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Will Bench Press Build Biceps?

You may feel the bench in your biceps and wonder, "Am I doing this wrong?" I'm here to tell you, you probably are. But don't worry. You took an excellent step to correct your form just by coming here. Note this post is bodybuilding focused and oriented to aesthetics rather than powerlifting.

The bench will mostly only build strength and neuromuscular adaptation in low rep ranges. It uses the pushing muscles of your body, like the front deltoids, triceps, and chest. It's a great exercise for increasing overall upper body strength, but it won't build your biceps alone. For that you should include, and progress on pull movements and bicep isolation exercises.

Is Bench Press Enough For Arms?

Bench press is a fantastic exercise for developing strength, but it is also a specific powerlifting oriented lift. While we can train it for tricep hypertrophy, it is usually better suited for strength. It recruits lots of muscles fibers as a compound movement but it usually has better carryover to more hypertrophy specific lifts rather than vice versa. So it's not enough for arms on its own.

I recommend super setting or following bench with some kind of horizontal pull/row movement like a dumbbell or barbell row. A row movement will involve more bicep, rear delts, rhomboids and lats while the bench concentrates on pushing muscles like the front delts, the chest, and triceps. A horizontal pull movement will balance out the bench press. There are a few different programming schemes for this that I’ll outline in later posts.

Dumbbell Row

Rule of thumb: if your goal is powerlifting centric, you should be fine with just a row for every bench, but if you’re a bodybuilder, you should have 1-2 isolation exercises for the arms on upper days, or if you're running a PPL split, triceps on push days and biceps on pull.

How Many Sets of Arms Per Week

Why Do I Feel the Bench Press In My Biceps?

Though we know the bench press isn't a fantastic exercise for bicep growth, you may wonder why you feel it in the bicep and if this is a sign that you are performing the exercise incorrectly.

You most likely feel your biceps at the bottom part of the movement, or the isometric where the bar hovers over your chest. If you’re overcompensating the movement by pushing the bar straight up and flaring your elbows rather than keeping them at a 45-degree angle and pushing the bar back over the shoulders, you’re lengthening the bicep, instead of the tricep during lockout.

To fix this, try keeping your lats plastered down and in, push your feet away from you,and think of the bench press as a “row” where you pull your chest to the bar and press back over the shoulders to lockout. Check out this video to fix your bar path.

Major Muscles Worked in Bench Press Exercises

Incline Bench

The incline bench works the same muscles as the flat bench press; the triceps, front delts, and chest, but places more of an emphasis on the upper chest.

For bicep gains, superset with chest supported rows- it's easier to use the incline bench to set up and row against it rather than have to readjust the bench.

Dumbbell Bench

The dumbbell bench also works the same muscles, but it typically has more of a hypertrophy focus, it being best trained in the 6-15 rep range. Although its most typically used as an accessory to the bench, it's a great tricep builder.

For bicep gains, superset with dumbbell row- The same principle applies. It's easier to set up with the flat bench.

Close Grip Bench

Close grip bench works the tricep more directly, which may affect bicep strength the most, because after all, the tricep is on the arm too. Use this accessory for bigger triceps and a mix of strength and size specificity.

For bicep gains, superset with the cable row- I say this is the best because both of the exercises use a close grip.

As you can see, these don't work the biceps to any considerable extent. Bench certainly can build strength which can carryover to more specific bicep oriented exercises, but you should include more pulling movements to grow your biceps. Also dont take the pull recommendations too seriously. Any horizontal pull will do; I just named some that could be easy to set up.

Best Exercises to Superset with Bench Press for Bicep Growth

Earlier, I mentioned how it's best to superset a bench press with some kind of row movement. Let me elaborate on that. In case you don't know, a superset is where you perform an exercise back to back with another, with usually a minute or less of rest.

An example: Bench and DB row superset- Bench 4x8-12, you do 11 reps, then rest and perform 1 set, ten reps of a DB row 4x6-10.

It's usually best to superset antagonist muscle groups or muscles/movements that oppose each other. For example supersetting, bicep curls with tricep extensions. Here, a horizontal pull (row) opposes the horizontal press. Likewise, if you program any vertical press movement, like a dip, or overhead press, counter it with a vertical pull, like a chin up or pull up. You can see that a row will recruit the bicep more than a bench, and also effectively warm up the back muscles for the bench; remember how I mentioned your lats should activate during bench? Antagonist muscles don't act mutually exclusive. As the bench press uses lats, so does the row use some chest, but mostly to stabilize.

If you take one thing from this post; It's that you should always balance every movement in your programming.

Bicep Focused Bench Press Variations

Reverse Grip Bench


The reverse grip bench places more emphasis on the biceps. Rather than a pronated press it reverses the movement and lengthens the bicep insertions to provide more stimulus. It also works the front delts and chest, and a little tricep.

Set up a bar the same way you would with a regular bench. Take a supinated grip (hands facing you) and "row" it down and press like a regular bench. It may feel awkward, though.

I recommend using this exercise during a variation block, where you are switching out your major movements for a fresh one.

Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press


Same as the one with the barbell. Except it requires more stability because of dumbbells.

Set up two dumbbells by curling them to chest level with your knee and lie back on a flat bench. Keep your grip facing you and bench until your elbows are roughly at 45-degree angles and your forearms at 90 degrees. Row back up to your shoulders and repeat.

Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench


Works your chest, triceps, front delts, and arm muscles.

You can perform this exercise with dumbbells or kettlebells to make it easier; a kettlebell will put more stress on stabilizing muscles.

Conclusion

I hope you took something from this write up about programming and how different bench variations will help you achieve your goal. Mainly that just one compound exercise won't help you develop arms. You need accessory exercises that complement the compounds too, whether it be opposing movements or isolation.