The bench press is one of the most revered exercises. Everyone wants a big chest and the bench press will get you there. In case you did not know, every Monday is even National Bench Day. Step into a gym on a Monday and try to find an open bench. It is not easy. Each and every Monday, you will see lifters using a wide variety of bench presses altering their incline angles, hand width, bar type, etc.
It is true that the bench press is an amazing exercise. It is also true that it is one of the exercises most widely performed with poor form. I see so many poor attempts at bench presses that I am surprised that I do not see more rotator cuff issues.
It is time to take a step back and discuss how to properly perform a bench press to maximize effectiveness and minimize risk of injury. The steps below will teach you steps to follow to perform a bench press with proper form.
Steps to Performing a Bench Press With Proper Form
Step 1: Grab the bar at an equal distance on each side of the knurling. For most lifters, this is typically around shoulder width, or slightly greater than shoulder width, apart. Squeeze tightly to create tension in your hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, back and chest.
Step 2: Take a deep breath, driving your chest upwards and pulling your shoulder blades back and down into the bench.
Step 3: Plant your feet and drive them downward. Squeeze your glutes to tighten up your hips and lock them into place.
Step 4: Unrack the weight (with the help of a spotter) and move the bar directly over your chest without losing the tension in your upper back or allowing your chest to collapse.
Step 5: Reset your air by taking another big breath. Hold your breath and tighten up.
Step 6: With your entire body as tight as possible, row the weight downward under control until it reaches your chest. Ensure that your wrists and elbows stay in alignment. This will give you the best leverage and keep the weight centered.
Step 7: Without allowing your chest to collapse or losing any tension, coordinate your leg drive with driving the bar powerfully back to lockout.
Step 8: Reset your breath and repeat for the next repetition.
Things to Consider
There are a few important things to consider when doing bench presses.
Use a spotter whenever you can. Most folks in the gym have no problem spotting others as they are reciprocating an action that others do for them. Lifters are a tight family of sorts. Lifting the weight off the bar, and placing it back down, is very hard on the shoulders.
Play strict attention to the angle at which your arms go up and down to ensure that you are doing a proper bench press.
Ensure that your grip is as tight as possible. The harder you grip, the tighter your body becomes.
Drive your feet down as you lift the weight. I see too many people lift their feet off the ground when they lift the weight.
Use proper form over amount of weight. If you cannot bench it with proper form, you cannot bench it and you need to go lighter.
Bringing down the weight is more important than pushing it up. The rewards that you get from most exercises come from the negative force of the weight. Instead of dropping the weight down during a bench press, pull the weight down with your lats as if you were doing a cable row. You also want to simultaneously drive your chest upward toward the bar.
Push the weight up with as much force as possible.
As with most weight lifting exercises, it is important to warm up before going with the weight that you do your sets at. Take 10 minutes to properly warm up and you will save yourself a lot of pain and injury later.
Feeling Pain When Performing Bench Presses
First and foremost, if you are feeling pain (outside of chest soreness) from bench pressing, stop immediately and see a doctor. They can tell you if something is wrong. Common places of pain and the shoulders and elbows. Tendinitis and tennis elbow can be common with weight lifters when they use heavy weights and bad form.
Once your doctor rules out a serious injury, you then need to take a look at your form. The most common issue people have is to not tuck their arms in when performing a bench press. This forces a lot of weight on your shoulders.
Bench Presses Do Not Work For Everyone
A lot of people do not perform bench presses for various reasons. Myself, I have shoulder issues that limit my bench pressing, but am constantly working on ways to improve that. If this is the case with you, try dumbbell bench presses as an alternative. During some of my cycles, I still to dumbbell bench presses strictly for a month or two.
Incorporate push-ups into your routine. There are so many variations of push-ups that are beneficial for growing a huge chest.
Also, some people just cannot do bench presses, which is fine. There are so many great chest exercises out there including using specialty bars, cable machines, bodyweight training and more.