One of the most comment questions a lifter is asked by John Doe or the average person, is “How much can you bench press?” – for some reason the bench press has been chosen as the exercise used to gauge strength by laymen. It’s this reason (combined with the fact that every man wants a large chest and arms) that everyone in the gym thinks they can bench. From serious powerlifters to the most ignorant of gym goers, they all tend to do some form of bench pressing. The fact is that most people in the gym tend to bench press with very poor form, meaning they can’t get as much weight as they could on the bar, and risk injury.
So what are the steps to mastering a solid bench press?
- Lie flat on a bench inside a power rack, or underneath an appropriately adjusted squat stand – with the bar in the hooks above your face. If you are training alone you should definitely be using a power rack with safety bars whenever possible, to minimise the chance of injury. You should be able to unrack the bar with your arms fully extended, as this is the strongest natural position. Your face should be underneath the bar, not your chest, to avoid catching the hooks when performing the movement.
- Grip the bar between 22 and 28 inches apart, depending on your build. The way to test whether your grip width is too narrow or wide is by taking the bar down to your chest. When your grip width is correct, on touching your chest your upper arm should be parallel with the floor. If you train with a grip too narrow, you will not be able to move as much weight, if you train with a grip too wide, you will sacrifice range of motion.
- When gripping the bar, ensure that the bar is in the palm of your hand, close to your wrist, and grip as tightly as possible. Do not use a thumb-less grip, as one mistake can cause a heavy loaded bar to fall on your face or chest, causing serious damage.
- Ensure that your feet are flat on the floor, with the majority of your weight on your heels. Do not put your feet up on the bench. It is important for the lift that your feet are on the floor, to put you in as strong and stable as a position as possible.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together as tight as possible, whilst tightly gripping the bar. This gives you a solid base to press from. Focus on keeping this squeeze throughout the entirety of the lift.
- Whilst keeping your shoulder blades together and back tight, unrack the bar from the hooks with your arms fully extended. Move the bar forwards, to where it’s above your lower chest, and slowly lower the bar with a controlled movement to your lower chest. When the bar touches your chest, extend your arms again until locked out. You should always aim to touch your chest with every repetition (unless you are specifically training lock outs, or another part of the lift). If you don’t touch your chest, it can be very hard to gauge progress, and progress will not be as good due to the reduction in range of motion. Leave your ego at the door and bench press a weight you can touch your chest with – in the long run it will be better for you, and you’ll soon be benching much more than any half rep bench presser.
- Don’t flare your elbows. Your elbows should be around 45 degrees to your torso. Moving out or inside of 45 degrees results in your body being in a less strong position, and can also cause injury, particularly to your rotator cuffs.
- Make sure that the bar is as close to your wrist as possible when gripped. If you put the bar too close to your fingers your hand will flex backwards, potentially injuring your wrists as you increase the weight.
- Keep your glutes on the bench. Taking your glutes off of the bench press changes the lift, and reduces your chest and arm involvement.
Now get out there and bench!