Weight benches help you get an improved strength-training workout.
Not only do they provide much-needed support compared with lifting weights while standing, they allow you to target muscle groups you may not ordinarily be able to focus on.
Other benefits you get with a weight bench include:
- They make strength training easier for beginners
- They assist with muscle hyperextension
- They provide support to heavy lifters
But when you walk into the gym for the first time, you’ll see lots of different kinds of benches. At first, it might not be obvious which ones to use, when, and how to use them!
The 6 main types of weight benches are:
- Flat bench
- Adjustable bench
- Olympic bench
- Folding bench
- Abdominal bench
- Preacher curl bench
Let’s take a look at each, what they’re used for, what they look like, and everything you need to know about navigating the different types of weight benches at the gym (or choosing which one to buy).
1. Flat weight bench
Flat benches are the most basic variation.
They look like a pretty standard bench that doesn’t incline, decline, or have any other special features.
It’s simple yet efficient and supports a wide range of exercises. They’re easy to assemble, so you can start using it as soon as it arrives on your doorstep — if you choose to add one to your home gym.
They’re also easy to move around if needed.
(They can be heavy at times, but they’re not awkward to lift or adjust.)
Allan Misner from 40+ Fitness talks about all of the various exercises you can do on a flat bench. And they’re definitely plentiful!
“The flat bench provides a stable location to do various pushing and pulling exercises using dumbbells, kettlebells, bars, and resistance bands. There are also various bodyweight movements that you can do on a flat bench. It is really very, very versatile and a must-have for any gym or home gym.”
A flat bench is the gold standard for chest-based exercises like the bench press or dumbbell chest presses.
However, some trainers do say that an inclined bench lowers your risk of injuring your rotators cuffs and shoulders.
Overall, if you just need a solid and flat surface to perform a lift, you’ll want to use a flat bench.
2. Adjustable weight bench
Adjustable benches allow you to sit on an incline.
You can set it to the precise degree you want so that you sit comfortably as you work out.
(Some adjustable benches can even go beyond 180 degrees, known as a decline position.)
These benches are great for almost everyone. If you’re just beginning to develop a workout regimen, then an adjustable weight bench helps greatly with ensuring better posture.
A lot of people tend to hurt their backs or shoulders when they first start working out. But an adjustable bench keeps your back aligned better to avoid such issues.
But their main selling point is their versatility. By adjusting the angle of the bench, you can target different muscles in tons of different ways.
For example, you can perform a dumbbell bench press flat at 180 degrees. From there, you can bring the bench up one notch at a time to shift the focus from chest, to upper chest, and eventually to shoulders for a seated shoulder press.
You can perform incline dumbbell curls at a variety of angles and continually mix up the way you’re challenging your biceps.
Misner actually recommends these benches for people putting together home gyms because you get a flat bench and adjustable one at the same time.
He stated, “You can use this bench to do all of the exercises you would do on a flat bench and more due to the different angles. If I were setting up a home gym, I would invest in an adjustable bench rather than a flat bench.”
3. Olympic weight bench
An Olympic weight bench is essentially a high-grade weight lifting bench that can handle extreme loads.
It’s made out of competition-grade materials, including high-grade composite steel. It’s designed to handle the utmost stress. So anyone planning on doing some serious powerlifting needs to invest in one of these.
Olympic benches are what you tend to find at most commercial gyms.
They’ll hold up well over time, can handle abuse, and won’t fold under heavy loads.
With such superior materials, Olympic benches tend to be more expensive than other varieties.
They’re also larger and heavier than other benches, so they may not fit in most people’s homes.
If you do choose to buy a weight bench for your home, pay close attention to the materials used and the weight capacity. If you just need a flat place to sit for bodyweight dips and light lifting, any old flat bench will do.
If you plan on moving serious weight at home, you’ll need an Olympic-grade bench with a capacity of around 1,000 pounds or more.
4. Folding weight bench
You may want a weight bench to keep at home. But you may not have a ton of space to have one out all of the time.
In these scenarios, you would do well to get a folding weight bench.
You can bring it out and keep it flat or inclined for your workout. When you’re done, you simply fold it down and put it away until your next session. Many of them get flat enough to where you can easily slide it under the bed.
If you live in an apartment, then a folding weight bench may be the way to go. You typically don’t find these at gyms because there usually isn’t an issue regarding space at those locations.
That’s why many of the best benches for small spaces fold in on themselves.
If space isn’t an issue for you, then you may want to consider an Olympic folding weight bench.
It comes with a bit more gear to provide you with extra support during your workouts. This variation comes with a stand and support bar you can rest the head of the bench onto when you’re lifting weights.
5. Abdominal weight bench
As the name suggests, these weight benches are designed to target your abs in a variety of ways.
They can be adjusted to decline or incline. They also come with foot rollers to lock your feet into place as you work out.
The decline allows you to perform sit-ups and other ab movements at extreme angles in order to build immense core strength.
As Misner puts it, “These are decline benches where you can either attach your feet to the top and bring your torso up, or grab the handle on top and bring your legs up. This will primarily work your abs (rectus adominis) with more resistance than you’d get being flat on the floor.”
To get some stellar results, try incorporating these exercises when you’re on an ab bench.
- Leg pull-in
- Twisting reverse crunch
- Plank knee-up
- Lying leg raise
6. Preacher curl bench
Preacher curls are ideal for people who really want to build their mind-muscle connection while working out their arms.
And one benefit it has over standard bicep curls is that it prevents you from cheating. You have to go through a full range of motion in order to do it correctly.
To do this specific exercise, you’re going to need a preacher curl bench.
This bench is designed so that your upper arms rest on a slanted surface that goes away from you. With a dumbbell or barbell, you can perform bicep curls that give you a greater range of motion and isolate your biceps better than almost any alternative.
This is a great exercise for training the inner region of your biceps. You hit a variety of other arm muscles, such as:
- Wrist flexors
- Biceps Brachii
You’ll find preacher curl benches at most gyms.
Just don’t confuse them with Roman Chairs or Hyper Benches, which are for lower back and ab work.
Those are the 6 main types of weight benches you’ll see at almost every gym.
They’re also the main competitors if you’re looking to buy something for home.
However, sometimes you’ll find specialty equipment in the gym that could be considered a member of the “bench family.”
Roman Chairs and Hyper Benches
These are simple device with feet hooks and support pads that allow you to work your core and lower back.
Use these to perform hyperextensions and other core builders.
Seated stationary bench
Some gyms have seated benches that don’t adjust or go flat — they’re essentially a glorified chair!
These “benches” are great for shoulder pressing and seated bicep curls, but they don’t offer much that you can’t also get from an adjustable bench.
The different types of weight benches at the gym all serve a purpose.
Flat benches are the basic option for most movements — easy to use and effective.
To target your muscles in more creative ways and get more back support, try an adjustable bench or a simple seated stationary bench.
You can use specialty benches like the abdominal or preacher curl bench to hammer your core or biceps, respectively.
Most of these benches can be found at your local gym. But if you’re looking to buy one for home, here’s some parting wisdom from Jeff Parke of Top Fitness Mag:
“Make sure the bench can be adjusted quickly and without hassle. If it’s difficult to adjust it, then it can impede your workout and take up valuable time. You’ll want a bench that can be raised and lowered in a matter of seconds so you can keep rolling with your workout.”
You also want to ensure it has a heavy base so that it doesn’t tip over, and remember to check the weight capacity before you buy to make sure the bench can support your training.
For more, check out my guide to the best weight benches for beginners.
Hope this helps!