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The bench press is one of the most important upper-body exercises in your movement toolkit. Not only is it crucial for upper-body muscular development, but it’s an exceptional strength builder. Many people think the bench press is just a chest exercise, but I’m here to tell you that your triceps, shoulders, back, and even your glutes are involved. It’s a complex movement that can be disastrous if you get it wrong.
If you’ve been doing the bench press without being too concerned about how you’re doing it, it might be time for you to take a step back and focus on improving your technique. Seven years ago, I tore my right pec while bench pressing incorrectly. I’ll tell you right now, it sucked.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of years learning how to incorporate the correct muscle groups and focus on the proper execution of the movement itself. After learning how to improve my bench mechanics, not only did the movement become safer, but my numbers got a lot better.
So, if you’re ready to get bigger and stronger, watch the video. In it, I detail what I’ve learned from technique experts like Ben Esgro, Dr. Mike Zourdos, and USAPL World Team head coach Matt Gary so you, too, can bench like the pros.
HOW TO BENCH: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO CONSIDER
Although you don’t really need anything other than your own body in order to do a bench press, there are specific pieces of equipment you can use to make your bench press safer and more effective.
How you position yourself under the bar will make a big difference in how efficient your bench press is and how much weight you can push. Don’t take it lightly. Follow these cues to move maximum poundage safely!
Once you’ve taken a deep breath and have braced, it’s time to initiate lowering the bar. As you do this, think about bending the bar into a U-shape with your hands. Bending the bar will allow you to tuck your elbows naturally to engage your lats and protect your shoulders.
Where you touch the bar on your body will depend on how long your arms are and where you grip the bar. Whatever the case, your forearm should be at 90 degrees from the ground in this bottom position. If it’s more or less, you may lose force.
If you have long arms and a narrow grip, you’ll touch farther down on your body. If you have short arms and a wide grip, the bar will touch higher on your chest. Most people will hit anywhere from their top ab to their nipple line. Wherever the bar hits you, try to hit the same spot every rep.
Once the bar has made contact with your torso, initiate the upward movement by tightening your glutes and driving your legs into the ground. No, that’s not cheating. Using leg drive will allow you to stay tight and bench more weight.
As you press up, think about throwing the bar back. The bar should move in a slight arch or “reverse J” pattern.
Common Bench-Press Mistakes:
As you can see, the bench is actually more complex than most people initially think. The most common problem I see is people bouncing the bar off their chests. This is problematic not only because it puts a lot of pressure on the sternum, but also because it’s impossible to keep your body tight if you’re bouncing the bar. Besides, if you’re bouncing the weight off your chest, how can you say you actually lifted it?
Most people don’t breathe or brace properly either, so make that a priority. You’ll be amazed by how much more weight you’ll be able to move if you brace your abs with a big breath.
I also see many people flaring their elbows because they believe it will lead to more pec-muscle recruitment. Even if it does, flaring your elbows is not worth the danger. That’s how I tore my pec: My grip was too wide and my elbows were too flared. Flared elbows mean your lats aren’t engaged and you’re benching inefficiently.
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