How to Do the Bench Press For a Bigger and Stronger Chest

Content of the material

  1. ANATOMY OF THE CHEST
  2. Video
  3. Bench Business
  4. How to bench press: The Setup
  5. How to Set Up A Bench Press
  6. Here’s how to position yourself during the bench press:
  7. Get a grip
  8. HOW TO GRIP THE BAR AND UNRACK IT BEFORE YOU BENCH
  9. 3) THE PROPER BAR GRIP FOR THE BENCH PRESS
  10. BENCH PRESS GRIP WIDTH
  11. AVOID BENDING YOUR WRISTS WHEN YOU PRESS
  12. 4) HOW TO UNRACK THE BARBELL PRIOR TO THE PRESS
  13. FIXING AN UNSTABLE TOP BENCH PRESS POSITION
  14. Step 5 Cut and Attach Front Diagonal Support Piece
  15. Mastering good form in your bench press
  16. Here’s how to perform the bench press with good form every time:
  17. Dumbbell triceps extension
  18. Step 2 Attach Diagonal Support at the Base
  19. Other Variations of the Bench Press
  20. Partial Bench Press
  21. Varied Grips
  22. Incline Bench Press
  23. Decline Bench Press
  24. Benching More Often Allows For More Volume Work
  25. Safety and Precautions
  26. How to Ask for A Spotter with the Bench Press
  27. Body Position
  28. Face
  29. Torso
  30. Feet
  31. Hands
  32. Common mistakes and how to fix them
  33. Bench press without a spotter: is it the cardinal sin of pressing?
  34. But what if you don’t have a power rack?
  35. HOW TO BENCH PRESS: ON THE BENCH
  36. Dumbbell Bench Press
  37. Bench Press Alternatives
  38. Dumbbell Bench Press
  39. Push-Up
  40. TROUBLESHOOTING THE BENCH PRESS
  41. GETTING THE RIGHT FOOT POSITION
  42. FEET TOWARDS HEAD
  43. FEET OUT IN FRONT
  44. BENCH PRESS FOOT WIDTH
  45. SHOULDER PAIN AND FINDING THE CORRECT BAR PATH
  46. DON’T PRESS TO THE NECK
  47. HOW MUCH TO ARCH WHEN YOU BENCH
  48. Arching Too Little
  49. Arching Too Much
  50. SHOULDER BLADE POSITION
  51. SHOULDER BLADE POSITION ISSUES WHEN UNRACKING
  52. SHOULDER BLADE POSITION ISSUES WHEN YOU PRESS
  53. Final Thoughts

ANATOMY OF THE CHEST

This breakdown of your chest muscles is going to help you solidify a strong mind-to-muscle connection, which can help with better results.

Why?

When you know EXACTLY which muscle is working, and when you have that strong mental image of the muscle working, you are going to perform better.

Mindlessly moving heavy weights doesn’t do much. All elite lifters know this much. But really focusing on what the muscle is doing – only focusing on that – is going to increase activation. It’ll also help you reach your fitness goals of muscle mass, fat loss, and performance.

What people commonly refer to as “the chest” is actually made up of three different muscles. Since these muscles overlap and connect, they tend to be lumped together as one unit.

It also decreases your risk for getting hurt because you’re actively paying attention to what you’re doing.

Ask any professional bodybuilder. They’ll tell you that to get an insane pump and the results you want, you need to be locked into the muscle.

And that’s why we’re starting with my breakdown of the chest muscles.

Notice I said muscles.

What people commonly refer to as “the chest” is actually made up of three different muscles. Since these muscles overlap and connect, they tend to be lumped together as one unit.

AND depending on which chest exercise you’re doing, and the level or angle of the exercise, you will increase pec activation in one part of the chest more than the others.

For example, when you perform an Incline Bench Press, you’ll activate the upper part of the chest MORE than the other two sections.

