There are a ton of exercises you might want to do in your home gym that require a bench. Benches can be surprisingly complicated to choose. I’ve done a lot of research on benches over the last few weeks and here is what to look for.
The most important things to pay attention to when buying a weightlifting bench are; the size, load limit and adjustability. For home gyms an adjustable bench is preferable over a fixed one since they’re much more flexible and allow you to perform more exercise variations.
There are quite a few other things to know about weightlifting benches. Which features and sizes are available and what is right for you for example. Keep reading to find out that and more.
Just want to find the best bench for a home gym? Click here to find my recommendation.
Why do you need a bench in your home gym?
There are a few very good reasons why you want a bench in your home gym;
- Creates opportunities for more exercises and exercise variations.
- Provides a place to rest
Obviously when you’re in the middle of a hard workout, you’ll want to sit down and catch your breath sometimes. That’s not the most important purpose for a weightlifting bench though.
The main purpose of a weightlifting bench is to be able to perform different exercises that you couldn’t do without a bench. There are a few exercises that any workout program cannot go without and you need a bench for;
- Flat bench press
- Incline bench press
- Flat dumbbell press
- Incline dumbbell press
- Seated shoulder press
- Dumbbell fly
- One arm dumbbell row
- Dumbbell pullover
- Skull crushers
- Preacher curl
- Many more
Those are just a few of the more popular exercises. There are many more exercises that require a bench to perform. As you can see there are quite a few exercises many people do in a gym daily. That’s why it’s good to have one in your home gym as well.
Of course a bench alone isn’t enough to perform all those lifts. You also need other pieces of equipment like a power rack, barbell and weights. Your gym is like a machine. You need most of the parts to make it work. Take away one part and the functionality decreases drastically.
Convinced you need a bench in your home gym? Click here to find out which one I recommend.
Adjustable vs. non-adjustable
The biggest feature of weightlifting benches is adjustability. There are two varieties: Adjustable and non-adjustable.
A non-adjustable bench is a simple straight bench with some padding on the seat. The seat will always be parallel to the floor. There is no way to change that. Non-adjustable benches are cheaper, sturdier and super simple. You can use them for many exercises like a flat bench or dumbbell press for example. There are a lot of things you can’t do on a flat bench however. All the exercises that require the backrest to be at an angle are out.
Adjustable benches have a mechanism that allows you to adjust the angle of the backrest from parallel to the floor to (almost) perpendicular to the floor. You can usually adjust the backrest in increments so you can find the best angle for what you want to do. The benefit of adjustable benches is that they are way more flexible and can be used for much more lifts than a fixed bench.
Adjustable benches are a bit more expensive and there are some moving parts that can break. If you get a good quality one this shouldn’t be a problem for home use however. A decent bench will last a very long time and the adjustment mechanism will likely outlast the upholstery on the seat (which is pretty easy to replace anyways).
In a home gym an adjustable bench is the better choice. Most home gyms are quite small and there isn’t enough room for two benches. If you have to choose one, the adjustable version is the obvious choice. It’s just more flexible and is everything you need.
If you buy a fixed bench, at some point you’ll want to upgrade. At that point you probably won’t have enough space to fit both in your home gym and you’ll spend more money than necessary. Also, in a home gym, it’s unlikely that there are two people who want to use the bench at the same time, it’s not necessary to have two.
Looking for a good adjustable bench? Click here to find out which one I recommend.
Besides being adjustable or not, there are some other features that a weightlifting bench can have. It’s important to know about these before you start shopping.
Some benches come with a footrest. Some people like to have one for a more stable feeling while lifting. I personally don’t like them very much. As long as you can put your feet on the floor, that’s usually a better option. If you’re not sure if you like this feature, get a bench that has a removable footrest. That allows you to experiment a little bit.
A few benches come with foot/leg grips on the top of the bench. This allows you to turn around and turn your incline bench into a decline bench (head down instead of up). This can be used for sit-ups or decline exercises. Not everyone needs this however.
As said, for a home gym an adjustable bench is the best choice. There are still quite a few differences in how you can adjust the angle of the backrest.
Whatever mechanism is used, you want a few things from it;
- Easy to adjust. If you need tools or three hands it’s no good.
- Smooth. The adjustment should go smooth without squeaking and screeching. Proper maintenance and lubrication can help with this.
- Enough adjustability. Look for at least 6 steps of adjustability (including flat and upright).
- Secure. There is no way the back angle should be able to change while you’re on it. Checking if the mechanism is engaged properly can help prevent mishaps but the mechanism itself should be secure in the first place.
Weightlifting benches come with a padded seat and backrest. The inside of those is pretty much always foam. (I can’t think of any exceptions but I’m sure there is one). The outside of those pads can be made from different materials and qualities of material.
The two most common materials for the upholstery are leather and vinyl although there are some other synthetic materials popping up here and there. Leather is more effort than it’s worth so it’s much better to go for vinyl or another material.
The material itself isn’t as important as the quality and durability. It should provide some grip so you don’t slide around on the bench and last a long time. Over time, the upholstery will start to crack and rip. How long this takes depends on the quality of material used and the conditions in which it’s been used.
Getting your sweat off of the bench quickly and keeping it out of the sun are two things that will greatly improve the lifespan.
If it’s too late and you can start seeing the foam underneath, reupholstering is always an option. Check out this post for example.
Even though weightlifting benches are designed for weightlifting are designed for handling weight, there are still big differences in how much weight they can actually handle. Not all benches tell you how much weight they will stand up to exactly but some do.
