It’s important to understand that benching is not just an upper body exercise. If you want to actually gain noticeable strength and muscle from the bench press, you’re going to need to incorporate the entire body. It’s more than just moving your arms up and down and hoping for the best.
To bench effectively, there are several key steps that we’ll break down in this seemingly subtle movement.
1. FIND YOUR GRIP
Like any exercise, there are a ton of different ways you can perform the bench. You can do close grip pressing, wide grip, neutral, pin press, chained, banded…For now, we’re going to break down the standard bench press because this set up can transfer over to all of other variations.
Everyone’s body is built differently, meaning your grip is going to be unique to you. Essentially, you want your hands to be placed on the bar so when you bring the weight down to your chest, your forearms are vertical to the ceiling. As opposed to your elbows flaring out to the side and your hands pointing in towards each other. You’re trying to move the weight up to the ceiling when benching so set your arms up in a position that is pointed to the direction you want the bar to travel.
Measure the distance between both of your acromion processes, located along the scapula to shoulder blade (shown below). Multiply this number by 1.5 and that is essentially the ideal distance between your hands when gripping the bar. This sets your arms up to be in about a 45 degree angle when at the bottom position of the bench.
2. FOREHEAD UNDERNEATH THE BAR
A lot of people have the tendency to set themselves up too close to the bar when un-racking it. Remember, benching is more than just a pec and triceps exercise; if you want to get the most out of it, you want to generate as much engagement from the supportive muscle groups as you can.
When setting yourself up under the bar, have your forehead in alignment with the bar so you are pulling it from behind you when un-racking. This engages the lats and other upper back muscles and creates a strong, supportive ‘shelf’ for you to stabilize the bar.
3. ARCH THE BACK AND ‘HUG’ THE BENCH WITH YOUR SHOULDER BLADES
There’s a reason bridges have an arched design. It allows them to handle compression more effectively and dissipate force outward. When benching, try to mimic an arched bridge by hugging the bench with your shoulder blades. From a powerlifting standpoint, this reduces the range of motion the bar has to travel, allowing you to handle more weight during competition. From a general strength perspective, it helps maintain integrity and stability in the supportive upper back muscles through both eccentric and concentric phases of the bench.
4. FIND YOUR FEET
Again, depending on your body type with variables including your limb length and height in consideration, your set up might look a little different than mine. Start by angling your feet outward at roughly a 45 degree angle and drawing them back towards your body. This is going to be crucial to generating power during the press. All power and force is generated from the ground up. Think of a boxer when they’re told to ‘sit down’ on their punches. The hardest hitting punchers in the world know how to apply pressure through the floor so they are able to transfer that energy to the end of their punch. The same principles apply to lifting. By creating stability from the floor, you are able to generate power that will translate throughout the entire body.
5. BIG AIR IN
Take a big air in and hold it, creating intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the spine. Your core is your centre of gravity and by engaging it during the bench press, you’re going to be able to move much heavier weight than if you didn’t.
DO NOT exhale right before you un-rack the bar. Ever get really stressed out and someone tells you to take a deep breath? That’s because our nervous system sends a signal to our body to relax and calm down. Weight training is anything but relaxing. You do not want to be relaxed when you have a heavy ass steel bar floating above your chest.
Instead, take a big air IN, hold your breath, and maintain that intra-abdominal pressure until you finish your press. After you reach full extension during the end of your press and you exhale with a sharp breath, regain your air by taking another big air in to create core stability and continue this process throughout your set. If you are going heavy, performing sets of 1-6 reps, this is going to be crucial.
CORE EXERCISES FOR BETTER BENCHING
6. RIP THE BAR APART
Don’t just bring the bar down and let it crash on your chest. You spent all this time setting your body so it can be in a stable position, now use that to your advantage. When drawing the bar down to your chest, try to bend the bar apart as you are lowering it. This will engage the upper back musculature and help you generate force when switching from eccentric to concentric phases of the bench.
UPPER BACK EXERCISES FOR A STRONGER BENCH
7. PUSH THROUGH THE FLOOR AND PUSH YOURSELF INTO THE BENCH
Remember, power is generated from the ground up. You’ve seen it before, legs and feet flailing off the ground in an attempt to get the bar up. For some reason, that’s just natural instinct for people. You think making your feet airborne is going to make you stronger? Instead, push through the floor with your feet in order to generate maximal power output and create engagement in the glutes and hamstrings.
Another common mistake you see when people are benching is to round the shoulders forward toward the bar when the press gets heavy. It’s easy to think that since you are trying to push the bar up, your shoulders should travel in that same direction. Actually, it’s the opposite. Similar to generating power from the floor, you will also be stronger if you create stability in the shoulders by pushing yourself away from the bar.
8. KEEP PUSHING STRAIGHT
A linear bar path is a stronger, more effective path. When you’re benching, its easy to get anxious and press toward the rack during your last rep because all you’re thinking at this point is to get the damn weight off your chest. Try not to do this, you’re actually making it harder for yourself. Instead, keep pushing the bar straight to the ceiling and finish your lockout before you re-track it. This will ensure you are completing all of your reps and allow you to perform the bench much more effectively during the last rep.
I’ve said this before but I will say it again, if you recorded yourself benching from a side view and took your body out of the video, with nothing left but the bar, it would be a video of the weight moving up and down in a relatively straight line. Think of this next you’re benching in order to maintain a strong, linear bar path throughout your press.
TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR A STRONGER LOCKOUT
If you have any questions or comments about benching, shoot me a message down below!