The bench press is a staple of strength. You’d be hard pressed to walk into any gym at any moment and not find at least a couple people laying on a bench and pressing a bar.
By all appearances, the barbell bench press seems quite simple. Lay on a bench, press a bar up and down, right?
The truth is, like all movement patterns, this requires a bit more technique and know how if you plan to bench press for any time length without getting injured. Mastery of technique will also help you to progressively bench heavier weight and successfully work through your sticking points.
I know lot’s of people who have incurred temporary or lasting shoulder injuries simply because they tried to move too much weight, too soon, and without building a strong foundation first.
If you’re just learning to bench, congratulations! Benching is fun. It can make you feel super powerful. The challenge of progressively benching more weight over time and succeeding, can give a real charge.
Here are 5 Basic Tips you can follow in order to get the most out of your benching sessions, and to stay safe.
1. Use a spotter and/or safety’s
Benching can be a real mind game, especially when you start to bench weight you haven’t held before. Knowing that someone is there to grab the bar if you fail, or that the safety’s are in place to catch the bar, will give you a more secure piece of mind to stay focused on your technique and eventually push through new numbers
2. Learn the path of the bar
When you unrack the bar, it should end up directly over your mid chest,
not your upper chest or your face. When you pull the bar to you, pull it directly to your mid chest. However, when you press the bar back up, you aren’t going to press it straight to the ceiling. You’re going to slightly angle the bar back toward the rack. pressing it over your shoulders.
Keep your set up and finish clean. Each one of these steps should be separate and apparent. Here are some photo’s of each step.
a. Unrack the bar and get the bar into start position
b. Pull the bar to your chest and slightly pause it there. The bar should be touching your chest.
c. Press the bar back up, slightly angling it back toward the rack, arms fully extended.
d. After your last rep, slightly pause at the completion of your last rep. Then rack the bar.
Let’s move on to the other 3 tips.
3. Keep your shoulders on the bench. Don’t overreach.
I see this habit a lot in beginners. When you press the bar upwards and fully extend your arms, your shoulders should remain in contact with the back of the bench and not lift off.
As your arms press upwards, think of pushing your shoulders and upper back INTO the bench.
The shoulders need to stay stabilized during benching. A lot of people elevate their shoulders toward their ears (shrugging) or away from the bench when they press and aren’t aware of it.
Make a video of yourself to check your form. When you press the bar up, the shoulders should not move and there shouldn’t be any space between your shoulder and the bench.
Always set your shoulders before you unrack the bar and keep them in the same position throughout all reps.
4. Always pause the bar at your chest
I see many people get into the habit of letting the bar bounce off their chest, OR never even bring the bar all the way to their chest, all for the sake of pressing more weight. A full rep requires you to bring the bar to full depth. The bar must touch your chest. It’s not going to sink INTO your chest. You’re going to lower the bar to your chest with full control, let it pause at your chest for just a fleeting second, and then press it off.
Make sure you also do this on your heavier sets. You may not be able to do as many reps, but clean reps are going to give you greater results long term. Keep every rep clean!
5. Drive your feet into the floor
When you set up for your bench press, drive your feet firmly into the floor and keep them there. When your bench press gets more challenging, drive your feet further INTO the floor as you press the bar upwards. I often see beginners lift their feet off of the floor, in a sort of nervous response when they hit a sticking point. Keeping your feet pressing into the floor keeps your lower body engaged, including your glutes.
Bench pressing is a compound exercise. While it primarily engages your chest, shoulders, and triceps, your entire body should remain tight and activated from the moment you prepare to unrack that bar, until after the bar has been re racked. Maintaining full body tension will also help you to progressively bench more weight.
All of these tips will take time to practice and implement. You may not be able to perfect them all at once as your brain can only initially focus on a couple things. Personally, I would master each task in the order that I’ve written them above. Some will overlap.
Keep in mind that you cannot put max heavy weight on the bar and still expect your brain to be able to focus on mastering these other techniques. Stick with weight that you can manage. Once you add weight to the bar that is hard to manage, form breaks down.
If you’ve been benching for a while and you’ve taken on some bad habits, you’re going to have to back off on the weight for a while so you can fix your technique.
Take your time. If you really focus on owning all of these tips, you’re going to have a great foundation to work with and your bench is going to be awesome.
Now get out there!
Jeannine Trimboli, Founder,
real [FIT] life
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