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How to Bench Press

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How to Bench Press

The most revered strength training exercise and one of the big “3”, the bench is rarely performed correctly.   It seems in every gym across America, every Monday is national bench day.  But unfortunately, we should label every Monday national “wreck your shoulders” day.

Types of Bench Press

Conventional Bench Press

bench-press

Close Grip Bench Press


Reverse Grip Bench Press


Bamboo Bench Press (Crazy Bell or Chaos Bench)

crazy-bamboo-bench

DB Bench Press


Alternating DB Bench Press


One Arm DB Bench Press


How to Load the Bench Press

A barbell can be loaded with:

  • straight weight (barbell + olympic weights)
  • chains
  • elastic bands
  • elastic bands + kettlebells

Odd objects can also be used for bench pressing:

  • sandbags
  • kegs
  • kettlebells (double, unilateral, alternating)
  • heavy bag
  • strongman log
  • strongman axle

Bench Press Benefits:

  • build strength in a horizontal pressing movement pattern
  • developing the musculature of the pectorals, shoulders and triceps
  • stabilizes shoulder

How to Bench Press (Conventional)

There are very important key points to remember when performing the bench press to ensure healthy shoulders and longevity. In fact, these key points apply to all the horizontal pressing movements in this manual.

1.Keep a tight grip on the bar at all times, a tighter grip equates to more tension in the lower arms, upper back and chest.

2.Keep your chest up (thoracic extension) throughout the movement.

3.Elbows should be tucked and end up at approximately 45 degrees from your side.

4.Unrack the weight and take a deep breath and hold it.

5.Row the weight down to your chest by pulling the bar apart, like a bent over row. Do not relax and let the weight drop.

6.Back, hips, glutes and legs are tight and isometrically contracted.

7.When you touch your chest, drive your feet downward and reverse the movement.

8. Lock out the elbows WITHOUT losing your arch and thoracic extension.

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Bench Press Considerations:

  1. I’m Missing at Lockout – What should I do?
    • Technique – drive feet down, squeeze bar as hard as you can
    • Strength – heavy rack lockouts (also helps to strength connective tissues), pin press at and around sticking point (isometrically pressing against the power cage pins), various height board presses (2, 3, 4 board), heavy tricep work, pull-ups, band assisted bench press, plate pinch, rolling thunder deadlifts
  2. Elbows Flaring Out – What should I do?
    • Technique – technique, technique, technique, ensure you are actively pulling the bar downward as your tuck your elbows toward your sides.  Initially, with this technique, you will not be able to do as much weight.  As you learn the technique and build up your tricep and back strength, you will be able to do MORE weight and keep your shoulders healthy and strong.
    • Strength – pull-ups, heavy tricep work
  3. I’m Off My Chest – What should I do?
    • Technique - keep back tight and don’t relax!  Keep your air that you took before the movement started and drive your feet downward.  Also, by pulling the bar apart you maintain the tension in your lats which helps you stay tight.
    • Strength – mini-band resisted bench press, pin press at and around sticking point (isometrically pressing against the power cage pins), floor press (dumbbells, barbell or football / swiss / log bar) more back work including seated rows, face pulls, pull-ups

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Quick Tips for the Bench Press

1. Look Out for Pain

If there is pain with this movement, regress back to neutral grip dumbbell bench pressing. This means that you take a set of dumbbells and do bench press with your hands facing each other. Sometimes this is referred to as a “hammer” grip or a neutral grip. If there still is pain my suggestion to you is to regress further to more of a basic, fundamental movement, such as a push-up.

2. Start Doing Push-ups

Push-ups are an incredible tool that most lifters don’t do because they want to build a big bench and a big chest. So they spend hours in the gym on the bench press, with poor form wrecking their shoulders.  Many forget push-ups have have benefits that carry over not only to your bench, but to your overall health and wellness.

Push-ups not only stabilize the core and lower back, but also improves your upper back posture by allowing the supportive musculature of the scapulae to get stronger while they allowed to move freely.

Push-ups can also be done with an extended range of motion (ROM).  By increasing the ROM you engage more musculature and therefore, build more strength.

Push-ups

push-ups

Beyond the Range Push-ups

deficit-push-upsdeficit-push-ups-2

3.  Warm Up Thoroughly

Make sure you before you lay down on the bench, you warm-up not only your anterior (chest, shoulders and abdominals), but play special attention to your upper posterior musculature responsible for not only engaging movement, but also stabilizing it, ie. rotator cuff, triceps, serratus anterior, rhomboids, traps, lats.

