The dead bench press is one of my favourite bench press variations for developing strength off the chest. It is very popular among powerlifters or athletes looking to build explosive pushing strength.
So what is a dead bench press? A dead bench press is a bench press variation performed from safety pins of a rack or power cage. The bar is initiated from a dead start from the pins with the elbows in a bent position, and then returned to the pins and pausing before the next rep. The pins need to be at or nearly at chest level.
There are huge benefits to using the dead bench press in training. Powerlifters, bodybuilders and general gym goers love having a big bench press. Many prominent names in powerlifters have used this variation in their programming.
In this article, I will provide you with an ultimate guide of the dead bench press. I will discuss exactly what it is, how to perform it, why you should use it and how it works to build your bench press strength.
What Makes A Dead Bench Press Unique?
There are a few things that make the dead bench press unique.
The first is the execution style.
The focus of the dead bench press is the concentric portion of the pressing. A concentric contraction is when the muscles are shortening. Therefore, the concentric portion of the bench press is the upwards portion of the bench press.
Once the arms are locked out at the top, the bar is returned back to the same spot on the pins. There is less of a focus on the eccentric (lowering phase) of the bench press.
Once the bar is returned to the pins, it returns to a dead stop. The pins make the bench press range of motion standardized so long as you can set up the same every time.
Next, compared with other bench press variations, the dead bench press is used primarily to build explosive strength off the chest.
This is because you are required to drive the barbell from a dead (or relaxed) position, without having any tension on the muscles before pushing.
While this makes the lift a lot harde off the chest, when you return to doing a regular bench press, you should be more explosive pushing the barbell off your chest.
Last, the dead bench press is one of the few bench press variations that place a greater loading demand on the pec muscles.
When you are required to push the barbell from a dead stop off a low pin position, the chest muscles (pec major and minor) need to contract a lot harder to generate force.
This is because a lot of people bench press by using a touch-and-go style bench press, where they slightly bounce the barbell off the chest, which makes the lift easier on the pec muscles.
The Dead Bench Press is NOT a Pin Press
Not to be confused with a pin press. The main factor that distinguishes between a pin press and dead bench press is the fact that the pin is set specifically at chest level.
In a pin press, the pins can be set higher than chest level thus making the pin press more of a partial range of movement variation. You can consider the dead bench press to be a form of a pin press.
The pin press is also normally executed from the top once unracked. So it is initiated with an eccentric contraction first i.e. the descent starts first.
Here’s a breakdown of the differences of the two movements:
|DEAD BENCH PRESS||PIN PRESS|
|Starting Position||Starts with the barbell on the pins at chest level with the elbows bent||Starts with the barbell in a normal position (off the rack) with the elbows straight|
|Eccentric / Concentric||Emphasis on concentric (ascent) phase only||Emphasis on both concentric (ascent) and eccentric (descent) phase|
|Range of Motion||The pins are set at chest level, mimicking a full range of motion||The pins can be set at different heights to work on various ranges of motion|
|Muscular Focus||Emphasis on pec muscles||Emphasis will change depending on where the pins are set.|
Muscles Worked: Dead Bench Press
The dead bench press will incorporate the major horizontal pressing muscle groups which are your chest, shoulder and triceps muscles.
The pecs are utilized the most in the dead bench press, with the shoulders providing a secondary role. The triceps are used to extend the arm in the top range of motion, but there is no more activation of the tricep compared with other bench press variations.
Read my full guide on the Muscles Used In The Bench Press where I explain how muscular activation changes based on grip, angle of bench press, and other factors.
The chest muscles consist of the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is the main chest muscle that we are referring to. It is one of the prime movers in the dead bench press.
The pectoralis major is in its most lengthened position and for most people is the weakest position for the pectoralis major to produce force.
The muscle activation and range of motion of the pectoralis muscles will depend on how wide you grip the bar as well. The wider you grip the bar, the more you train the pectoralis muscles through a longer muscle length which will in turn increase the muscle demand.
The main function of the pectoralis muscles during the dead bench press is horizontal adduction.
The shoulder muscles consist of the different heads of the deltoids. The deltoid muscle fibres can be categorized to 3 separate heads: the anterior, the lateral and the posterior.
During the dead bench press, the most relevant one is the anterior or front deltoid. Just like the chest muscles, it is in its most lengthened state during the bench press.
The main function of the anterior deltoid during the dead bench press is shoulder flexion.
The tricep muscles consist of the long head, lateral head and short head.
The triceps are one of the major prime movers and they are responsible for extending the elbows i.e. locking out your arms.
Check out my article on the 16 Best Tricep Exercises To Improve Your Bench Press.
Concentric First and Little-To-No Eccentric
To understand the dead bench press, we must first understand the muscle contractions and some muscle physiology.
There are 3 types of muscle contractions:
- Concentric Contraction: When the muscles are contracting but shortening in length
- Isometric Contraction: When the muscles are contraction but no change in muscle length
- Eccentric Contraction: When the muscles are contraction but elongating in length
Traditionally, the regular bench press starts with an eccentric contraction, then momentary isometric contraction when the bar is on the chest, then concentric contraction when the bar is pressed up.
The dead bench press starts with a concentric contraction first as the bar starts at or near chest level from rest. This means that there is no preloaded tension of the muscle from an eccentric portion of the repetition first.
The preloaded tension and stretch from the eccentric portion of the rep can lead to a more forceful muscle contraction when you push. So theoretically, you could perform less weight with a dead bench press than a regular bench press.
Another thing to remember, is that the eccentric portion of the repetition is also a fatiguing element of the repetition. The more time under tension spent with the eccentric portion, the more fatigued you become during a set.
