Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Which Bench?

by Mark Rippetoe | March 09, 2021

bench equipment set up

In some gyms you have a decent selection of equipment. Keeping in mind that the bench press is the only major exercise that can actually kill you, there are two ways to set up your bench press station, and both are viable depending on the circumstances.

The Upright Support Bench – the “bench press bench” you've seen in meets – is available in several configurations, some simple, and some expensive with protection features. The simplest form is the same as a flat bench with uprights to support the bar in a position where the lifter can unrack it, do the set, and get it back in the rack. The good ones' uprights are angled to provide some take-out clearance, and are equipped with safety hooks so you can rack the bar from chest height if you get stuck in the bottom.

Under normal training circumstances, i.e. your work sets are not PRs that you're worried about and you have a spotter, a well-designed upright support bench is perfectly adequate for your training – in a gym.

If you're training by yourself, either at home or at a gym that's not busy, you really need to set the bench press up in a power rack, so that pins can be set for protection. Use a standard flat bench inside the rack. Set the bar on the hooks on the rearward uprights at a height that allows you to clear the hooks by a couple of inches – too high and you'll have trouble re-racking the bar without having to shrug it up, too low and you have to press it too far up from a position of bad leverage.

Set the pins at a position just below the level of your upraised chest, the height the bar will touch at the bottom of the rep. Too high, and the bar will touch the pins at the bottom of the rep, too low, it provides no protection if you miss a limit rep. The protection is for your face and throat, not your chest. If you miss a limit rep, you exhale and drop your chest, set the bar down on the pins, and crawl out from under it. Faces and throats are what kills you, not your chest. Rolling the bar down your belly under a heavy load kills you too, by tearing a big abdominal vessel, and the pins prevent that.

I've never heard of a bench press death inside a power rack properly configured. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but the chances are a helluva lot lower than under an unprotected bench press. All truly heavy limit benches should really be done under this type of protection, because a bar that slips out of the lifters grip and falls cannot be caught by the spotters – just not possible, and you are a fool if you rely on their ability to do so. You're an even bigger fool if you use a thumbless grip. 

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