Speaking of the upper part of the chest…

Video

Bench Business

The bench press is all it’s cracked up to be, and then some. There’s a reason you see it performed in powerlifting competitions and the NFL Combine alike. There are few better uses for the barbell than getting horizontal and blowing your pecs up with a heavy set (or two, or five). 

If you’ve been on the fence about it, it’s probably time to get on the bench instead. Your strength, and chest, will thank you. 

How to bench press: The Setup

There are a lot of different ways to perform the b

There are a lot of different ways to perform the bench press.

We’ll start you out with a standard and basic bench press variation, which we believe is the best (and safest) method for general strength.

Remember: just because you see someone benching a ridiculous amount of weight at the gym does not mean they are using proper or safe form.

They could be an advanced athlete who is making compromises to their form (knowingly or unknowingly) in order to bench higher numbers.

What do you need to perform the bench press?

What do you need to perform the bench press?

  1. A weight bench with uprights:Barbell – the standard weight is 45 lbs, but
  2. Barbell – the standard weight is 45 lbs, but this may be too heavy to start. No matter how strong you are, I recommend starting with a PVC pipe or broomstick to learn proper form.
  3. Spotter – once the weight gets heavy (we will discuss options later in case you just don’t have someone else to spot you)

How to Set Up A Bench Press

There are many different ways to set up for a bench press – as you’ll see by watching any powerlifting competition, or even by spending just 20 minutes in your local gym.

Some people get on the bench and curl themselves under the bar, some enter the bench from the back and slide in under the bar, and others just lie down and then get tight.

The key here is to set up in a way that helps you

The key here is to set up in a way that helps you get your body tight and ready for the lift.

Before you begin, it might be a good idea to roll the bar forward on the uprights, as this is where you will be lifting it off from.

Having the bar in the same spot in the uprights will help you with a standard setup that is the same every time.

Here’s how to position yourself during the bench press:

  1. Squeeze your shoulder blades together (as if you were trying to hold a pencil between them), press your lats into the bench, and raise your chest up slightly towards the bar.
  2. While you’re doing this, squeeze your butt and plant your feet into the ground. Your entire foot (heels included) should be on the ground, on either side of the bench.
  3. Keep your entire body tight. The raising of your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulders together, squeezing your butt, and driving your heels into the ground will create a tight arch in your back. (more on this later).
  4. Imagine you are a superhero and pretend you are sucking all the energy out of the room and absorbing it. As you the bar descends, absorb that energy and get ready to explode upward with the bar.
  5. Your shins should be perpendicular to the ground and directly below your knees. If they are out in front of you, your feet are too far forward and you won’t be able to generate proper drive.

When you look up, your eyes should be just north o

When you look up, your eyes should be just north of the bottom of the bar – you should see the bar directly above your eyes. Your head, upper back, and butt should never leave the bench.

Note: Some people (including myself) find it easier to get tight in their upper back if they put their feet up on the bench, grab the bar, get tight in their upper back, and then place their feet on either side of the bench one at a time.

This is just another method and something you can try out after you get the hang of the bench!

Next, take your arms and put them straight up, and grab the bar. Your grip should be with your thumbs around the bar:

A thumbless grip is not to be used on the bench pr

A thumbless grip is not to be used on the bench press, as it is unsafe, and often nicknamed the “suicide grip,” as it is far too easy for the bar to fall off of your hands and land on your body (warning: hard to watch).

When you hold the bar, it should be in the heel of the palm (the same spot in your hands as for the overhead press.) Your wrists will not be extended, and your forearms are under your wrists, forming a solid line of support.

If you hold the bar in the upper half of your hand or the fingertips, not only are you not in a strong position, but you could hurt your wrists.

Bench Press Grip:

Bring the bar (or, preferably PVC as we are just l

Bring the bar (or, preferably PVC as we are just learning) down to your chest. At your chest, the width of your grip should make your forearms straight up and down (as perpendicular to the floor as you can).

