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
Close Grip Bench Press
Reverse Grip Bench Press
Bamboo Bench Press (Crazy Bell or Chaos 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)
- elastic bands
- elastic bands + kettlebells
Odd objects can also be used for bench pressing:
- 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.
Bench Press Considerations:
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
Beyond the Range Push-ups
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 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.
Hand Walking on Foam
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Banded Tricep Work
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.
Sample Upper Body Training Workouts
Sample Workout 1
Foam Hand Walking
Rotator Y, T, W, L
Lat Pull Downs
Seated DB Cleans
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
*AMAP – As Many As Possible
Sample Workout 2
Upper – [DoggCrapp]
Barbell Curl to Press
Barbell Good Mornings
Barbell Bent Over Row
Done as big superset x 2
Light Worksets of Actual Exercises
Elite Fat EZ Curl Bar Bench Press
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
Sample Workout 3
Hurdler Stretch for Hip Flexors
Chest Wall Stretches
Band External Rotations
Light Worksets of Actual Exercises
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
4d) X-band Walks
15 Seconds Sprints
45 seconds off