery and exchange of oxygen from the blood to the muscles easier.
4. Lubricates Joints
As you warm up, there is an increase in blood flow to the joints. This delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the synovial fluid in the joint. Synovial fluid sits in the joint capsule and acts as a lubricant between bones during movement.
An increase in joint temperature leads to a decrease in the viscosity of synovial fluid. This makes it easier for synovial fluid to flow and lubricate joints. It stands to reason that many people notice that their joints seem to loosen up as they get moving during their warm up.
Should I Warm Up Shoulders Before Bench?
Yes, you should warm up your shoulders before benching. The chest, shoulders, and triceps are the prime movers in the bench press. It is important to warm up each of these muscle groups through a series of dynamic stretches. Movements for the shoulders can include arm circles, shoulder rolls, inward circles, outward circles, etc.
Should I Warm Up Before Bench Press?
Yes, you should warm up before bench press. A proper warm up consists of increasing body temperature, mobilizing the muscles and joints to be used in the bench press, performing dynamic stretches for the upper body, and activating stabilizing muscles.
How Do I Warm Up for 1 Rep Max Bench Press?
It is important to know how to perform your bench press warm up sets. After a general warm up, mobility drills, dynamic upper body stretches, and activation of stabilizing muscles, this is how to warm up for bench max. Base percentages off of your previous 1 Rep Max.
- With just the bar, perform 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps.
- 8 reps @ 30%
- 5 reps @ 45%
- 5 reps @ 60%
- 3 reps @ 75%
- 1 rep @ 85%
- 1 rep @ 90%
- Continue making small jumps until reaching your new 1 Rep Max.
If you follow each of these phases of the warm up it should take you no longer than 15 minutes.
The benefit of adopting a sound bench press warm up routine is that it prepares your body for the main workout, boosts performance, and reduces the likelihood of injury. While you may develop a unique style of warm up based on your own personal preferences, you should always include, to some degree, a general warm up, mobility drills, dynamic stretching, and activation exercises.
If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend you read the Ultimate Guide to Warming Up for Powerlifting, since it will cover these concepts in further detail, as well as give you a step-by-step guide on how to do a ‘barbell warm up’, it will also show you what your warm up sets should look like.
Additional Warm-Up Guides
- How to Warm Up For Squats (Mobility, Dynamic Stretching, & Activation)
- The Most Effective Pull-Up Warm Up (Science Backed)
What To Read Next
Barroso, R., Silva-Batista, C., Tricoli, V. Roschel, H., Ugrinowitsch, C. (2013). The Effects of Different Intensities and Durations of The General Warm-Up on Leg Press 1RM. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(4), 1009-1013.
McMillian, D., Moore, J., Hatler, B., Taylor, D. (2006) Dynamic vs. Static Stretching Warm Up: The Effect on Power And Agility Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 20(3) 492-499.
Peacock, C., Krein, D., Silver, T., Sander, G., Carlowitz, K. (2014). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release in The Form of Foam Rolling Improves Performance Testing. International Journal of Exercise Science. 7(3), 202-211.
Wilson, J., Marin, P., Rhea, M., Wilson, S., Loenneke, J., Anderson, J. (2012). Concurrent Training: A Meta-Analysis is Examining Interference of Aerobic And Resistance Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(8), 2293-2307.