Get a friend to help you (as you won’t be able to

Get a friend to help you (as you won’t be able to see on your own), or tape yourself so you can see. Don’t stress too much about getting your forearms 100% perfectly vertical.

Once you get comfortable with the movement, you may change the width of your grip, as there is wiggle room for personal preference, but this is a great place to start.

Also, keep in mind that your grip may seem way wider or narrower than your friends based on the width of your shoulders. This is normal!

Why would people alter their bench press grip?

Why would people alter their bench press grip?

  • A wider grip is more pec-focused
  • A narrower grip is more tricep focused

You will see powerlifters use a super-wide grip because it reduces the range of motion and therefore allows them to lift more weight in competition.

However, more weight does not always mean stronger, and our goal today is safety and strength!

This is why we recommend a grip with your forearms in a vertical position, it’s the most well-rounded and safest version for overall strength.

If you’re worried about whether you have the right grip in place, record yourself and match it against the videos in this guide. If it’s close, you’re doing great.

You could also record a video and sent it to your own Nerd Fitness Coach!

Click on the bottom below to learn more:

Get a grip

“Your hands should grip the bar about shoulder-width apart to maintain the best position to press the weight up,” says McKenzie. “If your grip is too wide you risk placing too much pressure on your shoulder joints, and going too narrow places a strain on your elbows. Grip the bar as hard as possible – when you press the bar up, imagine you’re trying to bring your hands together.” But don’t actually move them.

“On a heavy set, squeeze the bar as hard as possible for a second or two before taking it out of the rack,” says trainer Robert Kane. “According to the principle of irradiation, this’ll fire up the surrounding muscles and allow you to lift heavier. Oh, and don’t forget the rule of thumb: wrap them around the bar. Some lifters use a thumbless grip, but it’s nicknamed the ‘suicide’ grip for a reason.”

HOW TO GRIP THE BAR AND UNRACK IT BEFORE YOU BENCH

3) THE PROPER BAR GRIP FOR THE BENCH PRESS

  1. Grip the bar about two fist-widths wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Make sure your grip is even. Both hands should be equally spaced from the center of the bar. You can check the positions of your hands relative to the knurling of the bar to confirm this.
  3. Grab the bar firmly in your hands.

BENCH PRESS GRIP WIDTH

We want a grip width where the forearms are roughly perpendicular to the bar when lowered to the chest.

A grip width two fist-widths wider than shoulder-width works well for most people. Then try widening it little by little. Each time you widen your grip, perform the movement. Choose the grip width where you feel you can exert the most force.

AVOID BENDING YOUR WRISTS WHEN YOU PRESS

On the left, the wrist is too bent. The right show
On the left, the wrist is too bent. The right shows how the grip should look.

If the wrists bend too far, it can cause pain and discomfort or negatively affect your ability to press hard. Here are four ways to fix this:

  1. Try gripping the bar deeper in your hands. When you do this, the bar will naturally rest closer to the base of your palm. This may lead to less bending of the wrist and soften the pain and discomfort.
  2. When you grip the bar, try turning your hands so your fingers point inward.
  3. Grip as hard as you can. Sometimes this reduces the stress on the wrists.
  4. Consider using wrist wraps. This will physically limit the bending of the wrists. You want them to be tight, but be careful not to make them so tight that your hands go numb.
Bench press grip fix – try turning the hands
Bench press grip fix – try turning the hands inward.

For more detail on learning the right grip position, see Troubleshooting 2: The Grip.

4) HOW TO UNRACK THE BARBELL PRIOR TO THE PRESS

When you grab the bar, make sure your shoulder blades are pulled back together. Then take the bar out of the rack.Make sure you press the bar straight up to clear the hooks. Lockout your elbows.Keeping your elbows extended, bring the bar forward directly over your shoulders and hold it in a stable position.

