How To Bench Press
From the excellent postings at the AskScooby Forum by user Danny
The Bench Press
Disclaimer: This introduction to the bench press deals with general information about the lift, basic pointers regarding form and some neat links or videos.
All pictures were taken by me, but you’re free to use them whenever you want to. Selling them is not allowed though!
I’ve decided to write this guide, because we don’t have a specific topic about it at the moment, yet there are dozens of people who are curious about the lift every day. This is in no way meant to be a complete collection of everything regarding the bench press, so if you want to point out that something is missing which should be in this guide go ahead and reply to this thread or drop me a message ;)
Bench Press or Chest Press or Machine Press?
This guide is about the bench press and the bench press only. It is a pressing movement done with a barbell while lying on a bench, thus the term bench press is the most accurate it can get. This is not about dumbbell bench press, incline bench press or machine chest press. We want to use free weights as much as possible and preferably barbells whenever we can. I think I don’t have to point out why barbells are superior to machines and dumbbells when it comes to building strength (and muscle mass to some degree). While the floor press is a valuable exercise too, we won’t discuss it here.
Long story short: this is about the barbell bench press and the barbell bench press only.
I hope it’s clear that you absolutely must possess a power rack, a proper bench rack and/or a spotter to bench safely. If you don’t have all these things available don’t bench press. It’s too easy to get injured when safety is absent. Also the bench press is a very technical lift. Although almost everyone uses it in his regimen only the minority of the trainees executes the lift correctly. Don’t think that you need to have years of experience to be able to bench press, but also don’t think that a complete beginner can up weights quickly while neglecting form. Never go to failure before getting the form down! You don’t have to be 100% perfect, but the basic pointers should be applied before even thinking about maxing out on the bench.
General information and hard facts
While some people genuinely think that the bench press is for chest only, you should be smarter than them. The bench press is a heavy compound movement that not only works the whole chest (yes it works both the clavicular and the sternal head of the pectoralis major – the upper and the lower chest), but also stimulates the triceps brachii and the anterior deltoids (front delts) extremely well. Keep that in mind when designing a routine that involves the bench press. Luckily our valuable member the_wolf made a guide for all of you on how to create your own workout routine with many pre-made workouts, so that’s a given. Just follow his guide and you’re good to go!
Before we get into form, I’d like to give out some hard facts about the bench press, which are undeniable and I might have mentioned them earlier in this thread, but I will summarize them again so you really can’t forget them:
1) The regular barbell bench press is THE most effective exercise to build raw pressing power. There isn’t any real alternative or a better substitute. Period.
2) For proper and safe execution you need some kind of rack (either a power rack, a bench rack or a really low squat rack), a bench and an optional spotter.
3) Any machine-variation of the lift is useless compared to the basic barbell bench press. The dumbbell bench press is a great alternative when you don’t have access to a barbell, but honestly a barbell is much more convenient and effective for getting stronger and bigger so if you don’t have one already, buy one!
Bench Press Form
Regarding form you often hear differences between bodybuilding and strength training, but in my opinion it is essential to use the exact same form for both sports. This means that one should touch their shirt or chest lightly and then lock the bar at the top on all reps. Good form is important so you don’t get injured. The form I’m showing in this topic has been used by hundreds of professional athletes for decades and it’s not them who get the rotator cuff injuries, but the ego-maniac bodybuilders who like to show off in the gym. Also I’m an adviser of full ROM. Just look at the huge discussion regarding squats. Everybody who has a clue these days suggests doing the full ROM, so it should be the same for bench press and other exercises.
So now after setting up the bar and the bench correctly (your eyes should be about below the racked bar) you are ready for the preparation and the execution of the lift:
1) This is the most important point to have a solid base when benching. Pull your shoulder blades back and/or together. If you do this you will notice that your pressing will become much more stable.
2) Your butt always stays on the bench. If you lift your behind up then the rep doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter where you’ve seen this form or if you can bench more using it. It’s not correct (gives you red lights when competing) and can also get you injured quickly.
3) Your abs and your back stay tight throughout the entire movement. This helps to transfer the force that comes from your legs to your arms. It also helps to prevent injury and involves more muscles into the lift.
4) As your lower back is locked in extension it doesn’t touch the bench anymore. A friend of you should be easily able to put his hand between the bench and your lower back, just like this:
5) Your glutes and your thighs should also be contracted during the exercise. A higher body tension always helps your stability on the bench and can also help to improve form. It even might let you move more weight. Basically you should try to squeeze your thighs into the bench. I’ve seen some people curl their legs backwards, but I don’t like it. If it helps your bench try it out, but it doesn’t for me :P
6) Your feet are always touching the ground. You are NOT going to put them on the bench. If your legs are really short and the bench is too high you can use a couple of plates to reach the “ground”.
After fulfilling all these points you should look similar to this:
7) After completing all of these points, which are valid for the whole set it’s time to take a deep breath and unrack the bar. Choose a grip so your forearms are vertical to the ground.
This is the best grip for most people as it helps to bench efficiently (90° angle between ground and forearms means that no force is lost). If you use a closer grip your triceps will get involved more. If you use a wider grip your chest will get involved more, which isn’t exactly what we want at the moment. Also NEVER use a thumbless grip, which also called the suicide grip. It’s called suicide grip for a reason.
8) Elbow correction! Before you do your reps make sure to use this elbow correction to protect your shoulders. We don’t want to bench with a 90° angle between your torso and your upper arms.
This stresses the shoulders too much and has led to many rotator cuff injuries. Close the angle a little moving your elbows inwards. The angle can be anywhere from 85-70°.
The corrected angle should look something like this:
9) When lowering or pressing the bar you are NOT allowed to inhale. Don’t do this ever. This will pretty much kill your body tension and can destroy a whole set. Exhaling is possible when pushing the bar up, but if you can stay tight as long as possible. It is best to breathe before a set and between reps when the bar is locked at the top.
10) Remember to try to pull the bar apart! This helps to engage your lats into the lift and is necessary once the weight gets heavy. Most people are having troubles to fire their lats, but really – just try to pull it apart. This alone should help you to contract your lats they way you want them to.
11) Lower the bar in a straight line in control to ensure that no (or almost no) force is lost during the movement. Think about touching your shirt more than touching your chest (you are going to touch your chest through your shirt anyway. Once the bar is touching your chest explode upwards and push the bar up as fast as possible. If you use correct form and appropriate weights this speed is needed to avoid getting stuck. After each rep lock the bar in extension. Rinse and repeat until you’re done with one set.
12) After you’ve completed a set your body must stay tight until the bar gets racked. Please be sure to lock the bar especially on the last rep of a set so you don’t get crushed under it. Often people have accidents on the last rep because the bar doesn’t get locked and when trying to rack it the bar travels down and gets dropped. We don’t want this to happen so ALWAYS lock the bar between reps and after each set! ;)
Final note and links
So that’s it. I hope it’s of some use to you guys. If you liked the guide or have some criticism don’t hesitate to reply and tell me about it! ;)
Here are some good links that have helped me to teach me how to bench properly (if you have the money buy starting strength – it is gold when trying to learn the big 3 lifts):