People often like to brag about their strength by how much they can bench. Although, you could easily argue that the squat, deadlift, or row are better measurements of overall strength. Still, this doesn’t mean that having a strong bench doesn’t come with benefits.
If you’re going to get serious with the big lifts, it helps to focus on the finer details, and that’s where the bench press tends to receive less attention. It’s not a surprise why people generally encounter injuries with this exercise.
You don’t have to be a fitness expert or certified trainer to understand the bench press. Like many other compound movements that include multiple muscle groups, there are small ways a breakdown in form can lead to almost no progress.
Every detail matters, from foot placement to when you perform the exercise. After all, these are key elements that make or break the movement.
So, if you’re determined to master the bench press, continue reading and find out how!
Whether you’re just starting out, or already have some experience, it’s worth mastering your setup with a clean unloaded bar. Checking your ego and knowing how to start could be the difference between no pain and big results, or endless injuries.
And, since there are multiple different chest exercises, like the flat, incline, and decline bench press, each setup will have similar rules but feel slightly different. The small amount of time it takes under the bar will tell you how much weight to add.
1. Feet Firmly on The Floor
While many people like putting their feet on the bench during the movement, there is no place for this practice if you’re looking to maximize gains. The best results will come from keeping your feet firmly on the floor, turning your legs and torso in a rigid, stable base.
Think about driving your feet down into the floor, squeezing the glutes, and locking your hips into place. The bench may be an upper body exercise, however if you create full-body tension, it will change the way the entire lift feels.
2. Shoulder-Width Grip
Shoulder injuries are most common with chest exercises, especially with benching. In order to prevent this, make sure you’re using a slightly wider shoulder-width grip.
Unfortunately, most people grip the bar too narrow, which can put added strain on the delts, or go with a wider grip that creates an ineffective bar path which can increase the chance of injury. So don’t forget, slightly wider shoulder-width grip.
3. Squeeze The bar
If you’re going to use heavy weights, your brain needs to be prepared for such a load. The best way to accomplish this when benching is to use a tight grip which maximizes tension in your hands.
More specifically, if you’re going to be safe while creating more tension, don’t use a thumbless grip. Not even the fastest spotter in the world could catch a falling barbell before it hits you. And a thumbless grip will also make you less effective when pushing the weight.
4. Upper Back Flat Against The Bench
Your back has a key role when benching. As you lower the bar, try to “row” the weight to your chest.
Also important to know, your lower back will come up slightly, because of its natural arch. This is fine.
5. Chest Up
You’ll keep the chest up by squeezing the shoulders back underneath the bar.
Keeping your chest up improves the mechanics of the exercise itself. From this position, the bars path is shorter, straight in line, which is what makes the lift more effective.
Therefore, take a deep breath, driving your chest upwards and pulling your shoulder blades back and down into the bench. Aim for a full range of motion, you’ll want to bring the bar just above your chest.
6. Elbow Positioning
Many people bench with a 90 degree elbow angle. This sets them up for fast rotator cuff and elbow pain. Elbow angle matters a lot, as does the alignment of your wrists, and shoulders. This will slightly change the way your range of motion feels, however it’s the best way to maintain healthy shoulder joints, wrists, and elbows.
The correct elbow angle is anywhere from 45 to 70 degrees. Your elbows should be in line with your wrist the whole time.
7. Remember to Use Your Legs
Benching is used to build upper body muscle, however your upper body isn’t the only one working. Contrary to popular belief, the legs can and should be involved when benching.
When setting yourself up in the starting position, you want to create lower body tension throughout the entire movement. Keeping your feet flat on the floor. Legs should press into the ground, which will transfer the force through the hips to help support the tension on your back.
8. No Bouncing
A very popular mistake many people make would be poor bar control.
Loading up the bar and bouncing it of your chest will do you absolutely no good. This technique doesn’tstimulate the muscle fibers properly, nor does it improve strength. It can be even dangerous in some cases.
Aim to lower the barbell slowly, slightly touching your chest, and then pushing it explosively. And never lock your arms completely at the top of the movement, since it can be harmful on your joints.
9. Properly Racking The Weights
Alright, you’ve pumped out some good reps. However, the set is not over yet. You still have to rack the weights. Make sure to maintain an elbows-locked position when returning the bar to the rack.
You may think this tip is unnecessary, however you wouldn’t believe how many injuries happen because of improper weight racking. So, don’t lose your focus and pay extra attention at this part.
10. Bench Press Timing
Try to perform other exercises (for chest, back, and shoulders) before the bench press. This doesn’t mean you should fatigue the muscles completely, but to rather activate everything in a way that lessens the likelihood of injury.
After all, most of us don’t warm up enough before our workout. Simple exercises like band pullaparts and pushups can be a great way to get yourself ready. Also perform some light bench sets, before the actually working ones.