It’s every gym bro’s favorite exercise for muscle mass and upper body strength. If done right, the bench press is actually a full body movement that also helps you build a strong back. Here’s how to optimize your set up and increase your bench press numbers.
- Movement Mechanics - Push with your legs The Bench Press is a compound exercise that trains the pectorals (chest muscles), triceps and front deltoids (shoulders). It is a great upper body mass builder and even an important exercise for women to train pushing strength.
It is often deemed as not functional, because it minimizes ground contact and the ability to transfer force from the legs to your shoulders. If done properly though, then it will engage your entire body. While you press with your arms, you should also aim to push with your legs. By driving your feet into the ground you will be able to produce even more force.
The Bench Press is the only exercise of the Big 3(link to big 3 article), where your spine is not in a neutral position. Rather you aim to arch your back. This is called thoracic extension and is a key factor in lifting heavy weights while keeping your shoulders stable. Furthermore, you should pin your shoulder blades back and down, creating even more stability.
Picture arch vs. no arch
- Set-up - Make it equal The Set-up consists of your grip and your positioning on the bench. Most people perform best with a grip that is just wider than shoulder width. Ideally, you would want your wrist to be right above your elbow joint when your arms are bent. You should always adjust if you feel discomfort in your shoulders. Making the grip narrower or even wider is perfectly fine and won’t hinder your progress. Just make sure to grip the bar equal on both sides by using the rings and knurling as a point of reference.
Once you’ve found your grip, you should optimize your position on the bench. Slide up, so that when you look up the bar is at eye level. Lower the bar until you touch your sternum, the boney structure in line with your nipples.
Picture of grip wrist in line with elbow
- Tension - Break the barbell Most people think that the bench press is only about your chest, shoulders and triceps. Often overlooked is the lat involvement during bench pressing. This large back muscle can actually contribute a lot to your bench press if you decide to target it. If boosting your numbers and building a bigger back is your aim, we have one piece of advice: try to break the bar. For optimal power and stability on the bench, we want to create torque in the shoulder joint. This comes by actively engaging your lats. Imagine you are trying to bend the barbell in half. You should feels your back muscles tightening. This will help you push through sticking points during the bench press, while keeping the shoulders protected.
It’s more than just a chest exercise If performed correctly and with the right tension in the legs and back, then the bench press is more than a simple chest and tricep exercise. Rather, it can engage the entire body. An important note to keep in mind is to stay safe on your path to bench press mastery. Make sure to always have a spotter, when you’re dealing withheavy weights.
Sources Mark Bell, Mark Rippetoe, Kelly Starrett.