Bench Press, The Right Way

How to bench properly

It’s Monday at the gym which can only mean one thing: “chest and tris” for 90% of the typical gym goers in America. Nearly every one of the chest and tri doers will start their workout with a variation of the bench press, whether incline or flat, dumbbells or barbell. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I use to split up my workout routines like the rest of society, before I came to the brighter side. Now this post isn’t meant to make fun of people that split up workouts this way, it’s meant to be educational. By the end of this article you should actually know, or at least have a better understanding, of what muscles you really recruit while benching and how to bench properly.

Let’s first go over the bench press. The bench press is a full body lift. I repeat a FULL BODY lift. A proper bench press involves everything from your head to your toes. Your hips, lats, chest, tris, and shoulders are responsible for driving the bar off your chest until your arms are fully extended, while your “core” is maintaining the tension between your upper and lower body.

An improper bench will look like this: feet in the air, bodies squirming on the bench like a worm on a hook, heads elevated off the bench, relaxed shoulders, bad bench pressetc. When a bench press is not done properly, the force of weight on the barbell is distributed through tendons and ligaments. Tendons and ligaments were not designed to sustain that kind of a repeated load. You’ll notice most people who have been benching improperly for a long time tend to do the ol’ front of the shoulder rub (AC joint) after each set. I have been there and it sucks. But trust me there is a way to fix it.   While in undergrad I sprained my AC joint while benching (improperly). This forced me to spend the next four years benching with dumbbells instead of a barbell. The dumbbells probably helped correct some of my imbalances that I developed while throwing javelin for 8 years.

Using dumbbells taught me something even more important when it comes to training pressing: CONTROL. To start, controlling the weight (shoot for 1-2 seconds) as it is moving towards your chest (eccentrically loading) is the only way you can use the stretch shortening cycle in your favor while completing each rep.

In order to control the bar properly during each rep is not as easy as it seems. This is really where having control of the barbell shines. It is impossible to do any of the following without having control. It might sound like a pain in the ass, but you’ll thank me when you have a bigger bench and rid yourself of that annoying shoulder pain.

bench-pressPowerLifter1). Place your feet on the ground and lock them in place. DO NOT let them move as you prepare for your set. Use your toes to grab the floor. This will begin to create tension in your lower body, which is key for completing a successful lift. (there have been times that my hamstrings actually cramped while benching)

2.) Lock and press your hips onto the bench. This will engage your hamstrings and maintain the tension you created with the ground.

3.) Pinch your scapula and fire up those lats! This is one of if not the most important step when it comes to the bench press. By doing this, you center the head of your humerus in the glenoid fossa, allowing forces to be distributed more evenly and properly throughout your upper body. No more anterior rolling of your humerus stressing your AC joint!

4.) Take a big breath, brace your core, and hold it!

5.) As the bar lowers, focus on keeping your lats engaged and scapula tight/pinched together! You are currently eccentrically loading your lats, pecs, tris and shoulders, gaining more and more power before the press.

6.) TOUCH YOUR CHEST at nipple level. Coming to this point decreases the total range of motion the bar has to travel, ie increasing the amount of weight you move.

7.) Exhale and drive the bar back to the starting position. Make sure your toes are still gripping the ground and your hips are driven into the bench. This is where the hip drive really comes into play.

8.) Sit up and be impressed by how good your shoulders feel and how easy that set just felt compared to how it use to feel!

To close I just wanted to add a few more things…

-Never spot with one finger. It’s stupid. You’re doing nothing but increasing the risk of the bar dropping on your friends face.

-Do not exhale like a deflating tire (tsssssss). It sounds ridiculous and odds are you are not moving weight.

-Do not keep your legs straight in there air while you bench. It makes you weak by eliminating hip drive, wreaks havoc on your back, and just looks ridiculous!

-Bringing the bar to your chest will not destroy your shoulders if you bench properly.

-And finally…MOVE WEIGHT!