How Much Ya Bench Press Bro?
If you go to most gyms, the barbell bench press is pretty much the only lift people care about in terms of numbers. Outside of powerlifting, almost nobody cares about any of the other lifts, including Squats, Deadlifts, Rows, Overhead Press etc.
Why is that?
The Bench Press is widely considered as the ultimate measure of upper body strength.
For this reason, it is 1 of 3 lifts used in a Powerlifting competition, the other 2 being the Squat and the Deadlift.
It’s the upper body lift which allows you to lift the most amount of weight if you learn how to bench press properly.
Yes, there are other upper body exercises such as pull ups, rows, overhead press, etc. but most people don’t train these for maximal strength.
Benefits of The Barbell Bench Press
Builds Upper Body Strength
The Bench press is a milestone lift used by Bodybuilders, Powerlifters and Fitness enthusiasts to measure their upper body strength.
The bench press done correctly uses nearly all of the upper body muscles.
In addition to using the chest, triceps, and shoulders, it also uses the rear delts, lats, traps, and other upper back muscles to stabilize the weight.
If you learn how to bench press properly like a powerlifter, you also use your lower body to generate ‘Leg Drive’
Strength and size go hand in hand. while there are ‘better’ exercises for training each body part, the fact that you have the ability to gain maximal strength makes the bench press a great mass builder
There are many individual exercises you can do for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. The bench press is a compound exercise because it uses many muscles at the same time.
Most of us are very busy and don’t have a lot of time to train, In fact, not having time is the number 1 excuse people have for not working out.
If time is an issue, compound exercises are your best bet in terms of efficiency
The bench press is an exercise that has so many variations depending on your goal.
- Paused Bench
- Touch and Go Bench
- Pin Press
- Board Press
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Wide Grip
- Bench Press with Chains and Bands
- Spoto Press
- Incline Press
- Decline Press
The great thing about having so many variations is that you can use the variation that will meet your goals. For example, if you want to emphasize your triceps more, you can go for a close-grip bench press.
Can Be Done Nearly Anywhere
Because this is a classic exercise, most gyms around the world have a flat bench to use. You can always do some variation no matter where you go.
One of the biggest advantages of compound Strength Training Exercises is the ability to progress.
Progressive Overload is the key to Strength and Muscle gains.
If you want to keep making continuous progress, you have to get stronger. This can be done by adding weight on the bar, doing more reps, doing more sets (volume) or a combination of all 3.
With most isolation exercises such as chest flys, it is hard to keep getting stronger after a while.
Another benefit in terms of progressive overload is that you can use Microplates. When your progression starts to slow down, you can still make small, micro increases to the weight on the barbell.
Micro-loading is not possible in most other non-barbell exercises.
Easy to Load Weight on the Bar
It’s very easy to add weight to the bar, unlike other chest exercises. For example, the dumbbell press is a great exercise but it is also hard to get the dumbbells into position when the weight gets heavy.
The risk of injury is also increased when handling heavy dumbbells.
And finally, most gyms don’t have heavy enough dumbbells once you get strong enough. You will soon outgrow them. On the other hand, if you’re using a barbell, it is easy to add plates on or take the weight off.
Limitations of The Barbell Bench Press
May Not Be the Best Exercise for Hypertrophy
If your goal is to maximize the muscle size of your chest, triceps, and shoulders, the barbell bench press by itself is not sufficient.
This is because of its limited Range of Motion
The range of motion in the bench press is limited because you cannot lower the barbell below your body. Once the barbell touches your chest, you cannot go lower.
The chest is also involved in transverse flexion vs transverse adduction which helps bring your arms towards the midline of your body. This function is not really used on the bench press as you’re pressing straight up.
This means that you’re using your chest muscles at the bottom of the movement but as you approach lockout, it’s mostly in your triceps.
The good news is that you can perform a variety of different exercises in addition to benching.
