Bench Press

Introduction to the Bench Press


The bench press is one of the most important compound exercises that you will ever do as a bodybuilder. It is referred to as a compound exercise as it involves effort from many different muscles.

It is a power exercise and is known to be very effective for building mass around the chest and shoulder area. Other benefits of the bench press include:

  • Building strength in the horizontal pressing range of movement.
  • Stabilising the shoulders.
  • Teaching full body tension.

Instructions


  1. Lie flat on the bench with your feet resting flat on the ground.
  2. Grab the bar with a grip that is wide enough to allow your arms to be perpendicular to the floor at the bottom of the movement.
  3. Lift the bar off the rack, and hold it above your chest. This is the starting position.
  4. Lower the bar until it touches your chest and briefly hold it in that position. Do not bounce the bar off the chest.
  5. Push the bar back up to the starting position, feeling the contraction in the chest.
  6. Once your set is complete, return the bar to the rack.

Muscles Worked


Bench Press - Muscles Worked

Primary

Pectoralis Major, Pectoralis Minor.

Secondary

Triceps, Anterior Deltoids, Coracobrachialis, Trapezius, Serratus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice


  • Changing the width of your grip will change the focus of the exercise. A wide grip will work the outer Pectorals more, and a narrower grip will work the inner Pectorals.
  • Concentrate on good form. Bad form may enable you to lift more weight, but it is not an effective way of training and puts you at risk of injury. A good set will be performed by lowering and raising the bar with controlled movements.
  • Ensure you use a full grip on the bar (thumb on one side, fingers on the other). Those who grip the bar with their thumbs and fingers on the same side are risking dropping the bar on top of themselves.
  • Your shoulder blades should be closed together, and should be completely flat on the bench.
  • The lower back should be slightly arched – so that someone could easily slide their hand underneath it.
  • If you reach a ‘plateau’ in your progress on the bench press, there are a number of techniques you can employ. These include:
    1. Half reps. Just like a regular bench press rep, except the bar is only raised half way, and lowered back down. Half reps work on the outer chest, and build strength for the first half of a bench press rep.
    2. Drop sets. Without any rest, straight after performing a set, some of the weight is removed and another set is performed.
    3. Rest/Pause. When the point of failure is reached, instead of giving up, hook the bar onto the rack and rest for a few seconds (You shouldn’t let go of the bar during this rest period), before carrying on for a couple more reps.
    4. Forced reps. When training bench press with a spotter, when you reach failure have your spotter help you raise the bar back to the upper position. Your spotter should only be giving you minimal assistance (i.e. finger pressure).

Common Bench Press Errors


The following errors are either hindering your progress or are potentially dangerous and could cause you an injury. Avoid these at all costs:

  • Poor wrist position. Allowing your wrists to bend backwards when performing this exercise will not only reduce your strength, but will also cause wrist pain and possible injury. The bar should sit in the palm of your hand with your fingers closed around it. The wrists should be straight, and the thumbs should wrap around the bar in the opposite direction to the fingers.
  • Elbow position. Doing the bench press with your elbows too high is extremely bad for the shoulder joints. Having your elbows positioned too low is inefficient. Your elbows should be somewhere inbetween perpendicular and parallel with your torso. The exact position will depend on your body.
  • Unracking the bar with bent arms. By doing this you risk the bar falling on your face. Your arms are strongest when the elbows are locked out. Unrack & the bar and position it above your chest with your elbows locked. This is one of many reasons why a spotter can be a great help with the bench press .
  • Shoulders positioned too far forward. Allowing your shoulders to roll forward is bad posture, bad technique and a certain means to develop shoulder injuries. Your chest should be pushed out, your shoulder blades should be squeezed together and flat against the bench.
  • Forcing the head into the bench. The only thing this will achieve will be a neck injury – which will keep you away from the bench press for some time! Ensure the neck muscles are tightened without pushing the head into the bench.
  • Lifting the lower back/Glutes off the bench. The bench press is made easier by lifting the lower back off the bench as the bar has a shorter distance to travel, but this puts the lower back under extreme pressure which could lead to injury. You will perform much better on the bench press when the lower back/glutes are on the bench and the upper body is stabilised.