FIXING AN UNSTABLE TOP BENCH PRESS POSITION

If you find that the bar doesn’t feel stable in the top position, make sure your body is in a stable position on the bench. Work your way through the setup checklist in section two above.

Pay particular attention to your chest position. If your chest is not raised, your entire back will likely be in contact with the bench, which is less stable. If you are raising your chest properly, there will be a space between your lower back and the bench.

Raise your chest to create an arch. This is a more
Raise your chest to create an arch. This is a more stable bench press position.

Also, make sure the bar is held directly over your shoulders. If it is over your chest, it will be pulled toward your feet; if it’s over your neck, toward your head.

If you have any issue with bar stability in the top position, see Troubleshooting 4: Unstable Top Position.

Step 5 Cut and Attach Front Diagonal Support Piece

Next cut two pieces to 36″ in length and two pieces to 10 3/4″ at 45-degree miter cut on both sides. Place the 10 3/4″ piece diagonally at the bottom of the 36″ piece and clamp it in place. Use 2 1/2″ wood screws to attach the angled piece to the 36″ piece.

Mastering good form in your bench press

You don’t need a spotter when you bench pres

You don’t need a spotter when you bench press, but it is helpful

After setting up, the next thing to work on is how to maintain good form during bench press. As you keep your hands on the bar, you need to learn how to keep you elbows tucked in without flaring out as you push.

So, a good way to achieve this is to imagine yourself bending the bars in half upwards towards the sky. This cue will help you engage your lats, keeping your body tighter throughout the press.

Here’s how to perform the bench press with good form every time:

  1. Setup: Lie flat, lift your chest, and squeeze your shoulder-blades together. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your eyes under the bar.
  2. Grab the bar: Place your little finger on the ring marks around your bar. Hold the bar with a full grip in the base of your palm and straight wrists.
  3. Unrack the bar: Take a deep breath, straighten your arms, and position the bar directly above your shoulders.
  4. Lower the bar: Tuck your elbows 750 and lower the bars to your mid-chest. Maintain your forearms in a vertical position, and let the bar touch a few inches below your clavicles. If it gets on your stomach or up on your throat, then it is in the wrong position.
  5. Press: Once the bar gets to your mid-chest, press up the bar to the starting position. Lock your elbows at the top and keep your butt on the bench.

Take note that the bench press is not in a straight up and down motion- which is characteristic of the deadlift and squat. The bar will usually move in a slightly diagonal path down, and then follow the same path back up.

While pressing, do not allow your body parts touching the bench to come off the bench, and keep your feet on the floor. More so, to ensure your butt sticks to the bench, think of pushing up and back, towards the front.

After completing the desired number of reps, re-rack the bar by moving bar backwards to the uprights, and ensure the bar touches them before letting go. However, you know the racks are there, so there’s no need for looking at the bars. You can get a friend to help you ensure the bar is placed in the right position in the rack.

Dumbbell triceps extension

(Image credit: Unknown)

In any big lift you’re only ever as strong as your weakest link, and neglecting your triceps can severely hamper your big bench aspirations. Start with light dumbbells and master the full movement range, then increase the weight.

Step 2 Attach Diagonal Support at the Base

Next cut two pieces to 10 3/4″ in lengths with 45-degree miter cuts on both ends. Then place this piece on the backside of the post and clamp it in place. Attach this board to the base and the post using 2 1/2″ wood screws. If the wood is very dry, you might need to pre-drill the holes before screwing-in the wood screws, otherwise, the wood might crack.  

Other Variations of the Bench Press

You can perform this exercise in a variety of ways to better meet your fitness level and goals.

Partial Bench Press

If you have any concerns about shoulder joint stability, don't lower the weight so far that the top part of the arms fall below parallel. While you may not get the benefit of the full range of motion, this modification places less stress on the shoulder area.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Varied Grips

Once you are experienced with the bench press, you can vary the grip to work slightly different muscles. A slightly wider grip will increase the use of the pectorals, for instance, whereas a narrower grip will increase the use of the triceps.

