How To Bench Press
The bench press is a lift that is not as common among women. In gyms around the world, you’ll mostly find guys on the bench press. As much as we train our glutes, arms or back we should not neglect the chest.
The bench press is a great exercise for training the chest, shoulders, and triceps. It won’t make you bulky and benching while getting toned will help ensure you lose primarily fat and not muscle.
It can be a fun exercise to see how strong you can get at it as well as build strength for push-ups. If you can bench a decent amount of weight, push-ups become a lot easier.
How Many Ways Can You Bench Press?
There are many different forms of bench press, flat barbell, incline barbell, close grip, wide grip, floor press, flat dumbbell, incline dumbbell, iso-lateral dumbbell, offset dumbbell, etc… The list goes on and on.
We are only going to focus on the flat barbell bench press. The flat barbell bench press will carry over to most other variations very easily.
Phase 1: The Bench Press Set Up
The position of your shoulders is extremely important in generating max strength as well as keeping the shoulders healthy and happy. Many get the bench press wrong as well as the push-up.
Depending on the set up dictates where the stress is placed.
During the bench press, you want your shoulders to be depressed and retracted.
Retracting the shoulders can be tricky for some so there are exercises to build the awareness and strength to retract them and keep them retracted.
Band Pull Aparts
Scap Push Ups
Incline Dumbbell Shrug
Going through the exercises above will give you control over your shoulders and scapulae. This is key for a strong healthy bench press.
When bench pressing with the elbows high it places a lot of stress on the shoulder joint and limits your range of motion.
In order to keep the shoulders happy we want to tuck the elbows. Depending on the width of your grip and the exercise dictates how much you tuck.
Tucking the elbows allows for a full and comfortable range of motion.
The back arch is used for a number of reasons and should only be done minimally and within your own comfortable limits.
The first reason to arch the back is to help drive the shoulders into the bench giving yourself a much more solid platform to bench off of.
The second reason is to help maintain rigidity throughout the entire body.
The legs are extremely important in the bench press. Many think the bench press is just an upper body lift and only uses a few muscle groups. That couldn’t be any farther from the truth.
The bench press uses the entire body to generate the maximum amount of strength as well as keep the shoulders safe.
The leg set up helps to keep tension in the body and use your strength to drive the bar up, not kick your legs around.
Think of a hose with water flowing through it. If your goal is to have good water pressure on the other side the last thing you want is to cut holes in the hose. With each hole, the pressure diminishes. The same goes for the bench press. When the legs, back, shoulder position are all not correct you will lose power.
When setting your legs be sure your heels are under your knees or behind them, not in front. The farther your heels are in front the more you’ll lose your back arch.
Phase 2: Unracking The Bar
Unracking the bar can zap a lot of energy if you are not set in the right place. Starting with your eyes under the bar while laying on the bench is ideal. If the bar is starting above your head it takes a lot more energy to get the weight over your chest.
Once the weight is over your chest it is directly under gravity. If your arms are locked out then this position should be relatively effortless.
Once you are set with eyes under the bar you want to get your legs set first. Pull them both back and ensure they are even. You do not want to be crooked on the bench. When the legs are pinned back take your grip width by using the rings to make sure your hands are even.
Before pressing the bar up you will lift your upper body off the bench just enough to retract your shoulder blades. Gently lower your upper body back onto the bench with your shoulder blades now retracted.
Ensure your back is arched to your comfort level. From this position, you are ready to unrack the bar.
Press the bar straight up by extending the elbows while keeping the shoulders retracted. Once the arms are locked out pull the bar over your mid-chest.
Now you are set to bench press!
Phase 3: The Bench Press
While the bar is locked out over the chest ensure the elbows are pointing in the right direction so they are slightly tucked. Initiate the movement by flexing the elbow and allowing the bar to travel down to the chest. Depending on your arm length and mechanics will dictate where the bar will hit.
Ideally, you want to keep your forearm vertical and the wrist stacked right over the elbow. Once the bar has touched your chest you drive it back up.
You want to lock the bar out in the same place it started. If it drifts out of that spot it will place more stress on your shoulders and fatigue you.
Repeat until your desired number of reps are complete. On the last rep lock the elbows out and ensure they stay locked while returning the bar back to the rack. The bar should hit the rack first before you lower it into the J hook. Keep pressing the weight back against the rack to ensure you do not miss one or both of the J hooks.
Get A Spotter
The bench press is one of the more dangerous exercises when not practiced safely. If you load too much weight on the bar and cannot lift it back up you will be pinned underneath it. This can easily be avoided by having someone spot you.
They will look over you and if you get fatigued and cannot lift it they will pick up the slack and help you return the bar safely to the rack. At no time during the lift should they have their hands on the bar. Until you ask for help their hands should be clear of the bar.
By lifting within your means it ensures your spotter will only have to lift 15-20 pounds max if or when you fail. If you can only bench press 100 pounds for 1 rep then you should not try 150 pounds. This not only puts you at risk but your spotter as well.
Phase 4: Building Strength For The Bench Press
If you are not able to bench press the bar which weighs 45 pounds then you first need to build strength. Below are 3 exercises that can help build strength for the bench press.
The chest press uses the same form as the bench press however you are sitting upright. Ensure a slight arch in the back and retract the shoulder blades. With using a machine it decreases the stability needed, be ready when transitioning to the barbell, it will feel a lot more wobbly.
Fixed Barbell Bench Press
By using a smaller weight you can practice the exercise as well as build strength. Have a friend or someone in the gym hand it to you while on the bench so you can properly get into position.
Push Up Negatives
Focusing on the negative of the push-up and place more stress on the muscles needed to bench press. Start in a tall push-up position and slowly lower your body down until your chest touches the floor. Return to the top and repeat until your set is complete.
You now know how to bench press which goes a long way for the shoulders and triceps and getting toned! These should be strategically placed in your weekly programming to get the maximum benefit.
The number of reps, sets, and weight all depends on you and your goals. Each of my clients' programs is unique based on their goal, strength, mobility and other factors. This ensures they reach their goal with no injuries and in a timely manner.