If it doesn’t say what the weight limit is, use your eyes and see if they don’t tell you because it’s very low or if it’s because it can handle everything you could possibly throw at it. Take a look at the Rogue Fitness Monster series benches for example. Just taking one look at those benches and you know it will stand up to massive amounts of weight.
I’d always want to stay away from any indicated weight limit. Sure, you probably can stack that amount of weight on the bench without any problems. However, a static weight behaves very differently than moving weight and puts different stresses on the bench.
Keep in mind, the load limits of benches are totals. So it’s not the amount you can lift on that bench. It’s the amount of your bodyweight plus what you lift. For most people a load limit of 500lbs. will be enough but if you’re a bigger person and you lift heavy, you might need more. Calculate your bodyweight plus your heaviest lift on a bench. That amount should be well under the load limit of the bench you get.
How far the backrest adjusts is another important feature. Most adjustable benches will go from 0 to 85 or 90 degrees in increments. That range is great. That will allow you to do a very wide variety of exercises at different angles.
Some benches can also go down further than 0 degrees. This turns it into a decline bench. While there are some uses for this (mainly sit-up’s and decline bench), it’s not necessary for most exercises.
Make sure the bench you get has plenty of steps between 0 and 85 degrees. Look for a bench that has at least six steps (including flat and upright). This will give you enough adjustability to find a position that works for you and the exercise you’re doing.
The pad gap on an adjustable bench is the gap between the pad you sit on and the backrest. On some benches this gap can actually get quite big when the bench is flat.
This can be a bit unnerving when you start leaning back with weights in your hands and you feel nothing behind you. Sure there is the backrest but there might be a 20 cm gap on some benches. This is not comfortable and can make you feel insecure. Both those things are not good for getting a good and heavy workout done.
The gap is often a result of the adjustment mechanism used. A mechanism that only adjusts the angle of the backrest but doesn’t affect the seat pad, is more likely to create a gap in some positions. Since the pivot point of the backrest isn’t exactly at the bottom of the backrest, adjusting it will result in a variable distance to the stationary seat pad.
Some benches are better designed, use a better adjustment mechanism or adjust the seat pad at the same time as the backrest. These things come at a price of course.
A small gap is OK but I wouldn’t want to see more than a +- 5cm gap in any position of the backrest.
Just like almost everything in this world, benches come in different sizes. The variability isn’t huge but there are some dimensions to be aware of.
- Pad width
Here are some more details.
The first dimension is the footprint of a bench. The most important reason this is important is to know it’ll fit into your gym. You want to be able to move your bench around the gym but if it’s too big this gets difficult. A super small footprint isn’t always desirable either. How wide the legs of a bench are apart has an impact on the stability. A wider footprint helps keeping everything stable even when loaded sideways. Think about an example where you fail your bench press and the only way to get the bar of your chest is to let it fall to one side. A bench with narrow footprint might tip over while a wider one might have stayed upright. The wider bench is clearly better in that situation.
Especially the width of the backrest is important. Most benches have backrests 11” to 12” wide. This is perfectly fine for the majority of people. This will provide enough stability while still allowing your arms to freely move besides the backrest.
If you’re significantly bigger and/or wider than the average person, it can be a good idea to look for a bench (or backrest) that’s a bit wider. For example, Rogue has a special pad that’s 14.5” wide. This provides extra stability for people that are bigger and are lifting very heavy. While a 12” backrest might cover a large part of the back of a smaller person, for a bigger person that width covers a much smaller percentage of their back making it less stable.
Finally, the total length of the bench is a measurement to keep in mind. To keep it short, you want to be able to rest your butt and head on the bench at the same time. If you can’t do that it’s too short and not very useful for you. A bench that’s too long is not a problem.
If you want to know how much length you need you can measure yourself;
- Sit on a hard chair.
- Measure the length from the chair to the top of your head.
- Subtract one inch from that number. Since the part of your head that rests on the bench is a bit lower than the top of your head.
That’s the minimum length of the bench you need.
Quality is always hard to quantify. The quality of a product can be measured in many different ways. The used materials, workmanship, durability, comfort, usability, etc. Often, but not always, you get what you pay for.
Fitness equipment can be used for many years or even decades if you get the right stuff. Durability and usability are two important factors to get right to be able to use them for that long. For people that plan on using their home gym for many years, it’s better to err on the side of higher quality products even if they cost a bit more. It will pay itself back since you’ll likely be able to use it for a longer time and be happier using it.
What to look for in a weightlifting bench
There’s a lot of information above here’s a quick list of which things to look for when shopping for a weightlifting bench. Hopefully it helps you sift through the sea of available options a little quicker and easier.
- Adjustable. From 0 to 85 degrees or more.
- At least 6 steps of adjustability (including flat and upright.)
- Safe and simple adjustment mechanism.
- Small pad gap. Max about 5cm/2”
- Sturdy construction. Shouldn’t wobble under load
- Minimum 500lbs load capacity, more if you lift heavy or are a heavy person.
- Long enough
- Seat/backrest 11” to 12” wide
- Small enough for your home gym
- Wide footprint for stability.
If you’re looking for a bench that ticks all these boxes, click here to find out which one I recommend.
Do you need a weightlifting bench in a home gym? For anyone that want’s to follow a weightlifting program, a bench is a necessity. There are a lot of exercises and exercise variations that you just can’t perform without a bench. While there are alternatives, some of the most popular exercises like the bench press absolutely require a bench.
Can you bench press without a bench? No, as the name suggests, the bench requires a bench to lay down on. While there are other exercises that work out the same muscle groups like pushups and floor presses, they are not quite the same as a bench press. To be able to lower the barbell to your chest, you need a bench that is narrow enough to allow your elbows to move below your body.
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