Incline Bench Press

An additional variation involves performing the press while on an incline bench. Lifting from an incline emphasizes the anterior deltoids of the shoulder.

You can do an incline press with dumbbells or a barbell. Sit on the incline bench with the weight just above the chest. Press the weight up, toward the ceiling, then lower it slowly to return to the starting position.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Decline Bench Press

Another option is to do this exercise on a decline bench, which better emphasizes the pectoralis major. To do a decline bench press, you follow the same basic steps as a standard bench press, just from a declined position.

Benching More Often Allows For More Volume Work

However, although the previous studies matched volume, another benefit of benching more often is that it does allow you to fit in more benching volume per session as well. Since you have more days to allocate this volume to.

Which is beneficial since research indicates that more weekly bench press volume is also associated with faster strength gains. And would therefore likely provide an additive effect on top of the benefits of just benching more frequently.

And in fact, a 2017 meta-analysis from the Journal of Sports Medicine shows strong support of this. When going from less than 5 sets of bench per week up to roughly 5-9 sets of bench per week, strength gains became about 16% faster even in well-trained lifters. And when increased even further to 10 or more weekly sets of bench, strength gains were now about 20% faster. Thereby supporting the idea that a graded dose-response relationship exists between weekly bench volume and strength gains. 
And all in all, suggests that the best way to speed up the strength gains you’ll experience is to:

  1. Increasing the number of days you bench per week as well as
  2. The number of weekly sets you perform.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any injury to your shoulders, you should avoid this exercise. Should you feel any shoulder pain during the bench press, replace the weights and end the movement immediately.

Beginners can benefit from doing presses without weight on the bar to warm up, get a feel for the bar, and learn good form. If you are more advanced and, thus, bench pressing a heavy weight, do so only with the assistance of a spotter.

If pressing heavy weights, it is also good to use a power rack. This type of rack has bars on either side, set at the level of your chest. This way, if your lift fails, the bars prevent the barbell from crushing your chest.

Start with three sets of 10 reps using an unweighted barbell. Once you are able to perform this exercise safely and with good form, begin to add weight. Each week, add 2.5 pounds to each side of the bar (5 pounds total addition per week).

Do not add more weight until you are able to lift the current weight with good form.

How to Ask for A Spotter with the Bench Press

Spotting is a very important part of bench pressin

Spotting is a very important part of bench pressing – not only having someone spot you, but having you spot other people. It can be extremely dangerous to bench press alone.

A spotter’s purpose is to ensure the safety

A spotter’s purpose is to ensure the safety of the lifter – not to help the lifter with reps.

The spotter always watches every rep while staying out of the way.

The only thing they may help with is giving you a lift-off, but after that, it is all you!

*A lift-off is when you help the lifter take the bar out of the rack, and then let go of it when it is in the correct starting position.

You don’t need a spotter for your warm-up sets, but everyone should have one for their work sets.

How do you ask someone to spot you? “Hey, will you spot me real quick?” usually works (it’s really that simple!). I’ve never had anyone turn me down.

If you’re always at the gym at the same time as someone else, make friends and spot each other.

That way you’re not always nervous asking someone

That way you’re not always nervous asking someone random to spot you.

If someone asks you to spot them, always ask:

  • How many reps they are going for?
  • Do they want a lift off?
  • How would they like to be spotted?

Some people don’t want you to touch the bar unless they tell you to; others want you to help them guide the bar up if they start to fail, and others want you to take the bar immediately if they fail the rep.

Some want a lift off, and some don’t.

When you ask someone else to spot you, they will probably ask you the same questions!

Body Position

First, let’s talk about body position before we get into the actual mechanics of performing the bench press.

Face

First, move around some to get yourself into the right position for the bench press. Regardless of how the rest of your body is positioned, you need to make sure your face is correct.

Lay down on the bench and look up at the bar. It should be between your mouth and forehead. 

