Much has been made about the bench press, I know I bang on about it a fair bit. It is everyone’s go to lift if they’re short on time and in need of a quick boost. It massages the ego and pumps up the guns, but how many of you really think about your bench press? Seriously, how much effort goes into your set up, your approach and the conscious movement?
I’ve written about the bench press before. Last time I spoke about how I value the bench press and I feel it is under-utilised in “functional fitness”, yet I never really went into depth about the technical aspect of the lift. What does it mean to get tight? Why does it matter where the bar touches my chest? Arnold just used to rep them out! The bench press is one of the big three power lifts for a reason. Yes, it requires you to have insane levels of strength to excel, but you can improve with some technical tweaks… here are some hacks that will be able to add kilos to your bench almost instantly.
As I mentioned in alllll of the other athlete hacks – tension is king. If you’re slacking in any area, you’re not going to get the most out of that muscle. This makes you 1) weaker and 2) more susceptible to an injury. Breath, brace and screw.
Take a nice deep breath, breath into your balls, and fill your torso with air.
Brace as though someone is about to land an uppercut into your stomach. We want as much tension as possible!
Break the bar!
When we get hands on the bar we need to be trying to bend the bar in half. Pulling your shoulder blades back and down, and rotating your pinky finger towards your toes sets your shoulders nicely. This will ensure that our lats and back are tight, our elbows do not flare out and that our large pectoral muscles bear the brunt of the load.
NB – keeping our elbows in check is mechanically, one of the most important aspects of a bench press. Not only does it enable the big muscles to get to work, it’s also the most efficient way of moving the bar. See the image below that I used when talking about the strict press. Straight lines = strong lines!
Points of Contact
Aside from the obvious of having your back in contact with the bench, we also want to maintain another key point of contact. Once again we can draw parallels with the squat and the deadlift… we want to have our feet firmly in contact with the floor.
Be it the whole of our foot or the tips of our toes, having a firm grounding and a base to transfer power through makes a world of difference.
When we have our feet planted on a solid base we can generate extra tension through the use of our large glutes. The tension throughout the body translates into more power. The squat and deadlift are seen as full body movements and, yep, you’ve guessed it, we lump the bench in that category too.
The extra tension and stability we gain from this rather innocuous step can make the difference between a PB or a failed attempt – a healthy lifter, or a bust-up shoulder.
Once you have completed all of the above, your abs are tight, shoulder blades are set, and feet are planted. you’re in a good position to finally get started and un-rack the bar. You may feel that you’re taking a slightly arched position on the bench. As long as you’re not wobbling around and on the verge of falling off, this is fine. If anything it’s beneficial (more tension = more power).
There’s still an opportunity for all of this hard work to be undone.
When you move to un-rack the bar, use a spotter to give you a “hand off” the rack. Un-racking without a spotter means that generally, you will have to reach up further. What happens when we reach further? Our shoulder blades reach forwards! If we remove one of our points of contact and tension, the whole system comes undone. Everything you’ve worked for will be for nothing and you’ll be back to benching how you always have done.
Grab a friend (or even someone you don’t like). It can make or break your lifts.
It Isn’t Over Until It’s Over
The final issue I need to raise. Finish your damn lifts. People grind out squats. People grind out deadlifts. Not many people will grind out a bench press.
As soon as the lift starts to feel difficult, when the bar speed starts to slow and we begin fighting with the lift, we’re all too willing to give up and let our spotter take over. Keep. Pushing. Fight as if you don’t have a spotter there and the bar could genuinely drop on your face at any moment. Keep driving through the floor, breaking the bar in half, and pushing as hard as you can until you’ve finished the lift. The bench press isn’t supposed to be easy if it was you wouldn’t need to look like this to be any good at it…