Injuries are Common
Because the barbell is somewhat fixed into position, it can lead to shoulder pain for a large percentage of people. It’s not the most comfortable position for your body.
That being said, most people get injured because they don’t learn how to bench press properly. If you learn the correct bench press technique, your chances of getting injured are reduced dramatically.
Risk of Accidents
The bench press is one lift where it’s useful to have a spotter in case you fail the lift. If the weight is heavy enough, even spotters sometimes cannot help you.
Solution: If possible, bench press inside of a power cage or a rack with safety bars. The safety bars are set just above chest level.
How to Bench Press Properly
The bench press seems like a pretty straightforward exercise, right?
There is some truth to that. While it is not the most complicated exercise you can perform, most people don’t bench press correctly and this leads to injuries over time.
Step 1: Bench Press Equipment
As with any sport or physical activity, you need to use the correct equipment.
Proper Bench + Adjustable Rack
This starts with a proper bench. Most commercial gyms have terrible benches. if you have the ability to get your own bench, I highly recommend you get an adjustable bench which us can use for incline and overhead pressing as well.
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The next piece of equipment would be an adjustable rack. This will ensure that you’re using the correct height for your body. Some people have longer arms and others have shorter arms. If you set the bar too low, it will increase the work you have to do to unrack the bar. If you set the rack height too high, it will make your shoulders less stable.
These help keep your wrist safe by allowing you to press in a straight line. When the weight gets heavy, it will put unnecessary stress on your wrists and can lead to injuries over time.
Some people naturally have strong and thick wrists due to their bone structure. If you want to keep your wrist safe, you should invest in a good pair of wrist wraps.
Wrist wraps can also be used on a variety of different exercises including squats, curls, overhead press and even deadlifts.
If you have trouble with the barbell slipping or with your back slipping on the bench, you could benefit from using Lifting Chalk. Using chalk on your hands will help get rid of any moisture and help you get a firm grip on the barbell.
Applying chalk on your back will also help you to maintain position on the bench.
Step 2: Bench Press Grip
For the bench press, you should always use a full grip and NOT the False Grip. The risk of injury due to the bar slipping off your hands is just too high.
Ideally, the bar should rest across your palm, in line with the base of your thumb and the base of your palm. This will help keep your wrist relatively straight.
You definitely don’t want to hold the weight too high on your palms as it will cause unnecessary pain in your wrists and forearms.
Once you find this position on your wrist, you can wrap your fingers and thumb around the bar. As a coach, I recommend using a firm grip on the bar.
Your ideal grip depends on your goals, body structure, and personal preferences.
For most people, a good grip width is where the forearms are Perpendicular to the floor at the bottom of the lift.
This means that the wrists are stacked directly above your elbows in a straight line. For most average-sized males, your pinkies will be on close to the rings on the barbell. Smaller lifters may have to go narrower and bigger lifters will have to grip a bit wider.
If your goal is to lift the most amount of weight possible, you will have to find a grip width that allows you to lift the most weight. Most powerlifters, especially if they have long arms, will prefer a wider grip because it reduces the range of motion.
Some powerlifters also bench with a narrower grip because they are strongest with that grip.
You also have to keep in mind the importance of personal preferences. If you’re uncomfortable using a particular grip or get some pain, you shouldn’t use it.
Step 3: Bench Press Arch and Setup
The bench press arch is one of the most important techniques that will not only help you lift more weight but also, make it safer.
When most people think of an arch, they think of something crazy. The truth is that a very few people have this level of flexibility.
Even if your goal is to decrease the range of motion, you should still keep a slight arch in your back. By arching, you get into the correct position for the bench press. When you arch on the bench press, you automatically retract your shoulder blades, which is crucial.
Retracting your shoulder blades will help keep your shoulders in a safe position.
The shoulder joint is not particularly a stable joint because it is a ball and socket joint.
While this is great for most activities because it allows you to freely move your arms around. This is not so good for the bench press because it can increase the chances of a shoulder injury and pain when not done correctly.
