The bench press should be a part of any workout program because as a multi-joint exercise it works several muscles at once. But if you’re not doing it correctly you could be missing out on all its benefits and increasing your chances of injury.
The bench press mainly works the muscles of the chest (pectoralis major) which are responsible for moving the arm towards the centre of the body. The triceps in the upper arm and the anterior deltoid of the shoulder are involved with elbow extension and shoulder flexion. A wide hand position increases the effort by the pectorals and a narrow hand position concentrates more on the triceps.
While the bench press appears quite simple, there are some general tips to think about to improve your results and reduce injury.
Bench Press Technique
1. Lay on the bench with your feet flat on the floor to give a solid, stabile base, with your back flat and your core engaged. Pull your shoulder blades together throughout the exercise to increase the range of movement.
2. If doing a standard bench press, grip the bar so that when it as its lowest point your forearms are vertical.
3. Lift the bar off the rack and lower it with control until it just touches you mid-chest. Do not bounce the bar as this will this reduce the tension in your muscles, decreasing the effectiveness of the exercise, and could damage your ribs or sternum.
4. Drive the bar back up through the lifting phase of the exercise until your arms are almost straight to be sure you get the greatest range of movement. Do not lock your elbows however, as this also reduces the tension in your muscles and over time can cause injury.
5. Repeat this for your chosen amount of reps and then return the bar to the rack to complete the set.
Bench Press Notes
1. While it might be for okay for an experienced powerlifter to have an arched back to decrease their range of movement and lift more, this is something we want to avoid. When training to build muscle, reduce body fat, increase fitness or anything that isn’t about lifting the biggest weight possible, the larger the range of movement the better. That means keeping a flat back and an engaged core, which will also help prevent back injuries.
2. While keeping your feet flat on the floor is essential for good stability, you can intentionally de-stabilise your position and thereby increase the work your core muscles have to do to compensate. To do this put your feet on the bench, which is also worth trying if you already have lower back problems.
3. Like any exercise, you will get the most from the bench press with the greatest range of movement. That means pulling your shoulder blades together, keeping your back flat and lowering the bar all the way to your chest and straightening your arms fully (without locking elbows). Remember you can also increase the width of your hand position, which increases the pectoral range of motion. This is at the expense of the triceps but as the bench press is a chest exercise this isn’t a problem.
4. Here I’ve talked about how to do the bench press with a barbell in a flat position, but there are several ways to add variety. As well as changing hand position you can do the exercise in an inclined or declined position, which will concentrate the effort more on the upper and lower part of the chest respectively. You can also use dumbbells, which give a greater range of movement, plus they are useful if you don’t have a training partner to spot you. I’ll be covering this more in future articles.
The bench press is an excellent exercise for the upper body that should form the core of any muscle building or strength and conditioning program – whatever you’re goal.
As always, any questions or feedback leave a comment below.