In my first article on the bench press, I talked about why everyone should be training the bench press – or at least anyone who trains for bodybuilding, general strength, or powerlifting purposes.
In this blog, I want to discuss some common errors I see, as well as take you through how to properly set up for the bench press and perform a proper rep.
The most common error I see with regard to the bench press is people doing the lift with a flat back. There’s a lot of controversy as to whether you should bench with an arch in your back or not – and let me just tell you up front that if someone has told you to bench with a flat back, they are 1,000 percent wrong. That is total bro science!
I’m not saying you should bench with excessive arch like you see sometimes in powerlifting – let’s just get that clear. Those people with excessive arches in their upper back are doing so just to shorten the range of motion so they can lift more weight.
And even so, these people with big arches didn’t just start that way either – they worked up it by putting themselves in that position more and more throughout their powerlifting careers.
You will NOT hurt your back by slightly arching it when you bench press. There’s actually a higher chance you’ll injure yourself if you don’t have an arch. You’re more at risk for straining your shoulders without arching; they’ll be internally rotated during the lift, which puts them in a compromised position during the bench press.
You need a slight arch for better core stability and to keep the lats engaged throughout the lift. If you don’t have that, your arms will flare out 90 degrees at the bottom of the press, putting your arms perpendicular to your torso, which will then put the bar in a vertical line toward your neck – can you imagine if you dropped the bar at this position?!
The elbows flared out like this is the best position for injuring your shoulders. Pretty much every time you bench this way, your rotator cuff tendons squeeze against your AC joint, which will irritate and inflame the rotator cuff when you lower the bar and could cause impingement. This is why scapular position is so important.
Scapular position is often overlooked when it comes to benching. It’s one of the hardest things to learn, but the more you practice, the more you get better at it.
When setting up, think about retracting and depressing the shoulder blades back (almost like screwing them into the bench itself). Your body should basically be tensed throughout the entire rep.
Once the shoulders are planted down, your feet should be in contact with the floor, and the butt stays on the bench throughout the rep.
Unrack the bar (with the wrists neutral), take a breath (diaphragmatic), and brace your core. Then, think about pushing your feet into the ground and squeeze your glutes as you press the bar up to create full body tension (this also helps with leg drive). Your elbows should be fully locked out at the top of each rep.
Just a couple other things:
If you’re going to bench press, please perform a full range of motion – don’t stop with the bar right above the chest or halfway down, unless you are performing a Spoto Press, which is commonly used by powerlifters). This is not doing anything for you. If you can’t perform the full range of motion, take some weight off the bar and stop lifting with your ego.
On the other side of this, I see people bounce the bar off their chests. A little bounce is okay and not dangerous, but an excessive bounce is putting you at risk for injury.
When you bounce it hard off your chest, you’re likely going to hyper-extend your lower back, because more likely than not your butt will come off of the bench when doing so.
The bar should tap somewhere around the xyphoid process (the bottom of the sternum or breast bone), then back up.