How to Master Bench Press Technique

How to Master Bench Press Technique

Fitness Articles Latest — 26 July 2012

Bench pressing is without question one of the most popular exercises used in modern day gyms to help build strength and size in the upper body. More often than not it is overused or performed incorrectly, leading to injury, poor posture, and/or severe imbalance between upper and lower body musculature giving way to the chicken leg phenomenon sported by many gym goers today. However if done as part of a well balanced programme that incorporates corrective exercise protocols that offset any negative effects of over pressing, it is a powerful exercise. Using the correct bench press technique, you can progressively increase the weights you lift and get excellent strength and muscle gains in a short span of time. We present the correct bench press techniques that will maximise your strength and size gains and keep you free from injury.

What is the bench press?

Bench press has always been a vital component of workout programs in the fitness world.  This extremely popular exercise involves lying on a bench, either a support bench or inside a power rack, with the feet firmly on the ground. You would then unrack the weight, bring it down to your chest and push it back up again till your arms are straight and locked. There are some variations to bench press by altering the grip, the width of the arms, the bench angle etc.

  • Close Grip Bench Press – elbows close to body, shoulder width grip – works more on triceps
  • Reverse Grip Bench Press: Palms facing inwards – again works more on triceps
  • Incline Bench Press: using an inclined bench – works more upper fibres of chest and anterior shoulders
  • Decline Bench Press: using a declined bench – increased ability to life heavier weights, may isolate lower fibres more
  • Floor Press: doing bench press lying on the floor – good for triceps but sub-luxation of shoulder joint is possible if lifting too heavy and unable to control eccentric movement – keep this one light.

What are the main benefits of bench press?

Builds muscle size: Bench press mainly works the chest muscles and also helps to build the triceps, and shoulder muscles. It is considered to be a large muscle compound exercise that can target the whole body and if done correctly, following all the safety techniques, can accelerate your strength and size gains.

Builds strength: Besides building muscle, the bench press is also a strength training exercise. If you are looking to enhance strength and improve power within a sporting context, then pressing done correctly to mimic the demands of sporting movements that require high levels of force production is essential. Performing in conjunction with explosive throwing and pressing movements will keep power high.

The correct bench press technique

The importance of the correct bench press techniques cannot be overemphasised if you want to achieve the results you have been aiming for and to avoid any risk of painful injury, particularly in the shoulder area.

Following is a step by step procedure on how to implement the correct bench press techniques:-

  1. Space your hands: Before you even decide on which weight to use, you should determine your hand spacing on the bar. Unrack an empty bar, bring it close to your chest and adjust the distance between your forearms. A perfect grip is one where the arms are spaced neither too close nor too far apart. A wide grip would result in your strength being expended outwards, while a narrow one would expend your power inwards. It’s only the perfect grip, where the forearms are vertical that would power your workout the way it should – use the strength to push the bar upwards. With the bar just below the sternum, the upper arm should be at a 45 degree angle to the body with the forearms perpendicular to the floor.
  2. Lock the shoulders: This position ensures maximum strength and stability for your shoulders, allowing the pectorals to exert a better contraction. To do this, place your palms on the back of the bar and rotate it towards the floor, bringing the palms under the bar. While you lock down your shoulders, lift your torso very slightly off the bench and tuck your shoulder blades underneath it.
  3. Lower the bar: Inhale deeply, tighten the muscles of your torso and slowly lower the bar, bringing it to a point that is just below the sternum. Be prepared to store all that power in your muscles and use it to push the bar back up. Never bounce the weight off your chest as it could cause cracked ribs, or a broken sternum.
  4. Use the legs to power the push: Your feet should be firmly on the ground bent an angle of 80 degrees. Do not place your feet on top of the bench, as it will result in loss of stability. It is best to first practice this method with an empty bar and then doing it with a loaded one. After you lower the empty bar to your chest, when you begin the push upwards, push hard or drive with your legs the way you would if you wanted to slide your body up the bench. When you use this technique on a loaded bar, the power from the legs will help to push the loaded bar up.
  5. Raise the bar: Purse your lips to exhale forcefully but gradually, rather than all at once. Make sure that you do not lift your feet off the ground as that may greatly diminish your power. As you press the bar, it should get a backwards arc as it moves upwards from the rib cage to above your face.
  6. Completing the workout: The loaded bar is back to its initial position and you have successfully completed your perfect bench press. Using the same technique, repeat to get the best workout for enhanced muscle gains.

Avoid common errors

These are some of the most common mistakes made during bench press workouts which could increase your risk of injury. Steer clear of them.

  • Not using your thumb will result in the bar slipping from your hands
  • Starting with heavy weights can be a potential cause for injury. Begin light and go on to heavier weights if you feel your body is ready for them
  • Never unrack with bent arms as your arms are strongest with locked elbows
  • Not keeping a straight line while pushing back the bar will make your seem workout more difficult than it actually is. Press the bar upwards towards a point on the ceiling and avoid looking at the bar.
  • Bending your wrists is sure to cause pain and injury. Hold the bar in the palm of your hand, close to the wrists, squeezing it tight so that it doesn’t move.
  • Elbows either too high or too low will affect your performance. The ideal position is to place them half way between parallel and perpendicular to your torso.
  • Shoulder blades rolling ahead makes for bad posture and is likely to invite injury. The chest should be up with shoulder blades down and tucked in
  • The head getting pushed into the bench puts excessive strain on the neck. Rather, tighten your neck muscles and keep your head firm.
  • Do not rush the movement – keep the eccentric phase (lowering phase) slow and press with power for the concentric (upward).

In order to maximise muscle gains, you will need to steadily increase the weight while taking care not to overwork your joints. Using the correct bench press technique, along with getting the right kind of nutrition will quickly take you closer to your strength, size or conditioning goals.

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Love Fitness Education

Love Fitness Education is a London based Fitness Training Provider delivering Personal Training Courses, Fitness Instructor Qualifications and CPD’s to budding fitness professionals in London. We have extensive experience in delivering fitness qualifications both in the UK and internationally and we pride ourselves on our reputation as the industry experts.