Bench pressing is one of the most exciting and ‘macho’ exercises in weight training, and is one of the big three lifts in power lifting – the others being squats and the dead lift. Looking at the bench press it can seem pretty straight forward. The bar is un-racked, taken down to the chest and then pushed back up. Simple enough, right?
But, in actual fact, mastering the bench press and its variations (close grip, wide grip, etc.) can take a fair amount of practice. I would advise you have an experienced lifter critique your form, or study your form by recording your lifts from several angles using a video camera.
Bench pressing hits many muscles – the chest, triceps, front deltoids, lats, the neck, abdominals and also the biceps as stabilizers. Quite an array!
How you bench press can vary a fair bit depending upon your torso and arm length. For instance, if using the exact same grip width as another lifter who has shorter arms than you, the bar would fall lower on the chest of the longer armed lifter. What I’m trying to say is, don’t try to fight where the bar falls on your chest as this tends to be dictated more by arm length. Just go for a good comfortable grip width which feels right for you, and providing it’s around the nipple area, that’s the spot.
Now, how to execute the bench press:
Lay on a flat bench, your feet planted firmly on the floor, your eyes directly underneath the stationary bar. Pinch your shoulder blades together and arch your lower back – effectively forming a bridge between your butt and your shoulder blades. This provides a powerful and stable lifting foundation.
Using a grip of comfortable width (I recommend you experiment with a light or unloaded bar to begin with, to find a grip width which suits you), un-rack the bar and bring it over your chest. Keep your shoulder blades pinned together. Now, maintaining this position, slowly lower the bar down to your chest. It could be that it falls slightly lower than your nipple, on it, or slightly above – go for where seems most comfortable to you.
Touch your chest lightly – don’t bounce the bar off – and then in a fast and explosive manner (while maintaining control, and maintaining your position on the bench) push the bar back up.
Don’t push the bar up above your face. It should be done straight up from the chest naturally, once the arms are locked out fully, the bar will be above the shoulders and the arms perfectly vertical. The last thing you want is for your arms to be leaning backwards or forwards, as you risk losing control of the bar and dropping it.
When benching, to keep the same bar path, it’s good to fix your eyes on something on the ceiling so you can aim to move the bar onto the same area each time for consistency.
You can also vary the bench press by using a wider or narrower grip. The narrow grip will hit the triceps more, while the wider grip will hit the chest – and this will be very apparent when you try it.
Practice is what will help you perfect your bench, and finding your own form which matches your own physical dimensions.