Bench Press. It’s probably the most popular exercise ever. And for good reason, the bench press is the definitive measure of upper body strength. No one asks “Hey what’s your best squat?” or “How much can you bent over row?” I’d be willing to bet the most popular phrase uttered in gyms across the world is “How much you bench?” People care about benching. Even if you’re not a powerlifter or trying to max out on reps in the NFL combine test everyone wants to bench big, myself included. So here is how to properly perform the most improperly performed lift in gyms around the world.
How to Bench:
The first step to hoisting massive weights on the bench press is technique. You can AUTOMATICALLY add close to 10% to your bench press simply by adjusting your technique. Even if you already have a respectable or even above average bench press i guarantee that improving technique will make you an even better presser. Here’s how to do that:
There are various set up techniques, by no means is this the only way however if you follow the general principles outlined below you are on your way to a better bench press!!
Scapula Retraction- The main purpose of scapular retraction is it reduces range of motion, and places the shoulder capsule in a more stable and safe position for pressing, creating a stable base to press off of. The degree to which you retract your scapula is up to your mobility and comfort level. I personally like to retract and depress my scapula, as I feel significantly more stable.
Finding your Arch-After scapular retraction the next crucial step to setting up on the Bench Press is developing an arch. Similar to scapular retraction, developing an arch helps reduce range of motion and keep your shoulders safe. You can develop an arch in one of two ways. The fist way of achieving an arch is by setting the shoulders and then using your legs and hips to push the shoulders into the bench. To do this set your shoulders into the bench by holding each side of the bench rack. Raise your hips off the bench and push your shoulders into the bench, actively pushing the chest up. The second way of finding your arch is by setting your hips hard on the bench and slowly inching your shoulders down towards your hips, also actively pushing the chest up. To achieve this drive your feet into the floor and using the bench rack to brace yourself, push your hips down. Continue pull your shoulder blades down towards your hips. Imagine “putting your shoulders blades in your back pocket.”
Foot Position- Foot position is easily the most overlooked aspect of bench pressing. While most would assume the bench press is simply an upper body lift, the truth is that to achieve your full bench potential you will need to use leg drive. Foot position is key to achieving optimal tightness on the Bench Press. There are two ways to plant your feet during the Bench: heels on the ground or heels up. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Having your heels off the ground allows for a greater arch and in my opinion more overall full body tightness. However, you loose leg drive with your heels off the floor as you have to press through the toes to drive through the floor. Heels on the ground allows for more surface area to press through, but does not allow for such a dramatic arch, which actually is generally a good thing as having an absurd arch is not necessary for most people and can put stress on the lowerback. Choose whichever is most comfortable for you, I personally like having heels off the floor but as I want to compete in either the USAPL or IPF one day (which require you to have your heels on the ground) heels on the floor is how I bench.
Grip- Your grip width is up to you. For most a grip just outside shoulder width will be where the majority of individual will be strongest. However, for those who are more limb dominant like myself a slightly narrower grip will be more appropriate for maximal strength. Once you find your preferred grip, squeeze the shit out of the bar. This is crucial, the harder you squeeze the more you can lift. Why? Because of something called muscle irradiation. Muscle irradiation is the concept that when a certain group of muscles is contracted maximally it is easier for nearby muscles to contract similarly. You can try this technique with any exercise and will find you gain immediate strength. Once you have gripped the bar as hard as you possible can it is time to unrack the bar.
Unracking– While in an ideal world you can use a spotter to help you unrack the bar, there will come a time where you will need to unrack the bar by yourself. Simply press the bar off the pins and bring it roughly over your clavicle. Make sure your wrists are not excessively flexed or extended. The wrists should be in line with the elbows at all times.
Descent-Before you begin the descent make sure you haven’t lost your positioning outlined in the last four steps. A mental checklist I like to go over before I begin any set of bench pressing is as follows: scapula retracted, feet pressed hard into the ground, grip level on 10000, bend bar in half/rip bar apart. Bending the bar in half or ripping it apart is a useful que because force during the concentric phase (ascent) of the bench press is not only vertical but also lateral. By imagining you are bending the bar in half you can better recruit the pecs before the lift has even started. Lastly, take a deep breath and force as much air as you can into your diaphragm. This is key to increasing intraabdominal and thoracic pressure needed to stabilize your torso during the Bench Press. Finally after all these things are in place begin descending the barbell. Slowly lower the barbell to your chest. The bar should be lowered somewhere between the nipple line and the bottom of your sternum. While the bottom position of the barbell will vary from person to person lowering the bar above the nipple line can be hard on the shoulders and a one-way ticket to snap city.
Ascent-Initiate the ascent by pushing your feet into the ground as hard as possible, pressing the bar up and back as forcefully as possible. This should be aggressive and intentional; if you simply go through the motion of pushing up I guarantee you are not achieving your maximal potential. You can also flare your elbows to initiate the drive off your chest this is a useful technique that I have found to be very effective in my own training.
2. Find Arch
3. Find Foot Placement
4. Grip/ Bend Bar in Half
5. Big Breath in/ Brace
6. Pull Bar Into you
7. Press that shit like your life depends on it.
And there you have it an in depth look at how to Bench Pres. if you follow these steps I guarantee you will find immediate improvements in your bench press. Happy Benching!!
Don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe!!