The bench press is the ultimate bro workout staple, it also teaches ancient Celtic art of moving heavy stuff while grunting. If there is any aspect of your life in which you are expected to express horizontal force production the bench press should be your default.
Bench Press 101
Bench Press — Setup
1. Position on the bench
- Lay under the bar on the bench. When you look straight up at the ceiling, you should be looking just in front of the bar, with the bar at your eyebrow level.
- Draw the shoulder blades together. Set up your scaps as tight as possible in order to elevate your chest and lock your upper back into a position to generate the most power. If you reach up for the bar, you should be able to unrack it without losing this position for the back, so make sure your bar is racked at the appropriate height.
2. Feet engaged, back arched
- The feet should be flat, wider than hip distance, and just behind the knee, firmly planted on the ground.
- The bench press is a full body exercise. Everything from your toes to your head should be engaged. This helps generate power and tightness from the toes up. The feet help push the back into an arch to get the chest into a more advantageous position.
- Grip the bar so that at the bottom of the movement, the forearms are vertical from both the front and the side.
- Thumbs are around the bar, not tucked behind. This is for the safety of your face.
- Bar rests on the heel of your hand so that it is directly stacked over your ulna and radius (forearm bones). This is the same concept as rifle marksmanship, bone stacking for stability.
4. Test your balance and touch points with an empty bar.
- Your balance point is directly over your shoulder joint. When the bar is unracked, take it directly above the shoulder joint, look at the ceiling. This is your sight picture that you’ll bring the bar back to on every rep.
- Lower the bar to your chest. Your touch point is 3-4 inches below your shoulder joint, on the sternum.
- The bar path can’t be vertical in the bench press, even though that would be mechanically preferable. The bar must move forward slightly on the way down to spare the shoulder from grinding into impingement on every rep. Think of the bar path as a diagonal from sternum at the bottom to shoulders at the top.
Bench Press — Execution
1. Inhale, execute, exhale
- Unrack the bar with straight arms, and find your balance point above your shoulders. Inhale and brace everything tight, so you bleed no energy off and the chest can rise more.
- As fast as possible while still maintaining control, take the bar from the balance point to the touch point and back again–from above the shoulders, to touch the sternum.
- Touch the touch point. Don’t bounce off the touch point. When you press you are pressing up and back in order to get the bar back in line with the balance point as quickly as possible.
- Exhale and reset for rep two.
Bench Press — Coaching Cues
- The ceiling stays in focus the entire time. Bring the bar into your sight picture, not vice versa.
- Don’t let the elbows flare out in line with the shoulders, but there’s no need to hug them in either–ideal armpit angle is around 75 degrees when the elbows bend.
- Engage from toes up.
- Back arched and lats tight is best position for your shoulder health.
- Press your back into the bench as hard as you press the bar away from your chest. The movement is 2 opposing forces.
Bench Press — Adjustments
Dumbbell variations are the easiest adjustments to make if you are feeling discomfort with the barbell.
If you have shoulder pain, ensure that your elbows are not in line with your shoulder. The armpit angle should be roughly 75 degrees when the elbows are bent. Remember: The bar path of the bench press is not perfectly vertical. A vertical bar path is a great way to guarantee shoulder pain. In order to alleviate persistent shoulder pain, perform only close grip presses for a couple of weeks, or use dumbbells in a way that does not aggravate the shoulder.
For elbow pain, ensure that your lats are tight and the elbows maintain a similar width for the entire movement, as this will prevent you from adding stress to the elbow. Try switching to a neutral grip dumbbell bench for a few weeks until pain subsides.
Wrist pain is common in those with a jacked-up grip. The bar should be resting on the bottom of you palm (heel of the hand) so that it is not causing the wrist to take the entire weight of the bar. Try to keep the wrists straight. Reread the grip section and get the barbell on your palm. Once the weight gets especially heavy, it is hard to avoid some wrist pressure, so at that point, you may invest in some wrist wraps.Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.