If you’re too low on the bench, you might not be able to safely lift the bar off the rack. If you’re too high, you’ll risk hitting the bar supports while you’re lifting.

Remember this position and always check that the bar is somewhere above your face before you begin the lift. If you change any other body position, always recheck this alignment before you move the barbell.

Torso

Your body will be in roughly the same position regardless of whether you’re doing the incline, flat or decline bench. Depending on your goals and weight involved, you may need to change up your stance.

If you’ve never done a bench press before, the body position may feel weird at first. What works for you might not work for others, so do some trial and error to know where you’re most comfortable.

Here’s how your torso should be placed on the bench:

  • Shoulder blades: They should be back and together on the bench. Imagine you’re trying to hold a pencil with your shoulder blades. This will automatically push your chest out, which is what you want throughout your lifts. Some like their shoulder blades back and up while others prefer theirs back and down. Choose which works best for you. This stance is important because it reduces the risk of shoulder pain and rotator cuff injuries.
  • Lower back: You want to have a slight arch to your lower back when performing the bench press. The amount of arch is up to you; powerlifters have a higher arch than bodybuilders and regular lifters. The goal of the arch is to help:
    • Reduce your range of motion
    • Lift heavier
    • Push out the chest more
    • Safeguard the shoulders from injury
  • Hips: Use your hips to help move your lower back to create the arch you need. Brace your hands against the rack supports and move the hips to change the arch. Once you’re in the right position, lock your hips in place to stabilize your lifts.

Feet

Your foot position matters when learning how to bench press correctly. Having the ability to drive your lift with your feet flat on the floor is key to lifting heavy weights. If your feet are too far forward, they may slip on the floor which can negatively impact your lift.

The most common foot placement when completing the bench press is pulling them slightly back and out. Place your feet flat on the floor somewhere between your hips and knees. Position your toes outward with your feet out to the side as far as your hips will allow.

Powerlifters will usually pull their feet back farther and have them closer to their body. This creates a more defined arch and allows them to lift even heavier. However, stability is lacking with your weight on your toes rather than your entire foot.

Do you have short legs and have trouble putting your feet flat on the floor? Try pulling your legs up on the bench and place your feet flat on the bench instead. 

Hands

When it comes to grabbing the bar, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Grab the bar low in your hand. This position helps protect your wrist from wanting to fall backward. You’ll reduce the risk of injury and it should also feel more comfortable this way when lifting.
  • Squeeze the barbell. This will help with your wrist position and also activate your wrist,  forearm, and tricep muscles. The stronger your grip on the bar, the more your muscles will activate up through your shoulder. Plus, there’s no risk of losing the bar if you have a superman grip on it.
  • Start with just past shoulder-width apart. You can experiment with grip later, but to start out, go with this grip width. The farther out you go, the more you’ll activate the outer chest muscles. If you move inward, then you’ll work the inner chest muscles and triceps.

Once you’ve got the proper form down, try out the different grip widths to see how they work the muscles. You can also use different bench angles to help with targeting specific muscles.

Now, you’re ready to actually perform the bench press!

Common mistakes and how to fix them

Here are the top three mistakes Guedo sees new bench-pressers make, as well as how to correct them.

  1. Unstable feet: “Pushing through your feet allows you to connect better with your hips, which helps you lift more weight,” Guedo says. “Think about pulling back with your heels to engage your hamstrings and glutes. Hold that contraction throughout the press.”
  2. Your lats aren’t set (aka tight) before lifting: Before you pull the bar off the rack, your lats, which are the largest muscles in your back, should be tight. To do this, Guedo says to squeeze your shoulder blades together and down to stabilize your back and create a more solid base to press from. Doing this before you unrack the bar ensures you don’t mess up the process. “You don’t want to set your lats and shoulders once that weight is already bearing down on you,” he added. 
  3. Your arms move as you press: Guedo asserts that you don’t want your arms to move too far out of position as you’re pressing the bar. This creates instability and in a worst-case scenario, results in you dropping the barbell onto yourself. To correct this, he says to squeeze the bar as hard as you can.

