- 4 Jul 2011
The Bench Press
How do I properly perform a bench press?
Quick, down and dirty. If you want more detail, go buy Starting Strength. This is not a bodybuilding bench press, nor a powerlifting bench press. This is a basic bench press. Don't point to westside-barbell.com or Metal Militia's site and tell me that I am explaining the bench wrong. Don't point to one of Bob Chik's video posting/explanations and tell me that I am explaining the bench wrong. This is the standard bench press for a novice.
- Lie flat on the bench, ensuring that you are evenly balanced from left to right. Falling off of one side of the bench in the middle of a press is embarassing and decidedly non-anabolic. Your eyes should not be gazing directly beneath the bar, but rather looking just past the "foot side" of the bar.
- Your feet need to stay on the floor at all times, and not move. If you need to get blocks or use plates on either side of the bench so your legs can reach, then do so. Don't lift your feet in the air or rest them on the bench. Your knees should be bent at approx. 90 degrees, and your feet should be on either side of the bench, with your legs spread at approximately 30 degrees to either side. An extra wide stance will generally be uncomfortable, an extremely close stance will not allow for proper stability and can encourage the lifting of the butt off the bench, which is a no-no. Find a comfortable stance and foot width, and maintain it throughout the motion.
- Your glutes should stay in contact with the bench at all times, and should be contracted during all repetitions to help maintain a stable base.
- Tuck your shoulder blades underneath your body and pinch them together and down. This will elevate the ribcage and stabilize the shoulder girdle. Maintain this state of tightness in your upper back/traps during all repetitions. This will also create a natural arch in the lower back, and will create a stable platform out of your upper back muscles for you to press from. This is called "shoulder joint retraction" and will make your rotator cuff very happy when benching.
- Without protracting your shoulders (allowing them to roll forward/upward and lose tightness), reach up with each hand and grasp it an equal distance from the center of the bar. Use the outer "smooth ring" as a reference point. You should use a hand spacing that places your pinkies within an inch or 2 of the smooth ring. Wrap your thumbs around the bar and allow the bar to rest along the heel of the hand, rather than up near the knuckles (which will cause unnecessary stress to the wrists)
- Lift the bar straight up with locked elbows (still touching the rails) and bring it straight forward over your nips. These are two distinct movements, not one. Remember each rep begins and ends with locked elbows. Do not unrack the bar and immediately lower it to your chest from the rack in a diagonal line. Make a mental note of where the bar is in relation to the ceiling. Find a spot, beam, or other marker to use as your visual reference point. If no point pre-exists, make one. The bar will return to this point after every repetition.
- From a stopped position with the bar directly above your nipples, take a very deep breath, maintain tightness in the upper back and "pull" the bar to your nips in a controlled fashion. Your elbows should not flare or tuck excessively. Ideally, your upper arm bones (the humerus) will form an angle that is approximately 40-60 degrees from your torso. If your elbows flare out wide to the sides (~90 degree angle) then you hit your pecs incredibly hard at the risk of your rotator cuff's health. If your elbows tuck into your body (20-30 degree angle) then you will place too much emphasis on your triceps and delts, and not enough on your pecs. Your forearms should form about a 90 degree angle with the bar and with the floor (straight up and down). This is illustrated in the final picture on the left. If his grip was any narrower or wider his forearms would either be acute or obtuse to the bar. Having your forearms going straight up and down allows for the most efficient transfer of force to the barbell. You might need to experiment with hand spacing to find this "sweet spot."
- Touch the bar to your shirt, not to your chest - if you visualize this and then try to perform it, this will pretty much guarantee that you don't bounce off your chest.
- Press steadily and evenly to complete lockout without hyperextending your elbows or protracting (lifting) your shoulders from the bench (i.e. your upper back/traps should stay tight even at the top).
- Lather, rinse, repeat
- On the final repetition of the set, do NOT press directly toward the rack. The last rep should look identical to the first. You will press the last rep to lockout directly over the chest, and then bring it straight backward until it hits the rails of the bench, and then it will be lowered. Any attempt to press the final rep directly into the bench rests (diagonally) could result in the loss of your face if you miss!