A systematic review of surface electromyography analyses of the bench press movement task

PLoS One. 2017 Feb 7;12(2):e0171632. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171632. eCollection 2017.


Background: The bench press exercise (BP) plays an important role in recreational and professional training, in which muscle activity is an important multifactorial phenomenon. The objective of this paper is to systematically review electromyography (EMG) studies performed on the barbell BP exercise to answer the following research questions: Which muscles show the greatest activity during the flat BP? Which changes in muscle activity are related to specific conditions under which the BP movement is performed?

Strategy: PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in the Cochrane Library were searched through June 10, 2016. A combination of the following search terms was used: bench press, chest press, board press, test, measure, assessment, dynamometer, kinematics and biomechanics. Only original, full-text articles were considered.

Results: The search process resulted in 14 relevant studies that were included in the discussion. The triceps brachii (TB) and pectoralis major (PM) muscles were found to have similar activity during the BP, which was significantly higher than the activity of the anterior deltoid. During the BP movement, muscle activity changes with exercise intensity, velocity of movement, fatigue, mental focus, movement phase and stability conditions, such as bar vibration or unstable surfaces. Under these circumstances, TB is the most common object of activity change.

Conclusions: PM and TB EMG activity is more dominant and shows greater EMG amplitude than anterior deltoid during the BP. There are six factors that can influence muscle activity during the BP; however, the most important factor is exercise intensity, which interacts with all other factors. The research on muscle activity in the BP has several unresolved areas, such as clearly and strongly defined guidelines to perform EMG measurements (e.g., how to elaborate with surface EMG limits) or guidelines for the use of exact muscle models.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance

Grants and funding

The author’s research is funded by grants of Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland (NRSA3 03953 and NRSA4 040 54), PROGRES Q41 and Czech Science Foundation Agency (16-13750S).