Bench press without a spotter: is it the cardinal sin of pressing?

It is not always advisable to bench press without having someone spot you. The spotter is not meant to help you with reps, but to ensure your safety. They may help to give you a lift off, but after that, you are in charge.

However, you can bench-press safely without a spotter, especially when you’re alone in your home gym. All you need is the “power rack.” Just set the pins at a point below your chest, so you can easily get out if you miss a rep.

But what if you don’t have a power rack?

You can either do the “Roll of shame” by rolling the bar down your body and sitting up or leave the clips off the bar, and letting the weight slide off one side a time.

However, you should note that these two alternatives are dangerous and you stand a risk of getting injured.

The best advice for you as a beginner is to bench press with a spotter or a frame or stands of some kind, where you can drop the weight back safely if you get tired during a set.

HOW TO BENCH PRESS: ON THE BENCH

Finally, it’s time to get on the bench and look at your starting position. We’re not benching yet, but we are getting closer.

Again, I want you to focus on aligning yourself perfectly into a position that allows you to maximize performance while minimizing risk.

So, go ahead and sit on the bench…

Dumbbell Bench Press

When we talk about benching, we’re often referring to the barbell bench press, but of course if a barbell’s not available at your gym then you can bench with a pair of dumbbells. However, as Magee points you’re not going to be able to lift as much weight with dumbbell as you can with a barbell and using dumbbells requires a lot more stability in the shoulder, which makes the dumbbell bench press a good alternative to benching barbells, especially if you’re weaker in your shoulders.

However, if you’re worried that you can’t get the the same benefits from a dumbbell bench press then don’t. This study, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, reported the dumbbell bench press resulted in similar muscle activity in the pecs, delts, triceps and biceps when compared with men who used a barbell to bench.

Bench Press Alternatives

Below are two bench press variations that do not include a barbell, which can increase unilateral strength and hypertrophy or add variety to your training program.

Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press allows for a greater range of motion, stimulates unilateral development, and can better accommodate your personal movement patterning if you find the barbell bench uncomfortable.

Push-Up

The ability to perform push-ups is critical for bench press performance. If you can’t even push your own body weight off the ground, you’re likely to have little success working with a heavy barbell. Further, the push-up can be a great way to take your training back to basics if you’re struggling with a plateau

You can also chuck in a few sets of push-ups between your working sets on chest day to introduce more total fatigue. They’ll also keep your form fresh and polished as you work through sets on the bench itself. 

TROUBLESHOOTING THE BENCH PRESS

GETTING THE RIGHT FOOT POSITION

The foot position when bench pressing is important. It affects how high your chest will reach and how stable your body will be.

FEET TOWARDS HEAD

If you bring your feet towards your head, it may allow you to raise your chest higher. But the closer to your head you bring your feet, the more difficult it is to keep your entire foot on the floor, compromising leg drive. Also, if this forces you to arch your body too far, it can lead to pain and discomfort in the lower back and hips.

FEET OUT IN FRONT

If you put your feet out in front of your knees, it can reduce the arch in the lower back, and you might find it easier to get in position. But the further out your feet are, the more difficult it will be to raise your chest. Also, there’s more of a risk of your feet slipping when you push on the floor with your legs.

How the bench press foot position affects your arc
How the bench press foot position affects your arch.

BENCH PRESS FOOT WIDTH

If you spread your legs and put your feet out to the side, you may find it easier to tighten the muscles in your butt and stabilize your body on the bench. But the further out your feet are, the more open your hips will be, which may cause discomfort.

There is no one-size-fits-all foot position, but you need to be able to stabilize your body and push hard on the floor with your legs when you bench. Try different placements and see what works for you.

For a more detailed look at foot position issues, see Troubleshooting 3: Foot Position.

