Rightly or wrongly, the bench press is the king of gym exercises. Tell someone that you’re an iron pumper and their reflex question is likely to be, “How much can you bench?” Unless you come back at them with an impressive number, they’re likely to smirk knowingly regardless of how peaked your biceps are or how defined your abs happen to be.
The bench press is also the most badly performed, overused and potentially hazardous move you can do in the gym. In this article, we deconstruct the bench press to provide the essential guide to conquering this classic upper body mass builder.
How to Perfect Your Bench Press Form
The bench press is the exercise that is most often done incorrectly in the gym. The reason, ironically, is often because people think that it is simple and natural. As a result, they don’t see the need to learn proper technique the way they would with a squat or deadlift. That is a big mistake!
The first thing to understand about bench press form is that you need to pull your shoulder blades together and tuck in the latissimus dorsi. This is based on Newton’s Law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So, when you press the bench press bar, that bar is also pressing back on you. To get the maximum force transfer, you need to get as much of your back as possible on the bench.
• Lie on the bench with a flat back, with minimal back arch.
• Place your feet flat on the floor and directly under the knees.
• Draw the shoulder blades together and down, expanding the rib cage and placing more of the lats on the bench.
• Your eyes should be directly under the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder level.
• Before unracking the bar, take a deep breath to maximize the amount of tightness in the body. This also helps to transfer force from the feet to the hands.
• Hold the bar with a thumb over the bar grip.
• Unrack the bar and position it over your eyes.
• Draw your shoulder blades back and down.
• Tighten the lats and lower body by squeezing your glutes and legs.
• Try to pull the bar apart as you lower it to your chest. This will maintain the tightness of the upper back and lats.
• Drive your heels into the floor and press the bar up as forcefully as possible.
5 Key Hacks That Can Add Pounds to You Bench
(1) Squeezing the Shoulder Blades – try to squeeze your shoulder blades in the middle of the back when you are in the bridge position. This will help tighten the core and also engage the back to create a coiling effect when the barbell comes down. The tightness achieved helps you spring the barbell back up once it touches the chest.
(2) Elbows at 45 Degrees – you want your elbows coming down at a 45° angle from your body. One of the most common mistakes lifters make when benching is to open up their elbows. If your elbows shift out to your sides near 90° from your body, you could get injured. It will also lead to inefficient pressing and not getting the most out of the lift.
(3) Dig In your Heels – pull your feet far under your body as possible and dig your heels into the ground. This will enhance your ability to drive with your full body when pressing. With every rep, dig in your heels, flex your glutes, and your legs will help you drive the weight upward.
(4) Fill Your Lungs with Air – you want your lungs to assist in generating the power to press. Breathe only during your rest between sets and not as you press; doing so will immediately and greatly deplete your pressing power.
(5) Contact Point – touching the bar just under your pecs will allow you to keep your elbows at 45° from your body. When the bar is further up the chest, the elbows tend to come out, and once your elbows come out, your shoulder blades spread out. Once your shoulder blades spread out, your arch tends to get lost and your power will diminish.
What Not to Do On the Bench
Here are 5 common mistakes that you MUST avoid if you want to conquer the bench …
• Bringing the bar too high – Do not bench to the neck. Doing so will way overstress your shoulder joint and could lead to rotator cuff surgery!
• Unsafe grip – do not use a thumbless grip on the bench press. Not only does it raise the possibility that the bar could slip out of your grip, it also hyperextends your wrist. When you are holding a maximum weight, the last thing you need is a compromised wrist joint!
• Thrust your hips – If you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you’re benching for pec development rather than simply to hoist a number. That being the case, you want to keep the stress on your chest, delts and triceps. To do that you need to keep your hips down throughout the movement.
• Use momentum – In line with the last point, you must avoid stealing the effect of this exercise from your working muscles by allowing momentum to carry the weight up. That means that you must never bounce the bar off your chest.
• Twist your spine – You need to stay focused at all times when you are benching. It doesn’t matter if there’s a holdup at the front of the gym; resist the temptation to twist your neck to see what’s going on. Finish your set first!
The bench press is a natural but not a simple exercise. Taking the time to learn how to do it properly will pay off big time in terms of getting your poundage up and maxing out your muscle gain results. Just remember that the biggest problem that most guys have with the bench press is their ego. Be sure to leave yours at the gym door on chest day!
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