“How much ya bench?” It’s one of the most common questions lifters ask each other. Besides bragging rights, a proper bench press stimulates multiple muscle groups at once, including the pectorals, deltoids, triceps, and abdominal muscles.
The bench press is an effective exercise that works the entire upper-body – perfect for lifters who may lack the time to work smaller muscles individually. Additionally, practicing proper bench press form will increase bone density, maximize your overall power, and improve running form and efficiency.
If you are a beginner or working to increase your weight, be sure to lift with the aid of a spotter. An extra pair of eyes and arms will help you keep your form in check while maintaining safety.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to proper bench press form. Proper form will help you avoid sticking points and break through plateaus to achieve your most powerful bench press ever.
1. Grip the bar
To find your most favorable hand spacing, first bench the bar without weight. Have a trainer or a friend watch as you bring the bar to your chest. At the bottom of the rep, your forearms should be vertical, or close to it. Continue repositioning your grip until you achieve this form, which allows for maximum power.
Grip the bar tightly with your thumbs wrapped around the bar, but be careful not to grip the bar too close to your fingers. Doing so will cause your wrist to bend backward. Maintain a straight wrist by positioning the bar low in your palm.
Advanced lifters can also adjust the grip to accommodate body type and muscle strengths and weaknesses. Consider adjusting your grip if you have strengths or weaknesses in the following areas:
- Those with short arms, weak pectorals, or strong triceps should use a narrow grip, elbows in
- Lifters with long arms, weak deltoids, or weak triceps may achieve maximum power with a wide grip and elbows out
- If you maintain stronger deltoids, keep your grip narrow and close to your torso.
Remember that these adjust handgrip positions should not be used long term to adjust for weaknesses. The best practice would be to strengthen weak areas to improve your maximum bench press.
2. Position your body
Once you have determined your optimal handgrip strength, position your body properly on the bench. Lay on the bench so your eyes are in line with the bar. Plant your feet firmly on the floor with your knees bent at an 80-degree angle. (Note: positioning your feet on the bench hinders your stability and decreases your power).
Lift your chest and retract and lock your shoulders firmly on the bench. If you’re having trouble locking your shoulders in the ideal position, try gripping the bar by first positioning your palms at the back of the bar rather than underneath it. Then, rotate the bar to the point where your palms are directly under the bar. If this is done correctly, you should feel your shoulders lock into place.
Throughout the entire set, your feet should be flat, shoulders contracted, chest lifted, and your grip should be white-knuckle tight. Lifting your chest and tightening your torso will mean there will be a small space between the bench and your lower torso.
3. Lower the bar
As you lift the bar from the rack, tighten your core and inhale. Control the downward movement of the bar by using your lats to pull the weight toward your chest. At the same time, focus on lifting your chest. Throughout the downward movement, visualize yourself amassing the energy necessary to raise the bar.
Touch the bar lightly to your chest, but do not try to use your chest to change positions by bouncing the bar. Doing so will not only disrupt the built-up tension, but could also cause injury.
4. Raise the bar
Exhale as you summon power from your legs to drive the bar upward. If this is difficult at first, imagine you’re trying to use your legs to slide your body up the bench. During this part of the lift, your objective should be to drive the bar to the lockout position as quickly as possible.
As you lift the bar, it will naturally arc backward as its position changes from above your chest to eye-level. (Note: building your triceps muscles will help you to lift the bar straight up for a more powerful lift.) Once you reach lockout, you have just completed the optimal bench press rep.
5. Strengthen supporting muscles
To achieve your strongest bench ever, develop the muscles that support you during the bench press exercise. Focus on training:
- Triceps with tricep extension exercises and flat and incline close-grip presses
- Deltoids with military presses and various front raise exercises
- Latissimus dorsi (lat) muscles with barbell and dumbbell rows
- Pectorals with weighted pushup and cable crossovers
- Biceps with hammer curls
This list is not exhaustive. For a tailored list of muscle groups you should strengthen and the best exercises to achieve results, get in touch with a personal trainer.
6. Nourish your muscles
Adding significant power to your bench press usually means increasing upper-body muscle mass. Ensure muscle growth and reduce muscle breakdown by feeding your muscles. Protein is key. Strive for 1 to 1.5 grams of lean protein from meat or whey protein supplements for each pound of body weight per day. You may also consider supplementing with Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) preferably with a 4:1:1 ratio of L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine to give your body adequate amino acid stores.
The bench press should be challenging, but not painful. When it comes to heavy lifts, poor form and overtraining can easily lead to injury. Practicing your form and allowing for adequate muscle recovery will keep you from nursing injured muscles back to health.