5 Benefits Of The Dead Bench Press
Here are 5 benefits from using the dead bench press:
- Improve strength off chest during regular bench press
- Improve consistency on where the bar is lowered to during regular bench press
- Allows time for resetting between reps to get consistent technique
- Prevents you from sinking the bar into chest
- Use as an overload tool by removing fatigue experienced from an eccentric portion
1. Improve strength off chest during regular bench press
The dead bench press is a great way to improve the force production at the point off the chest. As the name suggests, you are forced to press the bar dead off the chest level.
If you are someone who tends to fail or have a sticking point at the chest level or thereabouts, then it is perfect for you.
For powerlifters, if you have recently transitioned to benching with competition quality pauses or you are someone who is notorious for having short pauses in training, then doing dead bench press would be very useful.
This variation will definitely be a humbling experience.
2.Improve consistency on where the bar is lowered to during regular bench press
If you are someone who tends to be inconsistent with bringing the bar to the same spot on the chest during a set, then the dead bench press will be helpful.
After performing every rep, you get an opportunity to readjust your bar to the ideal position above your chest. You will need to ensure that the bar is centred symmetrically on your torso and lines above the crooks of your elbows ideally.
This repeated chance of resetting where you press from allows you to become stronger and more consistent in the bar path that you want over time.
3. Allows time for resetting between reps to get consistent technique
This reason is similar to the above reason but if you are someone who presses the bar in a different way but consistent on the chest, then the dead bench press can help.
Quite often with more novice lifters and sometimes intermediate lifters, they rush through a set because they experience something I refer to as “fatigue phobia” or “fatigue anxiety”.
This is when the lifter mentally dreads the burn or effort needed to perform hard sets of multiple reps or even fear failing the bench press.
Having too much variability throughout a set is not going to help cement consistent and good technique.
The dead bench press helps in a way to allow the lifter worry about one rep at the time and the safety pins removes the fear of being crushed by the bar.
4. Prevents you from sinking the bar into chest
A remedy that the dead bench press can be for is if you tend to be someone who seems to sink the bar into the chest and/or generally lose tightness.
The sinking or the loss of rigidity of the whole body tends to generally be due to a lack of confidence or weakness when the muscles lengthen to a certain point.
Quite often what happens afterwards is that you might end up “heaving” the bar off the chest, which sometimes comes with the hips coming off the bench.
The dead bench press forces you to be able to train from exactly at or just above chest level when technique breaks down.
5. Use as an overload tool by removing fatigue experienced from an eccentric portion
There is some research to show that the eccentric portion of the repetition can be a fatiguing component of the repetition. The longer the tempo of the eccentric portion of the repetition, the less you can lift for that repetition.
For this reason, you can potentially use the dead bench press as an overload tool to perform bench presses with more repetition or more weight.
Anyone who wants to gain more confidence with a certain heavier weight could potentially use the dead bench press for this reason.
How To Do A Dead Bench Press
Here is how you should set up the dead bench press:
1. Set the pin/rack for the dead bench press
You may use a competition combo rack, bench press rack or squat/power rack.
You will need to set the pin height so that the bar is just at or slightly above chest level/ the place where the bar normally makes contact when you do regular bench presses whilst maintaining your arch.
2. Set up your upper and lower body
Set your upper body underneath the bar and create your full body arch that you would normally create for a regular (if you are a regular gym goer or bodybuilder) or competition style bench press (if you are a powerlifter).
Keep your scapula depressed and retracted. Keep your glutes down on the bench and feet flat on the floor.
3. Set your bar position and engage full body
Roll the bar to the ideal starting position. For most people, the bar should be around the lower chest and symmetrically centred.
Squeeze the bar and engage leg drive by pushing the floor in the direction of where your feet point i.e. across the surface of the floor and away from you. The leg drive will help with rigidity of the body and keep the scapula depressed.
Take a deep breath in and brace. Press the bar upwards and backwards towards the rack so that the bar finishes directly above the shoulders. The bar path will vary from person to person depending on limb length and arch.
5. Return the bar
Once locked out, return the barbell ideally to the point as when you started. Once the bar is on the pins, let it rest before repeating the next repetition.
Who Should Do A Dead Bench Press?
The dead bench press is a very simple variation of the bench press that is suitable for beginners to advanced lifters. Powerlifters, bodybuilders or athletes can utilize the dead bench press within their training.
The following is a sample of people who should do a dead bench press:
- If you are transitioning from most using touch and go bench presses and want to train the lagging weakness of pause the bar on the chest, you can use the dead bench press.
- If you are inconsistent with where you bring the bar down to on your lower chest area, then a dead bench press will help you readjust to a single ideal position you want to be pushing from.
- If you are an athlete whose sport involves throwing, passing or other similar explosive upper body movement, then the dead bench press can be useful. The dead bench press forces you to explosively push from a dead start which leads to improved force production and rate of force development.
- If you generally have poor stability at the bottom range of the bench press, then you can use the dead bench press to train that range of the movement.
- If you have a sticking point at the bottom of the bench press, the dead bench press will help by making you disadvantaged at the bottom range.
- If you sink the bar frequently during bench press, the dead bench press will train to be aware of the point where you should be pressing the bar from.
The dead bench press is a fantastic tool to incorporate into your training routine whether it is for strength and conditioning, powerlifting or bodybuilding. Generally speaking, you are more likely to be able to perform less weight with the dead bench press than compared to regular bench pressing.
The value of the dead bench press comes from forcing the technical and positioning improvements of bench pressing. For this reason, I recommend incorporating lower reps (1 to 6 reps), moderate to high intensity (75% to 87%) and lower RPE (max RPE 6).
The dead bench press can be performed by novice to advanced athletes.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com