SHOULDER PAIN AND FINDING THE CORRECT BAR PATH

The bar should move diagonally from over the shoulders to the chest. The bar touches the chest between the nipple line and the pit of your stomach, and the elbows should be kept under the bar. When this goes wrong, it can cause shoulder pain. There are a few common mistakes.

DON’T PRESS TO THE NECK

If the bar touches your chest closer to your neck, you might feel stress around your shoulders. You’ll notice that the elbows flare out to the side when you bench.

Your elbows should be tucked enough that the bar i
Your elbows should be tucked enough that the bar is over the chest in the bottom position.

In this case, try lowering the bar to a point lower on your chest. Your elbow positions will continue to be directly under the bar, and the bar will move diagonally from the shoulders to the chest. When your elbows are naturally tucked, it reduces stress around your shoulders.

HOW MUCH TO ARCH WHEN YOU BENCH

The purpose of the arch when bench pressing is to create a stable position to press from.

Arching Too Little

If you haven’t raised your chest enough, you may not be able to press the bar effectively, even if you are lowering the bar to the right point on your body.When this happens, if you view the bar path from the side, you’ll see that the bar has to move across a greater distance. If this is happening, push your chest out and bring your shoulder blades together before performing your bench presses.

Make sure you raise your chest so that the bar doe
Make sure you raise your chest so that the bar doesn’t have to travel further than necessary.
Arching Too Much

You should arch no further than the point where your butt is still in contact with the bench, and your feet are fully in contact with the floor. Anything further than this is not stable.

However, you should avoid the kind of extreme arch positions you see in bench press competitions when doing your general strength training.

Avoid the extreme arches used in bench press compe
Avoid the extreme arches used in bench press competitions when doing your regular strength training.

High chest positions allow for a shorter range of motion to be used and more weight to be lifted. This is good when competing but a bad idea for your regular workouts. Fuller ranges of motion are better for building muscle, and how much muscle mass you have largely determines how strong you can potentially become.

For a more detailed look at bench pressing with a more optimal bar path, see Troubleshooting 5: The Bar Path.

SHOULDER BLADE POSITION

When you perform the bench press, you may find your shoulder blades coming out of position. On the left, the shoulder blades have moved apart. When this happens, you will likely be unable to keep the chest up posture, and your body will not be as stable on the bench.

Make sure you maintain your shoulder blade positio
Make sure you maintain your shoulder blade position for a stable bench.

SHOULDER BLADE POSITION ISSUES WHEN UNRACKING

If the shoulder blades come out of position when you unrack the bar, check the hook height. If the hooks are too high, your elbows will be extended when you grab the bar. To unrack the bar from this position, you will have to move your shoulders.

SHOULDER BLADE POSITION ISSUES WHEN YOU PRESS

If the shoulder blades come out of position at the end of the bench press, make sure you only press the bar until the elbows are extended. Do not press further from this point by moving your shoulders. You may hear this referred to as maintaining scapular retraction.

If you have any issues with getting the right shoulder blade positioning, see Troubleshooting 6: Shoulder Blade Position and Troubleshooting 7: Practicing Shoulder Blade Retraction.

Final Thoughts

The bench press is one of the best chest exercises you can do to activate your pectoral muscles. Perfecting the form will help you achieve heavier lifts down the road with the least risk of injury.

If you’re just starting out, have a trainer, spotter or use the Smith machine until your form is flawless. As you add weights, have a spotter there to help guide the bar back to the rack if needed. Avoiding injury is most important, even more than your gains.

Old School Labs Muscle-Builder
Old School Labs Muscle-Builder

Speaking of gains, Vintage Build™ can help get you there by giving you the muscle-building combo you need. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Creatine Monohydrate, and L-Glutamine all work together to build muscle and aid recovery.

Do you bench press? How long have you been at it and what’s your heaviest lift? Do you have any other tips to add that we didn’t mention? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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