As my most favorite lift, this informational post is LONG overdue.
The bench press is one of those lifts that seems fairly simple in terms of set up and execution, however, when it comes to staying safe while attempting to add more pounds on the bar you may quickly realize how important whole-body technique is with this lift. I’ll be covering elements of both the traditional bench press as well as the powerlifting press (very sport specific) to help you or your athletes enhance their training. So let’s get right into it.
Primary muscles Worked
When performing the bench press, you will primarily be working – pectoralis major, triceps brachii and anterior deltoid.
Safety and rack height
Spotting: Safety arms set high enough where weight can safely be dropped, but not too high to interfere with the lift. Choose a rack height that isn’t too low that lifter is pressing out of it, or too high that they can’t reach.
Hand off: A hand off is highly recommended for safety and a tighter position when benching. Especially if a lifter has shoulder instability or a history of injuries, a handoff and spotter should be present for un-racking and re-racking.
Tips for performing a lift off and spot:
- Get tight in upper back (similar to pulling the slack out).
- Only lift the bar a tiny amount to keep it controlled.
- Gently guide until it’s near the lifter’s armpit area.
- Let go of the bar slowly, after the bar is done settling.
- Follow the bar without touching it, then help them re-rack.
Traditional Bench/Flat Bench/Bodybuilding Press
First, the athlete should activate and mobilize tailored to the lifter and their mobility restrictions or needs Prioritize thoracic and shoulder movements to activate and mobilize joints and ROM. Focus on dynamic movements as static stretching can interfere muscle performance. Next, the athlete should perform a series of warm up sets before heavier sets, starting with the bar and working way up to groove the lift.
Examples of dynamic movements:
- Roller for T spine segmentation
- Wall slides
- Shoulder dislocates
- Thread the needle
- Cat Cow
- Scap push/pull ups
- Scapula position: retract and depress (lock down and pull back). The natural arch (not exaggerated) safer on your shoulders because it prevents internal rotation and keeps shoulders from rolling forward. Also, more stable and can create more strength during the press. Most injuries come from improper shoulder placement.
- Lat tension: “Bending the bar” will allow the scapula to pull back and down together while creating that upper back and trap tension while engaging lats. Other cues: spread the bar or squeeze through the pinkies.
- Starting position and hand placement: Lie on bench, eyes under bar. Depending on the goal of the exercise, it’s recommended to find lifter’s strongest position (which will take experimenting) between wide and narrow.
- Arm angle: A 90-degree angle is more susceptible to injury and puts stress on the shoulders. 75-degrees allows increased activity of the pecs and is a traditional recommendation to keep shoulders safe.
- Wrist position: Stack wrists in a neutral position and squeeze bar tight.
- Leg tension and foot position: Leg tension by walking back, planting firmly for most tension and pushing through toes and/or heels. Open hips, squeeze glutes. Notes: Even with lighter weight, it’s still important to create leg tension for overall tightness and stability.
Execution: Put it all together may look like this…
- Bringing bar out, straight over your body.
- Tension in legs, push chest high to the ceiling.
- Big breath in and hold, bring bar to chest.
- Body to absorb weight during descent, without chest cave (“chest to bar”).
- Maintain a straight line with your forearm.
- Once you touch the chest, drive feet through floor to return to starting position and exhale at top.
- Close Grip: elbows close to body, wrists perpendicular to elbows. Targets lock out and triceps.
- Board pressing: Commonly used among powerlifters, another way to increase lockout strength. Shortened ROM, removes pec work, targets triceps.
- Incline press: Setting the bench at an incline.
- Decline press: Setting the bench at a decline.
- Floor press: Performed from the floor.
- Non-neutral wrist position.
- Scapula position (rounded shoulders and chest cave).
- Glutes off bench.
Sport Specific – Powerlifting Press
Purpose of arch when done correctly: Safety, stability, strength, shortened ROM (sport specific, not to be done otherwise). It’s important to note that there is NO evidence of injuries related to arch when performed correctly. Most common are related to pectoralis major ruptures, triceps tendons, shoulders.
- Upper back firmly set into the bench, depress and retract scapula.
- Arch is in upper back and not lumbar spine.
- Generally, feet under knee or behind (know federation rules).
- Three points of contact – upper back, feet, glutes.
Pause: Know federation rules (lower the bar to chest and hold it motionless with a definite visible pause).
Bar Path: Beginners usually press vertical on the way up, advanced curve behind lifter off chest to produce more force.
Leg drive: As much as possible for stability and opposing force to the barbell. Push through legs as if you were pushing behind you, glutes to stay on bench.
Happy Training Friends!