Bench Press and Shoulder Pain


The bench press can cause shoulder pain in some individuals. Whist staying away from it altogether or switching to dumbbells will avoid the pain, it isn’t a solution. Some things that you can do to prevent shoulder pain associated with the bench press are:

Bench press can lead to shoulder pain.

Bench press can lead to shoulder pain.

  • Improve your form. Poor technique will definitely lead to injury. The only question is when?
  • Correct your posture. It is not possible to bench press with proper form if your posture is wrong. Focus on pushing the chest out and squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  • Work muscles evenly. The bench press works the front deltoids more than the rear deltoids. If the rear deltoids aren’t trained adequately, the result will be a muscle imbalance which will most likely cause shoulder pain and bad posture, leading to bad bench press form.

Safety


The bench press can be a very dangerous exercise. Most injuries that happen in the gym happen on the bench press. This is partly down to the fact that bench press is one of the most popular exercises, but also because people fail to adhere to the three following tips:

  • Grip with the thumbs. Always ensure that your thumbs are wrapped around the bar. They should grip the bar in the opposite direction to your fingers. You don’t want the bar to slip out of your hands.
  • Increase weight progressively. Weight should be added progressively on the bench press. Don’t try to lift too much weight at the expense of proper bench press technique.
  • Always use a spotter. A spotter will help you when you fail, so that you don’t get stuck with the bar across your chest. It is still safe to bench press when a spotter is not available, but make sure you read the guide on how to bench press safely when you’re alone.

FAQs


My elbows are flaring outward – What should I work on?

  • Technique – This one is all about your bench press technique. Make sure that you’re elbows are tucked in towards your sides as you actively pull down on the bar. You may have to reduce the amount of weight that you lift with this technique, until you you have it nailed. Once you have built up your back and tricep strength, you will be able to bench press more weight, with the added bonus of keeping your shoulders strong and healthy.
  • Strength – Over-arm pull ups and heavy tricep lifts will greatly improve the weaker areas that cause this.

I’m failing just above my chest – What should I work on?

  • Technique – Concentrate on keeping the back tight throughout the bench press. Inhale before you lower the bar and hold onto it. Use it to drive your feet down and into the floor while you ‘pull’ the bar apart as you push it upward. This holds the tension in your lats which keeps your upper body stable.
  • Strength – For this problem you should try floor press and some more back exercises, mainly pull-ups, rows & face pulls.

I fail when the weight touches my chest – What should I work on?

  • Technique – For this one you need to create some tension in your back and drive your feet down into the floor. Then, as the bar lowers, concentrate on forcing your chest outward to meet the bar. Inhale as the bar lowers – this will force your chest out and the bar’s path towards you will be straighter and more controlled. This process can then be reversed as you exhale and drive that bar back up.
  • Strength– Wide grip rows, dumbell press and face pulls are three exercises that will help you overcome this. You could also try using a foam roller on upper back. This should increases thoracic mobility.

    Hitting the triceps hard can prevent bench press shoulder injuries

    Hitting the triceps hard can prevent bench press shoulder injuries.

I get pain in my shoulders when I bench press – What should I work on?

  • Technique – We know already that incorrect bench press technique can lead to shoulder pain/injury, but in this case I would suggest that your elbows are flaring in the bottom portion of the bench press (see above). Flaring like this puts the shoulders, especially the rotator cuff, under large amounts of stress. It is imperative that you keep your elbows tucked in throughout the entire bench press range of movement.
  • Strength – Most important here is an effective warm up and recovery element to your workout, prior to hitting the bench press. This should include external rotations, rotator cuff and retraction exercises. You could also concentrate on tricep strength.

 

 


 Photo Credits: Everkinetic, Jason Lengstorf
 

Bench Press Upper Position

Bench Press Lower Position

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