Weight benches are an essential piece of gym equipment. Whatever your training goal is, if you use free weights, you’ll need a weight bench. There are lots of exercises that are done while standing, but weight benches allow you to perform an even greater number of exercises.
A good weight bench can make your workout much more effective and enjoyable. In contrast, the wrong bench could make your workout uncomfortable, frustrating, and even dangerous.
With so many different types of bench to choose from, it can be a hard task to decide which one is right for you. This guide will help you choose the right bench for your needs.
Types of bench
Broadly speaking, there are four types of weight bench, each one offering advantages and disadvantages.
Flat benches provide a solid platform for a wide variety of barbell and dumbbell exercises. They can be used in conjunction with Smith machines, in a squat or power rack, and with cable machines. Flat benches can also be used for bodyweight exercises such as bench dips, rear-foot elevated split squats, or seated leg raises for the abs.
Because flat benches are not adjustable, they tend to be very strong and can support a lot of weight. This makes them ideal for commercial settings. Their simple but solid construction means that there is very little that can go wrong with a flat bench, and so they should be hardwearing and long-lasting.
Flat benches tend to be cheaper than other types of bench which means gyms usually have several. They can be moved easily from one area to another e.g. from the free weight area to a power rack. Most flat benches are quite compact which makes them ideal for use in smaller spaces.
If there is a down side, a flat bench means exercise angles cannot be changed. For example, you can only do horizontal dumbbell presses and flys. If you do exercises like biceps curls or shoulder presses, if you use a flat bench, you’ll have to do them without the luxury of back support.
Flat bench summary
- Easy to move
- Can be used in a Smith machine, power rack, or cable machine
- Hardwearing and long-lasting
- Cheaper than other types of benches
- Not adjustable– only suitable for supine exercises
- For safety, most barbell exercises should be done in conjunction with a power rack
- No back support for seated exercises
Adjustable (FID) benches
Adjustable benches are also known as FID benches. This is short for flat, incline, decline. As the name suggests, you can alter the angle of the back rest to work your muscles from a variety of angles. Most FID benches also have adjustable seats to ensure that you don’t slide off the bench when the back rest is angled steeply.
Being able to change the angle of the back rest significantly increases the number of exercises you can do using your weight bench. For example, instead of just horizontal bench presses and flyes, you can also do slight, moderate, and steep incline presses/flyes, as well as work at a decline.
The back support can also be set in a vertical position for shoulders presses, dumbbell biceps curls, and overhead triceps extensions, providing support and taking stress of the lower back in the process. FID benches can also be used for chest-supported rows and reverse flyes.
While all adjustable benches can be used flat or at a variety of inclines, usually increasing in 10 to 15-degree increments, not all benches offer a decline setting. Those that do normally only provide a slight decline. Benches that offer a steep incline are usually fitted with a leg restraint to stop you sliding off while you exercise. This type of bench can usually be used for decline sit-ups and crunches.
Because FID benches have more moving parts, they are not as strong as fixed flat benches. They also tend to be heavier and bigger than flat benches. To make them easier to move, many FID benches have wheels so you can simply tip and roll them into the desired position.
With more moving parts, there is more to go wrong with an FID bench than a flat bench, but good-quality benches should still last a long time. However, it’s a good idea to check them from time to time for wear and tear, making sure the incline mechanism is in good working order.
The adjustable back rest and seat on some FID benches may wobble. This could lead to instability during exercise. Good-quality benches will wobble much less than lightweight home-use benches.
FID benches are also not designed to support the same heavy weights as fixed flat benches, although commercial FID benches should be more than strong enough for the majority of exercisers. Using very heavy weights while the bench is set to an incline could cause the backrest to collapse, leading to serious injury. The incline locking mechanism should allow for easy adjustment but also lock the back support securely in place.
Adjustable (FID) bench summary
- Greater exercise variety
- Ideal for both home and commercial use
- Not so easy to move
- Not as strong as flat benches
- More prone to wear and tear
- Usually more expensive than flat benches
Flat and FID benches are ideal for dumbbell exercises. However, if you want to perform heavy barbell exercises, and specifically bench presses, you should move your bench to a power rack for safety. Alternatively, and probably more conveniently, you could use an Olympic bench.
Olympic benches are designed to be used with standard 2.2-metre Olympic barbells. They have uprights and pins or J-hooks to support the weight between sets. Olympic benches are very strong and built to support heavy weights – far more than even the strongest exerciser will ever be able to lift. This extra strength means that Olympic benches are big, heavy, and not that easy to move. However, their heavyweight construction means that Olympic benches are hardwearing and long-lasting; there is very little to go wrong with them.
Most Olympic benches have an adjustable racking system so that you can set the bar at a height that’s right for the length of your arms. If this facility is not available, it could make unracking the bar and reracking the bar difficult and even dangerous.
The uprights are usually quite wide apart to ensure they hold a standard Olympic bar securely. However, this means this type of bench may not be suitable for use with shorter fitness-type barbells. The uprights will also get in the way for dumbbells exercises.
