5 Tips For Improving Your Bench Press
The bench press is one of the most important lifts you can do. It targets the upper body, but it's also a representation of total body strength and why the NFL, as well as most majors sports teams, continue to use it in their testing protocol for athletes. In an era where functionality is at the forefront, the bench press may seem antiquated, but it continues to be a valuable exercise to build and measure strength. Here is the correct way to execute and improve your bench press.
I was given my first weight lifting equipment when I was in sixth grade by my uncles and the first lift they taught me was the bench press. Instantly I was hooked. So much so, that my wife joked with me for years that it wasn't a Monday unless I've benched.
I like most of my clients to do some form of bench press, at some angle or dumbbell variation, once a week, depending on their build and any pre-existing shoulder conditions. For an introduction to Bench Press, I’m going to teach it with a barbell, since that is what is predominantly tested and the use of dumbbells varies slightly. Hopefully the following steps might give you insight into this exercise or reinforce what you already know.
How To Bench Press Correctly
- Lie down under the bar. A good rule of thumb is to line up your forehead with the bar, this allows sufficient space so you don't hit the J hooks during the lift.
- Reach up to grab bar. The grip width should be 1 to 1 1/2times the width of the shoulders. Most bars have knurling or what is referred to as a power ring. Optimal grip for most people lies between thumbs distance of the inner knurling up to pinkies on the power ring. Your arm length and build play a big role in the width grip you should use, as do any existing shoulder injuries. You should strive to be pain-free throughout the movement.
- Before you begin your lift off, the body must be in the correct position. Contrary to what most individuals think, the low back is slightly arched, allowing a natural curvature of the low back makes alignment of the shoulders easier. With the feet about hip distance apart, start to squeeze the shoulder blades together before the lift off. The shoulder blades need to stay down and together throughout the lift to keep pressure on the large pushing muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
- Lift off. Lift the bar off the J hooks and bring it out over your chest. Do not start the descent until the bar reaches that point! Starting the descent before the bar is over the desired target point will result in a bar that tends to get out of control and cause unnecessary stress on the rotator cuffs of the shoulder.
- The descent. Once the bar is brought over the chest it should be brought down under control to touch the lower chest (think sternum or right under the nipple line). Bringing the bar to touch the chest is the goal, partial reps are acceptable if you have shoulder issues. One of the common mistakes I see is people doing a partial movement. If you are only descending half way, it is probably better to decrease the weight and work on improving your range of motion.
- The ascent. As you start to drive the weight off the chest, the bar will not naturally rise in a straight line. The bar will move from pressing over the lower chest to middle and then upper chest. It is important to maintain optimal shoulder blade position as you drive the weight up. A great tip is to visualize not only pressing the bar up off your chest, but also squeezing the bar tightly in the hands.
Every lift is technical. Remember to start slow, listen to your body, and make adjustments to your technique as you gain experience. For experienced lifters, ask yourself if you’re still gaining strength. If you seem to have plateaued, it might be time to think about your technique. The bench press will continue to be a representation of total body strength and should be a part of your training program.
The flip side is that even though the bench press is an important lift, you don’t want it to define your fitness level or overall health. It takes weight to push weight, and as many people begin to optimize their body composition (get leaner) their total lifting capacity may decrease. Keep a holistic approach to your workouts by being technique conscious, give 100% effort, and remember your goals.
If you are following these rules and your bench isn't improving, it may be linked to your technique.
Finding technique flaws can have an instant impact on the amount of weight you can lift and in getting good pec development. Another reason individuals don't get stronger is a weakness in crucial parts of the body. Here are 5 reasons your bench isn't getting going up.
Why Your Bench Isn't Improving
- 1. You're Pressing on the Wrong Path
If you are still pressing with the elbow flared out, stop it. Bring the bar down with the elbows 45 degrees away from the body. The bar should be brought down below you nipple line. It's also a misconception to think you should press in a perfectly straight line on the ascent. While the bar is ascending, it will have a small natural arch going from below the nipple line to the mid to upper chest.
- Your Shoulders are Weak
Most guys spend too much time benching and not enough time with the overhead press. The front delts are highly involved in the bench press so don't skip your overhead press. As a good rule of thumb, strive for being able to overhead press your body weight.
- Your Feet Aren't On The Floor
Don't be this guy. When you bench press, your feet should be firmly planted on the floor with a natural curvature of your spine. Your whole body should be held tight. Glutes contracted, feet driving into the floor.
- Weak Finish
The triceps are highly involved in the last part of the bench press and likely the reason you're having trouble locking out bar. Work on adding skull crushers and dumbell rollbacks to help you with the last part of your bench. Also, if you are working to failure regularly without a spotter and not locking out your last reps, you aren't teaching your body to finish. Try leaving a rep or two in the tank.
- You Aren't Training Your Legs
If you are doing whole body workouts, you will get a better hormonal response and build more total muscle throughout your entire body. I know it might sound crazy, but if your legs get stronger your bench press will also.
These are some of the most basic ways to up your bench press. The bench is an important element of developing a strong physique but don't forget to work the whole body.