Commercial gym trainers tend to take weight benches for granted.
That’s only natural considering that they have an abundance of benches of all types at their beck and call.
But if you’re new to the gym, the bench set up might be a little confusing at first. There are a lot of moving parts that you need to be able to identify and know how to use.
In this article, we get up close with the humble weight bench.
We’ll identify the 9 key parts you need to become familiar with including:
- The frame
- The back base
- The seat
- The padding
- The vinyl
- The adjustment mechanism
- The wheels
- The handle
- The leg support
We’ll also touch on the different types of weight benches and give you some important bench buying tips.
What is a Weight Bench?
A weight bench is a padded bench that is specifically designed as an exercise aid.
It can be used to sit on when doing such seated exercises as dumbbell curls or to lie on when doing prone presses. Benches are also used for everything from step ups to Bulgarian split squats.
There are 6 main types of weight bench:
- Flat bench
- Adjustable bench
- Olympic bench
- Folding bench
- Abdominal bench
- Preacher curl bench
The flat bench is the most basic of the five.
It is a non adjustable flat bench that is mainly used for flat dumbbell presses, lying overhead tricep extensions (skull crushers) and seated curls.
A bench station is a special type of flat bench, primarily designed to perform the bench press exercise. As such, it has two uprights to support the bar. When you lie on the bench, you unrack the bar, do the exercise and then return it to the rack.
A folding bench is the cheapest and least sturdy of all bench types, though it can make sense for very light home use.
An Olympic bench is a near commercial quality bench that is designed to be used with an olympic barbell. These are bench stations that may be designed for flat or incline bench pressing.
However, they are not adjustable. Olympic benches are generally too large and bulky for home use – as well as being too expensive
An adjustable or utility bench is the most versatile of the three benches. It provides you with an adjustable back board to allow you to position the angle of the bench for either flat, incline or decline work.
For more, check out the different types of weight benches here.
The 9 Parts of a Weight Bench Explained
Once you know about the different types of benches you’ll find at the gym, you still need to know how to use them.
Let’s take a look at some of the major bench components so you can identify them, plus some buying tips if you’re outfitting your own home gym.
The frame of your weight bench is the core that determines how strong the unit will be.
This is one area of your purchase that you do not want to skimp on if you’re buying for a home gym.
Many attractively priced utility weight benches feature cool vinyl covering and look great but have a weak frame.
Ideally, you should get a bench with a frame that is constructed from 2 x 3 inch square or tubular steel framing. When it comes to steel gauges, keep in mind that the lower the gauge, the stronger the steel will be. Look for steel gauge of 14 or lower.
This is typically what you’ll find in good commercial gyms.
A frame that features as few pieces as possible will be the strongest.
The back base of your utility bench is the main part that you lie on or against.
It needs to be long enough to support your torso without your head extending off the end. It should also not be too wide so that it impedes the natural movement of your lats and shoulder blades.
The bench base should be made from a thick, solid wooden material.
The seat is a separate portion to the back base.
On a good bench it should be separately adjustable. This will allow you to get proper body alignment when you are performing incline and decline movements.
Ideally the bench seat should be adjustable to 3 positions.
The padding on your utility bench sits between the seat and back base and the vinyl covering.
It should be made from a quality foam material that is sturdy and responsive. However, you do not want a level of padding that is too soft.
That is because the bench base needs to provide you with the solid power base that will get the best lift out of your body. If the padding is too soft, however, you will sink down and lose some of your power potential.
The ideal bench padding thickness is around one inch.
You can check that the padding hits the sweet spot by pressing your finger into the seat padding. Your finger should depress halfway but no more.
The vinyl that covers your bench should not only look good; it should also be durable and functional.
A good bench will also provide you with a vinyl covering that is sweat and odor resistant so that you are not slipping around during your workout.
The adjustment mechanism is the part that allows you to adjust the bench angle of your utility bench.
You want your adjustment mechanism to be 3 things:
- Easy to Operate
The last thing you want when you are using the bench on an incline is to worry that it is going to collapse on you. To avoid that, you need a reliable locking pin system.
It also needs to be quick to adjust between sets. If you are performing supersets where you go directly from one exercise to the next you do not want the adjustment time to hold you up.
A good bench will also provide you with plenty of adjustability in terms of bench angles.
The best benches will give you at least 7 angle adjustments. These should include 5 incline angles and 2 decline angles.
The bench should also be able to be put at a 90 degree angle. The ideal angles are the following:
- -30 degrees
- -20 degrees
- 15 degrees
- 25 degrees
- 35 degrees
- 45 degrees
- 60 degrees
- 76 degrees
- 90 degrees
A pair of wheels on the front of your utility bench will make it easy to roll it around your home gym.
This will be especially handy if you plan to use the bench in conjunction with your power rack.
At commercial gyms, some benches may be movable while others will be bolted to the floor.
A handle on the opposite end to the wheels will make it even easier to move the utility bench around your workout area.
A roller padded leg support will allow you to lock your lower body into position when you are performing decline angle moves such as the decline dumbbell press, decline triceps extension or the decline ab crunch.
Weight Bench Buyer’s Guide & How to Evaluate Weight Bench Parts
If you’re buying a bench for your home gym, you want one that will suit all your needs and last for the long haul.
Here are a couple of things to look for before pulling the trigger:
The first and most important consideration when buying a home weight bench is the weight rating of the bench.
You need a bench that will easily carry the load you put upon it.
Keep in mind that the max load of the bench needs to be able to handle both your own bodyweight and the weight that you are working out with.
Also, remember that the reason that you are lifting weights is, presumably, to get stronger. So, don’t just think of the weight you can lift now – project forward.
Let’s say, for example, that you can lift 225 pounds on the bench press and your bodyweight is 175 pounds.
That’s a total of 400 pounds but if you look for a 400 max capacity bench, you don’t give yourself any room to get stronger. Consider adding a hundred pounds for a 500 pound max user weight.
Often the simplest benches have the highest max user weight rating. That is because increasing the number of moving parts on a bench increases the potential weak spots.
Remember, the frame is the biggest factor in how sturdy a bench is. Look for a frame made of steel gauge 14 or lower, with as few components as possible.
It is important for the ergonomic efficiency of your exercises that the bench height and width be suited for the use you intend to put the bench to.
When doing the bench press, for example, you want your feet to be able to sit flat on the floor. If the bench is too high you won’t be able to and you will lose some of your pushing power.
A bench that is too high will also over emphasize your back arch.
Neither do you want the bench to be too low to the ground as this will negate the driving power of your quads in the bench press.
An ideal bench height will see your legs forming a natural right angle at the knee.
When it comes to the bench width, you do not want it to be too wide. While it has to support your torso, you don’t want it to be so wide that it restricts the natural movement of your shoulder blades when you are pressing or doing other moves like flyes.
You want the bench to have a good amount of padding for comfort but you don’t want too much.
Remember, about 1 inch is the ideal — most manufacturers should list this measurement on online product pages.
You cannot generate power from a soft surface so a bench that is overly padded will rob you of some of your pressing power.
The padding should not be so soft that you are able to push your thumb all the way down to the bench base.
Benches are an amazing tool to aid in your strength training journey.
They allow you more versatility to perform different movements including seated movements, incline movements, and even decline movements!
You’ll want to work bench exercises into your workout program, and now you should understand the basic parts and components of a weight bench and how to get started using one at the gym.
Understanding the different parts of a weight bench will also help you buy a good quality one for home — here are some good weight benches for beginners.
Before you go, don’t miss:
- The different parts of a barbell
- The different parts of a spin bike
- The different parts of a rowing machine
- The different parts of a power rack
Hope this helps!