How Many Bench Press Reps Should I Do To See Good Results?

The bench press is a foundational upper-body strength training exercise performed in most popular strength training programs due to its effectiveness.

Although the muscles worked by the bench press will vary somewhat depending on the angle of the bench and the grip that you use, it primarily targets the pecs in the chest, along with the triceps, serratus anterior, shoulders, and grip strength muscles.1Rodríguez-Ridao, D., Antequera-Vique, J. A., Martín-Fuentes, I., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(19), 7339. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17197339

When planning your workouts, you may wonder: how many bench press reps should I do to build muscle vs increase strength? How many bench press reps should I do if I’m a beginner? 

In this exercise guide, we will discuss how to do the bench press exercise, whether it is better to do flat vs. incline bench presses for your strength training goals, and ultimately answer your question: how many bench press reps should I do based on my fitness goals?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a bench press exercise.

How to Do Bench Presses

Before we look at how many bench press reps you need to do to build muscle, increase strength, increase muscular endurance, or achieve other fitness goals, let’s discuss how to perform bench presses properly.

You may have heard the terms chest press and bench press.

The bench press exercise generally refers to using a barbell or a Smith machine, whereas the term “chest press” is typically used with dumbbells, resistance bands, or some other type of resistance or free weights.

There are a few different bench press positions: The flat bench press, incline bench press (and different angles of incline bench press), and decline bench press.

With the flat bench press exercise, you lie on a flat (level) weight bench and press the barbell straight up and down from approximately the nipple line. 

The incline bench press exercise uses a similar movement pattern and range of motion, but the body positioning is different, so the angle of the press and the muscles worked with an incline bench vs a flat bench press are slightly different.

A person doing a bench press exercise.

The incline bench press generally has the backrest of the weight bench angled about 30° up from the flat position (but up to 60 degrees), so as you press the barbell up, the pressing angle direction is an upward/outward angle rather than straight upward.

With the decline bench press, the reverse occurs. The bench is usually lowered between 15 and 30° of the horizontal position.

Here are the steps for how to perform the barbell bench press exercise on a flat bench:

How To Perform A Barbell Bench Press

  1. Place a flat bench inside the squat rack or power rack.  
  2. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Lift the bar to unrack it, and then press it straight up over your nipple line until your elbows are nearly locked out, being careful to maintain straight and rigid wrists.
  4. Slowly lower the bar back down towards your chest, drawing out this eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise.2Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983
  5. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides as they drop down below your torso alongside either side of the bench.
  6. Once the bar reaches chest level, powerfully press it back up for the next rep.
  7. After all of your reps, carefully re-rack the bar.

Here are the steps for how to do the incline bench press exercise:

  1. Place a bench inside the power cage or squat rack and set it at a 30-degree angle (anywhere from 30-45 degrees may be used).
  2. Lie back on the bench and grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Lift the bar to unrack it and then raise it up as high as possible by pressing it straight up from your nipple line, being mindful not to bend your wrists as you lift.
  4. Slowly lower the bar back down towards your chest, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides (not flared out) and your forearms vertical.
  5. Once the bar reaches chest level, press it back up for the next rep.

The primary difference between the muscles worked with bench presses (flat vs incline bench presses) is in the activation of the chest muscles.

Research suggests that the pectoralis major and triceps are the muscles that are most active during the flat bench press, with a lesser contribution from the anterior deltoid.3Stastny, P., Gołaś, A., Blazek, D., Maszczyk, A., Wilk, M., Pietraszewski, P., Petr, M., Uhlir, P., & Zając, A. (2017). A systematic review of surface electromyography analyses of the bench press movement task. PloS One12(2), e0171632. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171632

Studies have found that the clavicular head (upper pecs) is most active with the incline press vs. the flat bench press and that anterior deltoid activity also increases as the bench angle increases, while the decline bench press muscle activation shifts more towards the sternal head (lower pecs).4Barnett, C., Kippers, V., & Turner, P. (1995). Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise on the EMG Activity of Five Shoulder Muscles. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research9(4), 222. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/abstract/1995/11000/effects_of_variations_of_the_bench_press_exercise.3.asp

Another study also found that the flat bench press produces the highest EMG signal in the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major, while the incline bench press activated the clavicular head more significantly.5Trebs, A. A., Brandenburg, J. P., & Pitney, W. A. (2010). An Electromyography Analysis of 3 Muscles Surrounding the Shoulder Joint During the Performance of a Chest Press Exercise at Several Angles. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research24(7), 1925–1930. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181ddfae7

A person doing a bench press.

How Many Bench Press Reps Should I Do To See Good Results?

Determining how many bench press reps you should do and what weight to bench press in a workout depends on factors such as your training level, what other exercises you are doing in your bench press workouts, and your training goals.

Of these, your training goal plays the most significant role in helping guide the number of sets and reps of bench press you should do, along with how much weight to bench press.

The strength continuum is a framework by which the appropriate load to lift for an exercise can be determined based on the number of reps that you are performing.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the following table shows the percentage of your 1RM you should use for the given number of reps of an exercise:6TRAINING LOAD CHART. (n.d.). https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/61d813865e264c6e852cadfe247eae52/nsca_training_load_chart.pdf

Maximum Number of RepsPercent of 1RM Load
1100%
295%
393%
490%
587%
685%
783%
880%
977%
1075%
1270%
A person doing a bench press.

To interpret the table for bench press reps and weights, you look at the number of reps you want to do and then determine the relative load you should use in the column next to your desired number of reps.

For example, if you want to do 12 bench press reps, the recommended load is 70% of your 1RM, whereas if you are only doing six reps of bench presses, you should use 85% of your bench press 1RM.

But how do you know how many bench press reps you should do for the strength training results you desire?

The number of bench press reps you should do with these relative loads depends on your fitness level and training goals.

The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to bench for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)7How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association8Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf

Training GoalSetsRepsRest PeriodIntensity
General Fitness1-3 12-15 30 to 90 secondsVaries on exercise and ability level
Muscular Endurance3-4 >15 Up to 30 seconds<67% of 1RM
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)3-6 8-12 30 to 90 seconds67% to 85% of 1RM
Muscle strength4-6 3-62 to 5 minutes>85% of 1RM
Power3-51-52 to 5 minutes85%–100% of 1RM 
A person doing a bench press.

Using the strength training guidelines, here are some recommendations for programming reps, sets, and loads bench press workouts:

How Many Bench Press Reps Should I Do As A Beginner?

A good starting place for beginners is two sets of 10-12 reps of bench presses. Build up to three sets.

Once you can do 10 to 12 reps with the correct technique, you can increase the weight.

How Many Bench Press Reps Should I Do To Increase Strength?

If your goal is to increase strength, use a weight that is at least 85% of your benching 1RM, or a weight that you could manage for just 3 to 6 bench presses with proper form.

Aim for 4 to 6 sets with at least 2 minutes of rest in between sets.9de Salles, B. F., Simão, R., Miranda, F., Novaes, J. da S., Lemos, A., & Willardson, J. M. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)39(9), 765–777.

A person doing a bench press.

How Many Bench Press Reps Should I Do To Build Muscle?

If you are doing bench press workouts to build muscle, perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.10Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764

Use enough weight that you can manage all of your reps but that you feel fatigued by the last 1-2 reps of every set.

How Many Bench Press Reps Should I Do To Increase Muscular Endurance?

To increase muscular endurance, perform at least three sets of at least 15 bench press reps with no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

For more ideas about how to strengthen your chest, check out our guide with a complete chest workout here.

A person doing a bench press with a trainer.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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