When we retract our shoulder blades, it secures the shoulder into the socket. It is important to maintain this retracted position throughout the movement.
Benefits of Arching on the bench press
- Reduces Range of motion
- Helps retract shoulder blades
- Helps with Leg drive
How to Setup
Set the Barbell at the Correct Height
Ideally, the barbell should be at a height that requires you to lift the barbell about 1-2 inches off the rack. This gives you just enough space to clear the hooks as you bring the bar over your chest.
If you’re having to lift it more than 1-2 inches, the rack height is too low for you. This simply means that you’re putting in unnecessary work just to unrack the bar. This can also cause some elbow pain over time.
On the other hand, the rack height should not be so high that you have to protract your shoulders to do so. this is an unsafe position for your shoulders.
If you have an adjustable bench or if your benching in a squat or power rack/cage, it will be much easier to do this.
If your bench press height is not adjustable, it will be hard to maintain the correct position. Using a spotter may help you in this case.
Lay on the bench with the barbell at eye level
This will set you up for the best position after unracking the bar.
This is NOT the starting position of the actual bench press. This is simply the position from where you unrack the barbell.
Take an even grip on the Barbell
Use the knurling or rings on the barbell to take an even grip with both hands. Try to hold the barbell close to the base of your palm.
Set Feet into Position
While holding on to the barbell, set your feet into position.
There are 2 ways of setting your feet for the bench press
- Heels on the floor
- Heels off/Toes on the floor
For most people, I would recommend starting with heels on the floor. Over time, you can try both and see which one works for you.
For maximum leg drive, your feet should be behind your knees and your knees should be lower than your hips.
Arch Retract Shoulder Blades
You want to create a slight arch on the bench press.
When you arch, your 2 points of contact will be your butt and your upper back.
This is an important step that will help create a stable shoulder position for you to bench.
While holding on to the bar and pushing your feet into the ground, use the barbell to depress your shoulders back and down. This is known as Scapulae Retraction.
Step 4: Un-Rack the Barbell
This may seem like a simple step but most people mess it up. This process involves pushing the bar up off the rack and slowly bringing it directly over your chest.
Having a spotter for this process is a good idea when lifting heavy weights.
If you’ve set up the rack height correctly, this should be easier.
The first step is to push up to clear the hooks.
The Second step is to bring the bar over your chest. The ideal position will be where the barbell is directly over your shoulders.
Step 5: Bring Barbell to Chest
Lower the bar in a controlled manner to your chest. Your elbows will be slightly tucked at about 45 degrees on the way down.
Lower the bar until you touch the bottom of the sternum.
For beginners, I recommend pausing on the chest. When you pause, it teaches you the correct position at the bottom of the movement. Pausing will also teach you to maintain tightness throughout the exercise.
When you pause at the bottom, the barbell will be slightly behind your elbows. At the bottom, even though the bar is resting on your chest, you should still maintain tension and tightness.
This means that your shoulder blades have to be retracted throughout the movement.
Descent speed: Your descent speed doesn’t need to be excessively slow. As long as you’re controlling the weight instead of dropping its fine.
If your descent speed is too slow, this will reduce how much weight you can lift when you press. There’s nothing wrong with that but it is important to keep in mind.
Step 6: Press
While maintaining tightness, use your chest, triceps, and shoulders to press the bar back to the starting position, which is over your shoulder.
This is important because many beginners do this incorrectly. They press straight up instead of back and up.
In fact, if you look at some of the best bench pressers, they actually push back before they press the weight up.
When we press the weight, we should return to the starting position in an efficient manner. This means that we should bring the barbell over our shoulders as fast as possible.
Bench Press Leg Drive
Even though the bench press is an upper body exercise, leg drive plays an important role in helping with stability and generating maximum power.
To use leg drive effectively, you fee have to planted firmly on the floor.