Benefits of a Thorough Warm-up:

  • CNS excitement
  • muscle activation
  • prepares joints, muscles and connective soft-tissues for activity
  • negating poor posture and excessive short range of motion (ROM) movements of the day
  • mental preparation
  • improved performance
  • reduce injury potential

Here are some exercises to help with your warm-up for an upper body training session.  Face pulls, pull-ups, tricep press downs, t-bar retractions and hand walking on foam are a great way to warm-up the upper back.

Face Pulls

Face pulls activate and target the shoulder retractors (rhomboids and trapezius) because each face pull should be preceded by a scapular retraction.  The two two pictures depict a typical face pull.  The bottom two pictures demonstrate the second type of face pull.  It engages an external rotation at the end of the movement, targeting the teres minor, infraspinatus and posterior delts.

face-pulls1

Hand Walking on Foam

vid00168_0002

vid00168_0001

4.  Casting Your Wrists (by Jim Wendler, Elitefts.com)

This is a pretty simple and easy article. When I started using a bench shirt, I miraculously gained 150 lbs on my bench. No practice, no technique work, nothing. That is the magic of these cheater shirts—you automatically “get it.” Anyway, with this increase in bar weight, my wrists were taking a beating and I needed some help. This is where I was bestowed with this knowledge, which I am now giving to you.
This may be something you’ve already read before, but this little tip helped me maintain proper position in the bench press, take stress away from my wrists, and stay healthy.

For the demonstration, I will be using the Metal All-Black Wraps, which have a thumb loop. Like J.D. Salinger, these have been in hiding for a long time.  The typical way to wrap your wrist
Notice that only the wrist is covered. This is typically how I would wrap my wrist when squatting, not bench pressing.

Casting your Wrist

muscle-building-bench-press-casting

In the second picture, notice the big difference is that the heel of my palm is covered by the wrap. By doing this, I am essentially bracing my wrist with my hand. This gives enormous support and keeps my wrists healthy. You will have to play around with how much of your heel you are going to cover.

5.  Hand / Wrist Position

Ensure that when you are benching, you have a tight grip on the bar.  Remember, the tighter you grip the bar, the more tension you will create and the greater control you will have on the bar.  One coaching cue would be to tell the lifter to have “white knuckles”.

How to Hold the Bar:

  • Make sure to ALWAYS keep your thumb on the bar.  Taking your thumb off the bar is called a suicide grip and you should NEVER DO IT.

how-to-bench-do-not-suicide-grip

  • You must keep your wrists straight.  If your wrist extends back, you will be more likely to flex or fold your arms toward your head as you lower the weight.

how-to-bench-do-not-flex-wrist

  • The proper way to hold your wrists is to KEEP THEM STRAIGHT.  This can be aided by “casting your wrists” with wrist wraps – SEE ABOVE.

how-to-bench-keep-wrists-straight

5.  Pull the Bar Apart


The lifter will place an elastic band around their wrists that is tight when they move their hands into their bench position.

The tension on the band has two benefits:

1. Causes the lifter to squeeze the bar harder creating more tension.

MORE TENSION = MORE STRENGTH

2. Forces the lifter to “pull the bar apart”. This not only engages the lats, but increases the tension more.

BENCH IS A FULL BODY LIFT

Engaging the lats improves form and protects the shoulders.

Supplemental Exercises

Floor Press

A floor press is essentially a bench press on the floor, with a limited range of motion.  The lifter will lower the bar until their elbows touch the ground and they drive the weight back up to lockout.  This is the upper range of motion of a bench and targets tricep and lockout strength.

The floor press can be overloaded just with bar weight, chains or elastic bands.

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Dips

Dips target the chest, shoulders and triceps.  Dips can be overloaded with a medicine ball between your feet, an elastic band over your shoulders and held in your hands, a weight vest or chains put on in an “X” fashion.

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Face Pulls

Banded Tricep Work

Diesel Rows

Learn to Bench Correctly

Follow the video below to learn how to bench correctly, but don’t forget to always include basic movements such as a push-up.

