Women and Strength Training Part 2: Bench Press

When I was finally able to break free from the myth that lifting weights was going to make me big and bulky, I truly learned what it felt like to become empowered by something. The iron has given me strength, not only physically, but mentally as well.

Recently we talked about squats, one of the three movements in the sport of powerlifting (my sport!) The second movement in powerlifting is the bench press.

I see a lot of women shying away from any chest-specific exercises because they believe that their chest size is going to shrink. We know that targeting fat loss doesn’t actually happen; it’s more like a sheet of Saran Wrap that peels away even layers across our bodies. The composition of the chest might change a little and we could lose a little more fat mass and put on some more lean mass. But ladies, please do not shy away from chest exercises because you think your bust is going to disappear! If anything, building muscle underneath might help make them look a little more perky and full! And who doesn’t want that?

I personally love bench pressing. Although it’s absolutely the lightest of my three powerlifting lifts, I truly enjoy the results of being able to push away a heavy bar when it feels like it could crush my lungs. Bench pressing targets your entire pectoral muscle group (both major and minor) as well as the three heads of your deltoids (shoulders; front, middle and rear), triceps, and biceps. Although the biceps aren’t directly targeted, they do play a role in helping to stabilize the elbow during the pressing motion.

Chest-focused exercises can range greatly depending on equipment, grip and the set up of the bench. Here’s a list of different variations.

  1. Bench: flat bench, incline bench, decline bench
  2. Grip: narrow grip (hands face in, elbows tucked in), wide grip (like you would grip a barbell)
  3. Equipment: barbell, dumbbells, cables

    A few of my favourite chest-pumping exercises include

  1. Flat bench barbell press
  2. Incline bench dumbbell press
  3. Narrow grip dumbbell hex press
  4. Seated cable fly (or similarly with a machine pec deck)

A few more of my accessory-focused exercises to compliment a bigger bench press include

  1. Dumbbell shoulder press
  2. Barbell military press
  3. Narrow grip dumbbell hex press
  4. Barbell upright row
  5. Overhead dumbbell tricep extension

Here’s an awesome chest and shoulder workout routine to try


A. Flat bench barbell press, 4 sets of 8 (rest 2:00 between sets)


B. Incline bench dumbbell press, 3 sets of 10 (rest 2:00)


C. Dumbbell Arnold press, 3 sets of 8 (rest 1:00)


 D1. Incline machine press, 3 sets of 12 (superset with…)

D2. Standing overhead EZ-curl bar skull crusher, 3 sets of 12 (rest 2:00)


E1. Standing dumbbell lateral raise, 2 sets of 15 (superset with…)

E2. Single-arm cable tricep extension, 2 sets of 15 (rest 1:00)

No matter what level of fitness you’re at, always train smart. Modify workouts as needed to ensure you’re not risking any injuries. Ask for a spot if you need it; don’t be afraid! Other gym-goers will be more than happy to help you – just don’t interrupt them during their set!

Strength training for women is extremely empowering and ladies, I promise you will not regret picking up the iron. Building quality muscle takes a long time for women, so in order to see results, you need to stick to a long-term plan that is specific to your needs and goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about me and what I do, please visit my website. I am a certified nutrition coach who teaches clients how to eat the foods they love without restriction while reaching their body goals. I also provide custom strength training programs for clients who are looking for serious results, no matter the level of experience.

About Courtney Ustrzycki

Growing up I participated in a fair amount of extracurricular activities. When I was really young I took gymnastics, dance, baseball and figure skating. School sports didn’t happen until high school, where I played football, rugby and badminton. In college I played a little bit of rugby, touch football and badminton. Although I seemed to be relatively active throughout my younger years, it wasn’t until my third year of college (after I had put on that Freshman 15, erm, 20…) when I actually got a gym membership, wanting to make a change.