The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the gym. The most common question you'll hear in gyms is "what can you bench?". It's also one of the three lifts in powerlifting. It's a compound exercise that works your chest, shoulders, and triceps. It's the exercise you can handle the most amount of weight for your upper body, so it's a great upper body strength builder. |
The Set Up:
Set the pins so that you don't have to reach up to unrack the bar, and it's not too low that you're wasting energy when you unrack the bar.
Set you first set your shoulders in the position so the bar is somewhere between forehead and mouth. You want to be in a position that you don't have reach too far behind when you unrack the bar, but also not too close that you could hit the rack while you're pressing.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and push your chest up.
Once your shoulders are set, use your legs to hips back towards your shoulders. I like to hold on to the uprights while doing this to ensure my shoulders don't move. Be pushing your chest up while doing this. Some people prefer to do it the opposite way and set their hips first and then move your shoulders towards their hips. Your lower back will be arched, but you're not deliberately trying to arch your lower back.
Your feet should be pulled back somewhere between your knees and hips, and as far out to the side as possible. There are other ways to place your feet, but this is a good starting position.
Before you unrack the bar take a deep breath into your stomach like you would with the squat. Only ever take a breath at the top of the rep.
Unracking the bar
To start with, grip the bar outside shoulder width but not extremely wide. To start with choose a grip where your arms will be vertical at the bottom of the lift. You can then adjust from there. The widest grip allowed in powerlifting is your forefingers on the rings on the bar. Have the bar low on your hands instead of near your fingers as this posts too much pressure on the wrist.
Squeeze the bar as hard as you can for the whole set. Press the bar out of the pins until it's over your shoulders. Make sure you're not lifting your shoulders when you unrack the bar. Don't lose the position you were in after the set up.
Imagine that you're trying to pull the bar apart using your back muscles. T
Go fairly slow on the descent (two to three seconds). A common mistake you'll see beginners do is they'll divebomb on the decent and lose their control and then use a bad bar path.
Touch the bar fairly low on your chest, somewhere between your nipple and sternum. Any higher and you're putting more pressure on your shoulders, Your elbows should be directly under, or slightly in front of the bar at the bottom of the rep. Make sure you hit the same point of the chest with every rep that you do.
Make sure you actually touch your chest and you're not doing half reps..
Pressing the bar
Drive the bar off your chest, while using leg drive pushing the bar back and up towards your face. To use leg drive, you need to push through your heels and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can. Imagine your leg drive pushing your body weight into your upper back, pushing your chest up. Do this just before you press the bar.
When pressing it up, you'll flare your elbows as you press it.
You can either do paused reps, touch and go reps. Paused reps are where the bar pauses on the chest for a second or two while touch and go reps just lightly touch the chest before pressing straight away. In powerlifting, you have to pause your bench presses, so it makes sense to train like that. For everyone else, it doesn't really matter. Just make sure you don't bounce the bar off your chest if you're doing touch and go reps.
Staying tight throughout the rep
Most people don't get tight enough during the set or lose tightness as the set goes on. It's common for people to shrug their shoulders up when they press. This causes them to lose the position and tightness they achieved during their set up.
Throughout the whole set, you want your chest up, shoulders squeezed back and together, pushing with your legs (if I push a client's leg it shouldn't move at all) and to be squeezing the bar the whole set. Don't let all that work in the set up go to waste by relaxing. It shouldn't feel very comfortable, but it should feel strong and stable.
You need to ensure that your bum stays on the bench. It's common for people to lift their bum off the bench. If your bum comes off the bench in a powerlifting completion you'll get a no lift.
The bench press is probably the most dangerous exercise you can do in the gym as the bar can fall and trap you if you haven't got a spotter or safety bars. People have died from the bar falling on their throats. If your gyms benches don't have any safety bars, make sure you have a spotter or find a gym with equipment that is fit for purpose.
You should set the safety bars set so that when you're benching the bar doesn't hit them, but if you fail a rep you can lower your chest and lay flat on the bench to rest the bar on the safety bar.
If using a spotter is your only option, be aware that it's nearly impossible to grab the bar if it suddenly slips from your hand, but they will be able to lift it off you. You'll also have to be very clear with your instructions when asking someone to spot you. Most people will panic when the bar slows a little and grab the bar, ruining your set.
If you have to bench alone without safety bars, your only option, if you fail, is to lower it and roll it down your body, or tilt the bar so the weights fall off. You should only attempt reps your 100% sure you'll be able to do.
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