Olympic benches have built-in plate storage racks so you can keep your workout area tidy and make sure there are enough weight plates within easy reach. These storage racks are normally designed specifically for Olympic plates and smaller fitness weight plates will not fit.
Some commercial-grade Olympic benches have adjustable safety bars that will take the weight if you fail to complete a rep or want to do exercises such as pin presses or isometrics. They may also provide band anchor points for accommodating resistance training.
Olympic benches usually have a fixed angle and are available in flat, incline, and decline variations. This means that they are not as versatile as FID benches, and the only exercise they tend to be used for is variations of the bench press.
Olympic bench summary
- Very strong and stable
- Easy to use
- Perfect for heavy bench pressing
- Long-lasting and unlikely to break
- Not very versatile
- May need to purchase flat, incline, and decline benches
- Only compatible with Olympic barbells and weight plates
- Not suitable for dumbbell exercises
- Heavy and difficult to move
- Large footprint
- More expensive
Speciality benches usually have a dedicated function that may or not be possible with a flat. FID, or Olympic bench. They don’t tend to offer a wide range of exercises but, instead, allow for the performance of just one specific movement.
Examples of speciality benches include:
- Preacher curl/Scott curl benches – for barbell and dumbbell biceps curls
- Adjustable sit up and crunch benches– for abs training
- 45-degree back extension benches – for lower back, glutes, and hamstring training
- Captain’s chairs – for abs training
- Vertical bench – for seated barbell and behind-the neck presses
Speciality benches can be very useful, allowing exercisers to train specific muscles in comfort and safety. However, most have very limited functionality which means they may end up taking up space that could be better served with a more versatile bench. If space allows, speciality benches can be a useful addition to any gym.
Speciality benches summary
- Allow certain exercises to be done in comfort and safety
- Allow specific muscle groups to be trained more effectively
- Not very versatile– most speciality benches have only one function
- May take up a lot of space
What look for when buying a weight bench
Now you know all about the different types of weight bench, you should be able to choose the right type of bench for your requirements. But, before buying your bench, it’s important to consider the following additional information.
Weight capacity – commercial weight benches are much stronger than those designed home and light commercial use. Using very heavy weights on a home bench could cause it to collapse, leading to serious injury. This applies to the back support, the locking mechanism on FID benches, the uprights, and the J-hooks/racking pins. Make sure your bench is strong enough to comfortably support the weights that you anticipate using.
Size – bench size varies a lot. Flat benches are small and compact, while Olympic benches are much bigger. Make sure your bench fits the available area, and that there is enough space around it for safe and unencumbered use. With Olympic and speciality benches, also consider the length of the barbell.
Bench weight – lighter benches are easier to move and are often cheaper to buy, but they are not as strong as more solidly-constructed benches. Lightweight benches are fine for home and light commercial use but may not be strong enough for a commercial setting.
Back support width and length – some benches have wider or longer back supports than others. A narrow back rest will be no issue for females and teenagers, but could cause problems for bigger exercisers, especially when lifting heavy weights. Tall people may find that some benches are simply too short to support their heads and lower backs at the same time. Longer benches are generally more useful.
Stability – some FID benches are prone to wobbling. This could be disconcerting when lifting heavy weights. Good quality FID benches will be much more stable than cheaper alternatives. Flat and Olympic benches are usually rock-solid as there are no moving parts.
Upright width – Olympic benches usually have quite wide uprights which means that they can only be used with Olympic bars, typically 2.2 metres long. This will ensure the inner collars are outside the uprights, making it easy to add or remove plates. Fitness-type barbells are much shorter and that will make it much harder to add or remove weight plates.
Bench height – most benches have a set height. For most exercises, you’ll be much more stable if you are able to plant your feet firmly on the floor. If you have to stretch to reach the floor, you run the risk of hyperextending your lower back, which could lead to injury or, at least, an unstable exercise position.
Pad thickness/comfort – weight benches should be upholstered with firm but comfortable padding. If the padding is too thick or soft, you may feel unstable, especially when using heavy weights. The padding should not compress or distort with repeated use. However, if the padding is too hard, it could be uncomfortable.
Covering – the padding should be covered with a strong, easy-to-clean material. Stress points may be reinforced to increase longevity. If the bench is going to receive heavy use, are the pads and is the covering removable for easy repair or replacement?
Frame finish – weight benches can take a lot of punishment but should still be built to last. Powder-coated frames tend to be more impact-resistant than painted frames and will stay looking good for longer. However, painted frames are usually cheaper and easier to “touch up” to repair chips.
Versatility vs. speciality – flat and FID benches can be used for a wide range of exercises. Combined with a power rack or Smith machine, they can be used to train the upper body and lower body, with barbells, dumbbells, or in conjunction with a cable machine. Olympic benches and speciality benches are much less versatile.
Added extras – some home-use FID benches allow you to add things like preacher curl, leg extension and leg curl attachments. They may even have a built-in squat rack and dipping bars. While such additions will provide more exercise variety, this type of bench is not really up to heavy use and could break if you use too much weight.
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