The Big 3: The Bench Press
Welcome to International Chest Day, aka Monday! Today when you go to the gym, you’re sure to see everybody and their uncle hitting the cable flyes, dips, dumbbell presses, and of course….the bench press. Now, hitting a bench press with three plates on there is pretty cool, but if you’re just bending your elbows and calling it a rep, three plates isn’t so cool any more. Today we are going to take a look at the proper way to perform the bench press so that you can get the most out of the movement.
The setup is possibly the most important part of the bench press. You can’t just go lie down on a bench and expect to smash out a bunch of reps. Let’s go further and look at the details of the setup.
Although your foot placement isn’t as crucial on the bench as it is for the deadlift or squat, it’s still important. Your feet are the start of a strong base, and are where you’ll draw your power from.
Try to keep your feet back toward your butt as far as you can while still keeping them flat on the ground. Depending on your height and body type, this is going to look a little different for everyone. The point, though, is to plant your feet firmly so you can generate power from the ground through your entire body.
Like your foot placement, your back position is going to look unique to you based on your build and mechanics. Essentially, though, you should set up far enough under the bar that it’s easy to unrack, but not so far under that you hit the pegs on the way up. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to stay tight and protect your shoulders. Imagine trying to crush a grape between your shoulder blades, and push your upper back into the bench.
This is a little bit of a controversial topic, especially among bodybuilders. Many bodybuilders think that arching your back is just a powerlifting move, but arching your lower back will actually help you maintain a neutral spine and keep your back tight and protected as you press.
If you’re not into powerlifting, your back arch doesn’t need to be that exaggerated. However, always keep a slight arch in your lower back. If you’re a powerlifter, arch your back as much as you can to minimize the distance the bar has to travel.
Grab the bar tightly and with authority—grip the heck out of it! Hold the bar as far down your palm as possible. If the bar is too high in your hand, or even in your fingers, your wrist will bend backward. A straight wrist provides optimal force.
Grip width will depend on your body type. People with longer arms will need to grip wider, and those with shorter arms will need a narrower grip. However, I don’t like exaggerated grips in either direction. Most people will grip around the barbell rings or just inside them. I don’t recommend a false grip because it can be dangerous. Wrap your thumb.
Take in a deep breath, unrack the bar, and then let the breath out. Before you move the bar downward, take another deep breath. Hold that breath and use it to brace your abdominal wall. Hold your breath until you get past the concentric sticking point of your press, and then breathe out forcefully.
UNRACKING THE BAR
Don’t waste energy lifting the bar off the rack, especially if it’s loaded with a lot of weight. If you don’t have a partner to help you, drive your back into the bench so hard the bar just pops off.
Performing the Bench Press
Once you’ve taken a deep breath and have braced, it’s time to initiate lowering the bar. As you do this, think about bending the bar into a U-shape with your hands. Bending the bar will allow you to tuck your elbows naturally to engage your lats and protect your shoulders.
Where you touch the bar on your body will depend on how long your arms are and where you grip the bar. Whatever the case, your forearm should be at 90 degrees from the ground in this bottom position. If it’s more or less, you may lose force.
If you have long arms and a narrow grip, you’ll touch farther down on your body. If you have short arms and a wide grip, the bar will touch higher on your chest. Most people will hit anywhere from their top ab to their nipple line. Wherever the bar hits you, try to hit the same spot every rep.
Once the bar has made contact with your torso, initiate the upward movement by tightening your glutes and driving your legs into the ground. No, that’s not cheating. Using leg drive will allow you to stay tight and bench more weight.
As you press up, think about throwing the bar back. The bar should move in a slight arch or “reverse J” pattern.
- Squeeze you shoulder blades together
- Use a closed grip (thumb around bar)
- Squeeze the bar and try to bend it
- Keep your wrists straight
- Contract your abs
- Squeeze your glutes
- Arch your back
- Keep your glutes in contact with the bench
- Drive your heels into the floor
- Keep your elbows tucked
- Push the bar in a (fairly) straight line (push away from your face)
There you have it. You are now an expert at the bench press! Ok, maybe not a master, but you are at least one step closer to becoming one. Before you hit the bench today, be sure to go through this list to be sure that you are doing the movement correctly. If you found this information helpful, please share it with friends and families. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all @Liftyourfitness. Be sure to leave your thoughts and comments below too!