If You’re Going to Bench Press At Least Do It Right
Pretty much everyone that has ever spent any time in a gym has performed the bench press. Despite the fact that it isn’t the best exercise available to build size and strength, the bench press remains the single biggest factor for determining strength in the eyes of most people. You tell one of your friends, relatives or acquaintances that you’ve gotten into weightlifting to get stronger and the question that invariably comes back is, “How much can you bench?”
Don’t get me wrong, the bench press is a solid movement for chest, shoulder and triceps development but it does have one inherent problem – most of the people who are doing it aren’t doing it properly and that can set you up for a serious injury. If you are going to perform the bench press (and we all know that you are), you’ve got to at least take the time to learn proper form.
The first thing you’ll need to perform the bench press in the safest and most effective manner is a stable base. This means no feet up on the bench and certainly no feet crossed in the air above the bench. Plant your feet firmly on the ground next to the bench to give you the rock solid start you need to safely push bigger weights. You also want to keep your rear end on the bench throughout the movement. Raising up in a ridiculous arch may shorten the distance that you’ve got to push the weight allowing you to lift more, but it robs you of the majority of the effectiveness of the exercise and pushing too much weight too soon is an excellent way to cause yourself bodily harm.
If you’re a beginner on the bench, you don’t need to play around with different grips. Take the time to learn how to properly perform the traditional movement before attempting it with a reverse grip – and while we’re on the topic avoid grip – beginners, intermediates and advanced lifters alike should avoid benching with a thumbless grip. Performing the bench press with a thumbless grip adds absolutely nothing beneficial to the lift and it can put you on the fast track to the emergency room with a crushed trachea, or worse, if the barbell slips.
Remove your barbell from the rack and hold it in the locked position directly above your shoulders. Prior to lowering the weight you want to take in a deep breath and hold it. Holding your breath in as you perform the movement will create the tightness and stability throughout your torso to help you drive the barbell back to the starting position. Exhale upon completion of the rep and repeat this breathing pattern throughout the course of the set.
You want to lower the bar in a completely controlled fashion to the bottom of your sternum/top of your abs. Plenty of people who perform the bench press want to bring the barbell directly down onto their chest muscles, but this will cause your elbows to flair out and put undue stress on shoulder joints. Lowering the bar to the bottom of your sternum is a more natural arc that will help to keep your elbows tucked in and help give you more drive and generate more power from the bottom position.
The press back up should follow the same arc that the barbell did on the way down. At the end of the rep you want the barbell locked directly above your shoulders, in the same position it was when you unracked it.
If you’ve bench pressed before with poor form, getting the proper form down might feel a bit unnatural at the beginning but it’s crucial to your safety to fight the urge to go back to bad habits. Even if you’ve got to use less weight for a few workouts to perfect your form, it’s well worth the damage to your ego to stay healthy – and once you’ve got the proper form down it won’t be long before you are safely putting up bigger weights than you would have thought possible.
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About Jeff Wilson Jeff Wilson has been involved in some form of sports and athletic training for more than two decades: as an athlete, a trainer and a writer.