The Bench Press is one of the most important exercises, period. Commonly believed to be an upper body exercise, it is in fact a full body exercise when done correctly. The bench press is not an obligatory exercise, but anyone that can do it should be doing it. The Barbell Bench Press and the Overhead Press are the king & queen of pressing exercises.
The Bench Press heavily targets the Pectorals, Deltoids, Rotator Cuff muscles, and Triceps. It is also indirectly a core and leg exercise—especially for the quads… as is perhaps made evident by the above image. Having a powerful bench is not only essential to being a strong and well balanced athlete, but also greatly benefits your daily life.
Having a weak bench is not an option. What is an option though, is how you bench. Today we will be discussing the king of bench press movements: The Barbell Bench Press.
That being said, maybe that movement doesn’t feel safe for you yet or doesn’t feel comfortable, and that’s fine, there are tons of alternatives such as: dumbbell bench press, incline bench, decline bench, buffalo bar bench, push ups, etc. Those will be discussed in a later article.
So how do you do it?
Well, as stated in the How To Deadlift article, for injury prevention, it doesn’t really matter*. I say that with an asterisk so I don’t have my head chopped off, but it’s true: it doesn’t really matter. The way you bench absolutely affects how efficient you will be in the exercise, but there isn’t a way to do it that reduces your risk of elbow or shoulder injury. In fact, I’d recommend training a variety of bench press techniques (such as flat barbell bench, incline bench, close grip bench, Larson press, etc.) to tax your body in different ways to build its tolerance and resilience. Train it arched, train it with a flat back, both are fine and healthy to do. I bias towards arching because it generally feels more powerful for most people, but rest assured it does not increase your risk of lower back injury, disc injury or nerve injury. If the position is uncomfortable to you.
Now, I said for injury prevention, it doesn’t really matter. But for performance, form absolutely matters. You want to feel strong and powerful when you are lifting, and form is a part of that. It is impossible for me to give perfect guidance to everyone reading this, because everyone’s “perfect bench form” will differ. But what I can do is provide some general guidelines. So lets go over the squat:
- Lie down on the bench and center the bar over your face
- Grip the bar: Grip width can vary wildly. Try many different grip widths to find what feels most powerful to you. That being said, you should generally first try going right outside your shoulder width.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together
- Keeping your shoulder blades in place, slide your butt up the bench. This will arch your back and “tuck” your shoulder blades under, lifting your chest up.
- Keep your feet planted either with your ankles directly below your knees, or get your heels slightly behind your knees.
- LEG DRIVE: put pressure through your feet away from you, as if you were trying to slide up the bench even more. You can maintain the leg drive throughout the whole movement, or you can release it a bit on the way down, and drive hard on the way up.
- Unrack the weight and center it ontop of your chest
- Take a deep breath into your stomach, and hold while bracing like someone is going to punch the air out of you.
- Lower the weight down to: nipple line for men, or bra line for women (exact point may vary person to person: go with what feels strong)
- Touch your chest and pause long enough to come to a complete stop, or let the bar sink into your chest a bit and then pause for a complete stop.
- If you had released the leg drive, drive through your feet pushing them “away” like you are trying to slide up the bench (not down into the floor), and press the weight up, exhaling.
- Take a deep breath, brace and repeat.
Congratulate yourself, you just performed a barbell bench press.
Enjoy Benching, I highly recommend it.