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Sample Upper Body Training Workouts

Sample Workout 1

Activation
Foam Hand Walking
Rotator Y, T, W, L

Warmup
Jump Rope
Lat Pull Downs
Seated DB Cleans

Workout
1) ME Bench, 6×3
2a) DB Clean & Press, 4×8
2b) Pull-ups, 4×10
3a) Push-ups on blocks (+chains), 4xAMAP*
3b) Face Pulls, 4×15

Rehab
Hip Mobility
Glute Activation

*AMAP – As Many As Possible

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Sample Workout 2

Upper – [DoggCrapp]

Soft-Tissue
Foam Roller
Lacrosse Ball

General Warm-up
Barbell Curls
Barbell Press
Barbell Curl to Press
Barbell Squats
Barbell Good Mornings
Barbell Bent Over Row

Done as big superset x 2

Specific Warm-up
Light Worksets of Actual Exercises

Workout

Primary Movement

Elite Fat EZ Curl Bar Bench Press

DoggCrapp Training

DC1) Incline DB Bench 3sets x 30sec rest x AMAP
DC2) Elite Fat EZ Curl Bar Curls 3sets x 30sec rest x AMAP
DC3) Seated Rows 3sets x 30sec rest x AMAP
DC4) Barbell Shrugs 3sets x 30sec rest x AMAP
DC5) Jumpstretch Tricep Extensions 3sets x 30sec rest x AMAP
DC6) Bodyweight Dips 3sets x 30sec rest x AMAP

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Sample Workout 3

Soft-Tissue
Foam Roller
Lacrosse Ball

General Warm-up
Hurdler Stretch for Hip Flexors
Chest Wall Stretches
Push-ups
DB Cleans
Band External Rotations

Specific Warm-up
Light Worksets of Actual Exercises

Workout

Primary Movement
Barbell Bench Press

2a) Elite Swiss Bar Incline Bench
2b) T-Bar Rows

3a) Seated Arnold DB Presses
3b) Posterior DB Flyes

4a) DB Curls
4b) Rocky’s
4c) TKE’s
4d) X-band Walks

Treadmill Sprints
10 Runs
15 Seconds Sprints
45 seconds off
12 Incline
10 Speed

Cool Down
Stretching

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9 Responses to “How to Bench Press”

  1. The Shoulder - Great Exercise Sequence | Diesel Crew - Muscle Building, Athletic Development, Strength Training Says:

    […] Here is a highly effective shoulder superset. It will pack on muscle and make your shoulders strong and healthy.  This is essential if you want a big bench. […]

  2. How to Bench Press - Learn to Pull the Bar Apart | Diesel Crew - Muscle Building, Athletic Development, Strength Training Says:

    […] to Bench Press – Learn to Pull the Bar Apart // This innovative technique for increasing your bench press weight comes from AJ Roberts an elite powerlifter sponsored by […]

  3. MuscleVIP - Just Added Some New AMD Videos | Diesel Crew - Muscle Building, Athletic Development, Strength Training Says:

    […] you seen the new Odd Objects training page?  How about the Bench Press page?  Check out the Training Center on the right of the […]

  4. Mathews Says:

    Re: LEARN TO BENCH CORRECTLY-VIDEO

    I had read and heard all over about drawing in the shoulder blades and thoracic expansion but could never get the technique right..infact i misunderstood and pushed my shoulders backwards thinking that would close the blades and got it all wrong…UNTIL I came across your video on how to bench correctly…”elbow correction” and further explanation on how to position the shoulder blades is the best I have read or heard anywhere…THANKS a million…previous weights feel like a piece of cake !

  5. Joe Says:

    Hey Guys,
    I’ve watched this video a few times and I’ve done my best to incorporate it into my workout, but I’m having a problem keeping my scaps tight when I go to lift up the bar.. . Any advice? Thanks for all the help.

  6. welemba Says:

    thank you for the chest training tips in rural kenya we do not have much facilities to train so we invent most off the exercises.When we train the chest we feel like the deltroid muscle are the ones working out,wha could be the problem?mostly its when we train the incline bench press.

  7. Simple Posture Correction Says:

    […] retracting the shoulders back and down.  Think of it as if you are setting up to hit a PR on the bench.  […]

  8. bill Says:

    excellent post, great exercises, I think everyone needs to follow a good training and try max effort

  9. Diesel Crew – Muscle Building, Athletic Development, Strength Training, Grip Strength » DieselCrew.com » How to Improve Grip Strength for Shooting Says:

    […] you can stick with the basics. Always keep doing Pull-up and Chin-up variations, but also learn how to Bench Press, Overhead Press, Deadlift, Row, and Squat properly, and you will be well on your way to developing […]

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