Bench Press – The Ultimate Guide to The Bench Press
Guys, how often have you mentioned to people you go to the gym and the first thing people ask you about it is “How Much Do You Bench Press, Bro?”
Despite being ‘The Holy Grail of Chest exercises’, it’s something that so many people get wrong and ultimately don’t do because they have a shoulder injury, or it hurts their elbows. There is a reason the Bench Press is classed as the true feat of upper body strength, but done incorrectly it can put you down a difficult path of pain and, even worse, not Bench Pressing.
Fortunately, here I am to clear up some misconceptions about the Bench Press and properly explain how to set up your Bench Press to get you back on the path to those sweet, sweet gains.
The Bench Press is bad for your shoulders, posture and won’t build muscle on your chest.
Let’s start with this one because it’s a misconception that has come from absolute nonsense. The Bench Press being bad for your body in any way, shape or form is just the same as any exercise being bad for your body – it will be if you do it incorrectly.
The idea that it is bad for your posture comes with the fact that it builds muscle in your anterior plane: your chest, shoulders and tricep. If you were to ONLY bench press for the rest of your life, your posture would be terrible from the rounding caused by over development in the anterior part of your body. However, this is because you haven’t trained the opposing muscles, the back, and that’s not the Bench Press’ fault… that’s your fault.
You shouldn’t arch your back during the Bench Press
This misconception has come from the sport of Powerlifting. The boom in the popularity of Powerlifting over the past 10 years has brought new ideas to the sport which has ultimately made the Powerlifting Bench Press popular. You’ll see people with a wide grip, a huge arch and a low rage of motion. If you are not a Powerlifter then you absolutely should not Bench Press like a powerlifter.
That being said, if you Bench Press with your back completely flat on the pad then you’re in for a bad time. You need a natural arch in your upper back to allow your humerus to sit in the shoulder joint and stay stable. This will cause an arch about the size of your forearm to form beneath you, which keeps the shoulder in a suitable position to perform the exercise.
There are better exercises to develop your Chest, Shoulders and Triceps Muscles.
This is less of a misconception, because depending on the context this is actually true. The Bench Press is an excellent exercise, however due to the bar and not being able to move your hand position on the bar during the exercise you are not able to take all of the muscles involved through a complete range of motion. As the bar can’t go through your body, you won’t be able to fully stretch your chest, shoulders and triceps and since your hands can’t move around the bar during the press, you won’t be able to completely squeeze your muscles at the top. You would get a bigger range of motion and free movement using dumbbells. But here’s where the misconceptions come into play; so long as you aren’t only doing a bench press in your session, this won’t be an issue. As well as this, a big factor in training is getting stronger and Bench Pressing 100kg as opposed to a pair of 30kg Dumbbells in your hands is certainly going to work your strength more.
Now that we’ve got through that, we need to make sure that you’re actually Bench Pressing correctly.
How to Bench Press like a pro
- Set your shoulders by finding the most back and down position your shoulders can comfortably get to – if you roll your shoulders in a backward motion and stop to where you are back and down. Finish this by picking your chest up and it will feel like your shoulder blades are pinching together – this is called Scapula Retraction. Practise holding this as you will need to hold this through the entire movement.
- Lie on the pad with your shoulders still retracted and use your legs to push yourself up the bench so that your neck and upper trapezius muscles are flat on the pad with your chest up. Engage the abs and keep your bum on the pad, with your legs keeping tension through your body the whole time you are bench pressing. This will take some getting used to, but stick with it and your bench press will thank you.
- Take your grip on the Bar. This is different for everybody, depending on your size and build. As a general rule of thumb, you want to grip it so that when the bar is on your chest, your wrist is stacked over your elbows for maximum muscle recruitment during the press. When holding the bar, a good cue to engage the muscles better is to think about digging the bottom, outer part of your palm into the bar.
- Now you’re lying down on the bench and the bar is in your hands, keep your shoulders in position with your shoulder blades retracted and take the bar out of the rack and hold it over you. Initiate the movement by squeezing the bar and keeping tension in your entire body and think about doing a Row to bring the bar to your body, making sure to just lightly touch your T shirt and not letting it rest on you.
- Finish the movement by pressing the bar back into the top position. queuing yourself to push yourself into the Bench pad as opposed to pressing the bar – this will help to keep your shoulders in position, as pushing the bar away can sometimes pull your shoulders out of position.
Bench Pressing like a pro can take time to get used to and master, so don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time around. If you’re really struggling, why not find a Personal Trainer? Here at Fitbook, we have plenty of PT’s who are available to help you with your Bench Pressing needs!
By Blaine Harrison