Benching from Head to Toe

Michael Shukis

Benching from Head to Toe


The bench is the most popular exercise today. Everybody loves to bench press. Walk into any gym and you'll wait in line to bench. Instagram pages are full of it. People tell stories about their bench press glory days. If you didn't know better, you would think training centers around benching. For most people, it does.

Like the squat, the bench press is controversial. Benching is either the main movement in programs or completely avoided. Some people say you should bench. Others say you're guaranteed to blow your shoulders out if you go near it. The bench press is either mandatory or taboo.

No matter where you stand, you need to learn to bench correctly. Like everything in the weight room, it's about how you do it. If you bench, you better do it right.

The bench press does not hurt your shoulders. Bad form on the bench might. The movement isn't the problem. The way you perform it is. There are no bad movements–only bad coaches and bad form.

Most people bench before they're ready for it. You shouldn't max out on the bench before you can do perfect push-ups. Just because your buddies do it doesn't mean you should.

Like the squat, bench pressing is important. It's a primary movement in many programs, and for good reason. The bench press builds upper body strength and stability. And it's a good way to evaluate progress.

There are right and wrong ways to bench. Here are a few guidelines to bench pressing. These are tips, not laws.

Lay on the bench with your head flat. Don't lift your head or let it move. Stability starts here.

Your eyes should be even with the Barbell or slightly under it. This puts your shoulders below the bar. Do not set up with your shoulders directly under the bar.

Pick a spot on the ceiling and stare at it while you bench. As you press, avoid hitting the hooks. If your eyes are in the right position, you will avoid them. Get the set up right. Don't fight the equipment.

Pull your shoulder blades together and down towards your back pockets. The weight should feel like it's on your traps. This creates a stable platform to press from.

Grip the Barbell with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Not too wide or narrow. Make sure your hands are spaced evenly. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to grip width. Everyone is different. Your grip width is based on the position at the bottom. When the Barbell touches your chest, your forearms should be vertical-or perpendicular-to the floor. If they aren't vertical, adjust your grip. You might need a friend or coach to help you.

Arch your back. More than you think you should. It should be uncomfortable. Arching creates stability. Set up like you're about to handle heavy weight.

Keep your butt, upper back, and head in contact with the bench the entire time. They are your three points of contact. These are important. Don't lose them.

Keep your feet flat on the floor or pull them back and keep your toes down. Try to drive your heels down towards the floor. Don't let them move as you press. This is an energy leak. Energy leaks are bad.

Now that you're set up, un-rack the Barbell with straight arms. Make sure your hands are even. Pull it down towards your sternum using your lats.

The Barbell should be directly above your shoulders in the start position. Take a breath in, starting through your nose. Just like the squat, your breath stabilizes you. Hold it.

Lower the Barbell until it touches your chest. As it lowers, your elbows should be tucked. Not next to your sides, but not up and out either. Your elbows should be around forty-five degrees. Again, this looks different for everyone.

The Barbell should touch around your nipple line. Once it touches, press it back into the top position. Repeat the process.

When you finish the set, rack the Barbell with straight arms. The bar should go back into the rack with straight arms—just like it came out. This is safer and wastes less energy. Don't place it in the rack—put it there.

Bench pressing looks simple but it isn't. You don't lay down and press huge weight. You focus and set up like you care. Many things go into a successful rep. And it all starts with a perfect set up.

Everybody has opinions about the bench press. No movement is more important to most people. These tips should be a good place to start in the right direction.

Like everything else in the weight room, start too light. Make adjustments as needed. And remember that bench pressing isn't bad. Bad bench press form is bad.

tags: bench,training,technique

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