“How much do you bench?”
That’s the first question you’re asked when someone wants to judge your strength.
The bench press is a staple in most people’s chest training routines. It’s a great compound exercise for building strength and mass on your chest. But how many times have you gone to the gym and seen that less-than-muscular wobbly-armed fellow struggling to hold proper form when benching?
Bench pressing is deceptively difficult to do properly… get it right, and you’ll see improved gains in your chest size and strength… get it wrong, and you’re heading for some serious shoulder damage.
So, before you lie down under the bar and press any more weight, remember these steps to ensure that you’re working your chest for optimal gains, while avoiding injury.
Step 1: Set a Strong Base
Before you even think about un-racking that bar, you need to make sure you’re lying on the bench correctly. First, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground throughout the entire lift. All too often I see guys lifting their feet off the ground as they press, or worse, start with their legs raised and crossed. Keeping your feet planted firmly on the floor, spaced wide apart will provide stability.
Before lying on the bench, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lie down, keeping your shoulder blades retracted and plant them firmly against the bench. This will give you a firm foundation to press from, and will keep your shoulders back and chest expanded.
Your lower back should have a slight arch, just enough space to fit a fist through. A lot of people have a tendency to arch their back too much and raise their butt off the bench during the lift. When pushing the weight, drive your feet into the floor through your heels, keep your butt on the bench and shoulders blades retracted.
Step 2: Get a Grip
You want to grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width, so that your forearm is perpendicular with the floor (at an angle of 90° to the ground – vertical). Grip too close together place’s strain on the wrists and the triceps will take most on the weight. Grip the bar too wide and you risk screwing up your shoulders.
Don’t use a thumb-less grip, it’s called the “suicide grip” for a reason. If that bar slips off the palm of your hand during a lift, it’s a trip to the hospital. Make sure you grip the bar properly, wrap your thumb around the bar and grip it hard. Squeeze the bar hard when your lifting, like your trying to crush the bar, this will give you a little strength boost.
Don’t flair your elbows out wide during your lift. This is also a sure way to destroy your shoulders. Keep elbows tucked in, they should be about a 45 – 60 degree angle from your body.
Step 3: Don’t Start Heavy
Just so that you get a good feel for your form before going really heavy, start off by lifting the bar off of the rack with a very light weight. I look at my first couple of warm up sets as “feel sets” to make sure I get my form bang on before increasing the weight.
Breathe in as you lower the bar down, allowing it to gently touch your chest (don’t bounce the bar off you your chest, it’s not cool), and then breathe out as you push the bar up. Slow and
controlled on the way down, explode up.
Step 4: Bar Position
Lower the bar so that it stops at the bottom area of your chest – the bar should stop in line with the nipples. Don’t bring the bar down to high, such as in line with your shoulders. Press with a full range of motion by bringing that bar down until it touches your chest, explode up and extend your arms fully, locking out the elbows at the top of the movement.
Using full range of motion with proper form will force your chest to work maximally, giving better muscle development.
Step 5: Use a Spotter
Lastly, it’s always a good idea to have a spotter, especially if you’re new to bench pressing or if you’re deciding to push yourself and lift very heavy to failure. After all, better safe than sorry.
Warning: Make sure not to bump your head on the bar when lying down. Not only does it hurt… it’s embarrassing