The bench press is one of those exercises that coaches either love or hate. Some say it is has no use in sports performance as you are never pushing an object off of you while on your back and therefore it’s not ‘functional’.
But this is the exact position you may find yourself in during an MMA fight, rugby or wrestling. Not to mention that it’s a great mass builder and teaches you how to use your body as a whole so it definitely has a place in sports performance programs.
For the general population who are just looking to keep themselves fit, strong and healthy, bench pressing can be a great exercise choice as long as it is an appropriate choice the person. It’s relatively easy to learn, and again, is great for anybody looking to build upper body strength and muscle without some of the more complicated exercise that require a longer learning time or lifting a weight overhead, which is a movement that most people struggle to do safely.
Like every exercise, getting the most out of the bench press relies on having good lifting technique but in my experience, but it’s nowhere near as complicated to learn as some other exercises as long as you have a competent coach.
Before we get into it, it’s important to note that this is how we coach the bench press to OUR clients- people we might see twice a week and are just looking to keep themselves generally fit, strong, healthy and lean. Like many exercises there are a ton of variations depending on your goals such as powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc. Our goal id to get our clients to a decent level of strength so that they can lift safely and get a great session done.
Here’s a video covering 5 of these tips, with the full 8 covered below.
Here are 8 coaching points we use to achieve that with our clients.
1) Ankles under knees or slightly behind them
Having your feet too far out in front of your knees will create an more unsteady base of support who you are trying to push your feet into the ground. This often results in people lifting their feet off the ground and end up bench pressing with only one foot left to support them.
Keeping your feet under or slightly behind your knees will create a much more stable position to press from and help avoid any uneccasry wobbling with just ends up wasting valuable energy that should be pressing the bar up
2) Forearms parallel to the floor in bottom poison- use this to set grip width
Most people just grab the bar any old way and give it little thought. Again, keeping your forearms parallel to the floor when the bar is in the bottom position will keep your joints healthier and allow you to lift as much weight as possible as you will be pushing from directly beneath the bar. When the bar is touching your chest, your elbows should be at about 45 degrees from your body and your forearms should be parallel to the floor.
3) Engage glutes- knees track feet and don’t buckle
Among other functions, your glutes are responsible for externally rotating your thigh bones. It’s not uncommon to see peoples knees completely collapse inward when they bench press so you need to squeeze your glutes enough to stop this from happening and pull your thighs/knees out away from each other so that the soles of your feet are flat on the floor. This will make sure that your knees don’t buckle and help you maintain this stable base to press from.
4) Pull shoulder blades together, chest up
Keeping your shoulder blades pulled together will create a flatter, stable surface between you and the bench. If your shoulder bales roll away from each other you’ll end up being very unsteady on the bench. You chest will also cave in and your shoulders will be put at a higher risk of injury due to being in a much less stable position.
Think about pulling your shoulder blades together so that your chest is lifted up, and screw your upper arms into your shoulder sockets to create a very safe and stable pressing position
5) Touch bar to nipple line, finish over shoulders
When bench pressing, we don’t coach our clients to just lift the bar up and down. The path we cue is to start the bar over the shoulders, lower it to the nipple line or slightly above, and then return it to above the shoulders.
This allows the forearms and wrists to stay in alignment with the bar and which allows the client to lift as much weight as possible and minimise negative stress on the joints.
6) Thumbs around the bar always
Holding the bar with a thubless/’suicide’ grip is an absolute no-no in our facility. The risk of the bar slipping out of the hand and landing on the clients chest is not a risk we ever take. Always hold the bar with your thumbs wrapped around it.
7) Forehead/eyes under bar when starting
Before lifting the bar off the rack, many people lie on the bench so that their chest is positioned i=under the bar. This is a problem because when they un rack the bar it will be placed too far towards their feet and they won’t be able to control it or use a decent amount of weight- the bar will just fall forward with the possibility of injury.
Before you un-rack the bar, make sure that you position the bench so that your forehead/eyes are below the bar when you lie on it.
8) Slight bend in the elbows before lifting the bar out of the rack
Placing the bar too low will only cause you to put in a huge effort to un-rack it and you want to save your energy for the actual reps that count. Also, if the bar is placed too high on the rack before you lift it off you’ll only end up losing that good upper back position mentioned earlier because you’ll have to roll your shoulder blades off the bench to unpack the bar- and then waste energy resetting your upper back.
Don’t waste your energy on stuff that doesn’t matter by setting the bar so it only tales a few inches of a lift off to un-rack
Bench pressing is a great exercise when performed properly so give these 8 tips a try, feel the difference and drop me a line to let me know how you get on.