(If you missed my previous Lifting 101 posts, click here for the squat and here for the deadlift!)

The bench press is without a doubt the most popular exercise for weightlifters. Unfortunately, many do it without discipline. You see guys flare their elbows, have no control over the barbell by bouncing it off their chest, and their form is weak because they don’t know how to activate their whole body during the exercise. To solve this I will break down the exercise into three steps so you can bench properly, safely, and eventually, lift some heavy ass weight! Here we go!

Step 1: The set-up

The first step before lifting the barbell off the rack is to set-up properly on the bench itself. The goal is to get your body into a strong and stable position so it can handle the stress of the exercise and prevent injury. Do this by lying with your back on the bench (your head should be at the top of the bench or slightly past it at this point) and anchoring your feet to the ground. Anchor your feet by bending your knees slightly past 90 degrees while trying to keep your feet flat on the floor, pointing straight ahead, and about shoulder width apart.

Note: I know powerlifters have their feet flexed way under their body, but for this post, aimed at basic principles for the bench press, a neutral foot position is fine. (To learn more about how powerlifters bench press click here or here.)

After you are grounded to the floor, move your body down the bench so that your eyes are slightly past the barbell. (I like to grab the bar and pull myself down). While holding the bar with both hands (they don’t have to be tight at this point) raise your sternum up so that your chest rises while your shoulders are retracted backwards firmly on the bench. You should have an arch in your back of roughly 30 degrees while your butt is firmly planted on the bench. Having your butt firmly pressing against the bench is essential for power and strength and if it rises, you lose it, so don’t forget it!

Step 2: Lifting the bar off the rack

Keeping your set-up position, grab the bar (as seen in the picture below), and squeeze firmly. Take a deep breath to tighten you core (lumbo/pelvic complex) while you tense your entire body. Squeeze the bar even harder and lift the bar off the rack until your elbows are locked out with the bar over your eyes.

Note: For simplicity purposes, grip the bar at a neutral width, as seen in the picture to the right. Wide and narrow grips will come later as you get more experienced with the lift. In addition, use a standard grip where you wrap your hand around the bar with thumb overlapping and not under it (i.e. suicide grip). Check out the links down below for more on grip and bench press info.

 

 Step 3: The Press
Start and finish positions

 

With your arms locked out and the bar over you, make sure your body is tight (take a deep breath if not already), and lower the bar in a controlled fashion down to the lower portion of your pecs (it will depend based on the angle of the arch in your back). On the way down, imagine that you are trying to pull the bar apart while squeezing it as hard as you can. This will ensure your elbows don’t flare out, you remain tight, and you activate the full spectrum of muscles the exercise is aimed for. When the bar touches your chest, aggressively press the bar up by squeezing your butt, pushing your feet into the ground, and exploding up with a tight core as you breath out through pursed lips. Repeat for your desired amount of reps and safely rack the weight with a spotter once you have finished your set.

Note: Your breathing is very important during any lift and the bench press is no exception. Under no circumstances should you breathe out at the bottom position because it causes you to lose tension throughout your body, especially your core, which could lead to failing a lift and causing injury (i.e. straining your back–happened to me!). Always breathe at the top position when the bar is over you while trying to remain tight throughout your body. Once you become more advanced in the lift, it is also okay for you to hold your breath for multiple reps.

That’s it! If you follow these three steps you will be well on your way to bench pressing like a champion.

What lift do you want to know more about. Leave a comment down below and I’ll write about it. As always, thanks for stopping by and I’ll see ya next time!

If you want more on bench press check out these links!

Jim Smith on Bench Press

Common Bench Press Errors 

10 Bench Press Variations

Bench Press Variations

(Photo Credit 1) (Photo Credit 2) (Photo Credit 3)

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