How to: Bench Press
This guide will take you through the progressions and intricacies of how to bench press. The bench press is one of the best exercises to develop upper body strength and power. Lots of people love to bench press, especially men, however many are missing some key cues or techniques to maximize their bench press.
In my experience, most people I come across (in a training environment) have 2 main problems when it comes to incorrect or troublesome bench pressing. Either they are promoting too much anterior deltoid and not enough pectoral use, or they are not taking full advantage of using their lower bodies. Yes, the lower body is involved in the bench press as well.
Although it may seem like a pretty simple and basic exercise, there is far more going on with a bench press than what most people realize. There are also some pretty important technique flaws that hold many back.
Keep in mind that as with any form of exercise, there are inherent dangers associated with lifting weights, and if you have a history of injury or are unsure about a specific movement, it would be best to speak to a qualified medical professional such as your doctor to seek their opinion on whether or not you should partake in a particular exercise or program.
- You should have a sturdy bench positioned so that when you are laying down, your feet can be flat on the ground.
- Position yourself so that your eyes are directly beneath the bar.
- You should maintain 5 points of contact throughout the entire range of motion: 2 feet on the ground, glutes, upper back, and back of head on the bench.
- You should keep an arch to your lower back. This will help transition force from your legs, pushing heels into the ground, to your upper body. Having said that, make sure not to lift your glutes up off the bench when pressing hard.
- Grip the bar tight with the bar sitting in your palm rather than towards the fingers.
- Shoulder blades should be retracted and down. Rather than just squeezing your shoulder blades together, aim to bring the bottom tips of your scapulae together.
- When I am about to begin, I get my grip on the bar, pull my chest up towards the bar, lifting my back off the bench, and squeezing my shoulder blades together.
- Act as if you are about to break the bar like a pencil.
- If you do not have someone to spot you, make sure you are using a rack with safety rails to catch the bar if you cannot complete a repetition. The rails should be at a height allowing you to complete the full range of motion (bar to chest), yet not too low that it is not able to protect your chest from the bar. This needs to be taken seriously. The bench press is one exercise that can cause serious injury, even death if you do not take the correct safety precautions. If you are in a box gym, most people are more than happy to spot you so don't be afraid to ask!
- Take a nice deep breath and unrack the bar with straight arms and bring the bar into position straight over your mid-chest.
- Lower the bar to your chest, under control, without bouncing the bar off your chest. You should aim for the bar to touch your chest at the very tip of your sternum, about an inch or two below your nipple line. Hold your breath on the eccentric, or lowering portion of the lift.
- When the bar is touching your chest, your lower arms should be perpendicular to the bar. If not then you may need to either widen or narrow your grip. Your elbows should not be touching your sides nor flared out, in line with your shoulders. Instead, aim for about a 30 degree angle from your torso.
- Press the bar straight up as forcefully as possible while exhaling, driving through your heels.
Key Points to Focus On
- The bench press is a great way to increase the strength and size of the anterior shoulders, pectorals, triceps, etc. Having said that, make sure you avoid muscle imbalances by having a well-rounded program that also includes lifts like the overhead press and barbell row to work the posterior delts and upper back. This will not only make the shoulder more well-rounded and strong, but will also help you to better stabilize your shoulder blades, thus improving your bench press.
- The bar path should be straight up and down directly over the tip of the sternum.
- Do not use a thumbless or "suicide grip." There is a reason why it is called a suicide grip, because if that bar rolls out of your hands then that bar will end up on your chest or neck causing serious injury or death.
- Elbows should be close to your torso but not touching. Aim for a 30 degree angle.
- Maintain engaged shoulder blades throughout the entire range of motion. If you lose engagement then your anterior shoulders will be taking more of the load rather than your pectorals.
- Maintain your 5 points of contact throughout.
- Pressing your heels into the ground will help to transition force from your lower body, through your core, up to your arms and chest.