Bench Press Bar Path
Breathing During the Bench Press
Breathing is one of the most important weightlifting techniques you can use. In fact, almost any lift can be instantly improved when you learn how to breathe correctly.
Breathing is generally a technique used for the ‘Valsalva Maneuver’. It’s a way to brace the core in order to keep your spine stable.
While breathing is useful for all lifts, it offers a unique benefit on the bench press.
When you take a deep breath it expands your chest. This means that if you bench with a full breath of air on the bench, your range of motion is shorter. You’re essentially making yourself bigger and a bigger person generally has a shorter range of motion.
How to Breathe
- Take a deep breath into your diaphragm before you begin a rep. Try to expand your chest as much as possible
- Lower the barbell while holding your breath
- Pause on the chest while holding your breath
- Press and exhale towards the top of the rep or after the rep is done.
- Repeat the same for each rep
Basically, you hold your breath until you’re done with the rep or are almost done with the rep.
Step 7: Re-Rack The Barbell
After you’re done with your reps, gentry re-rack the barbell by moving your wrists back.
Try not to rerack the barbell very quickly as this may cause the barbell to bounce and not rack correctly
Bench Press Cues
Lifting cues are a simple way of teaching proper technique.
Here are some cues I use with my coaching clients to help them perform the exercise effectively. Different cues work better for different people, depending on their technique.
Bend the bar
This is a classic cue to help trainees learn how to tuck the elbows. Too many new lifters tend to flare their elbows when they bench. When you focus on bending the bar, especially as your lower the barbell to your chest, this causes you automatically bring the elbows in.
NOTE; You probably shouldn’t use this cue on the way up. In fact, you can use the opposite cue and try to straighten the bent bar on the way up.
Pull the Barbell Apart
This is another classic cue that will help you keep your shoulder blades retracted. When you use this cue, you have to engage your upper back muscles that will keep your shoulders in the correct position.
This is one of my personal favorite coaching cues. If you focus on keeping your chest up throughout the movement, it will help you keep an arch. Beginners often make the mistake of letting their chest collapse at the bottom of the bench or while pressing the barbell. Another benefit of keeping your ‘Chest Up’ is that it will keep your shoulders back and retracted.
Put Your Shoulders in Your Back Pocket
One of the mistakes beginners make when retracting the shoulder blades is that they tend to shrug instead of pushing down. Imagine as if you were putting your shoulder blades into your back pockets and this will cue you to push Back AND Down.
Pull the Barbell into Your Chest
Even though the Barbell Bench Press is a ‘Pushing’ movement, sometimes it helps to imagine as if you were ‘Pulling’ the barbell into your chest. You could also imagine as if you were bringing your chest to the barbell like a rowing exercise.
This will help maintain tightness and a healthy arch in your back.
How to Increase Bench Press?
The Barbell Bench Press is a movement in which you can potentially get very strong, however, most people stop making progress after they’re past the novice stage.
Here are some ways you can keep getting stronger:
Bench Press More Often
Don’t just bench on Chest Day once a week. The ideal training frequency for the bench press is at least 2-3 times per week. You don’t have to do the same movement on all days but it would help to train the same muscles with different variations
Learn to Bench Press Properly
If you simply improve your technique using what you’ve learned in this article, you can increase your bench press almost instantly. Having a bad technique can prevent you from making progress in the long-term.
In the long term, you have to build upper body mass in order to get stronger. In addition to building your chest, shoulders, and triceps, having strong back muscles can also help with stability and decreasing range of motion.
The bench press is a lift that is affected by your bodyweight. Generally, a larger person will be able to lift more than a smaller person.
I’m not suggesting that you become fat but if you gain weight (and muscle) slowly over time, your bench will also improve.
Use the Right Equipment
Using a good bench, wrist wraps, chalk and shoes can really help you bench press properly
Read the complete article: How to Increase The Barbell Bench Press
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I hope this article taught you to bench press properly. Now go out there and make Gains!