The bench press is one of the best upper body muscle and strength builders. It’s not as technical as other lifts but the majority of people still bench incorrectly. The bench press should be done in a way that is natural and avoids stressing the joints and tendons, so if you have elbow or shoulder problems this article should provide some help.
Most individuals agree that the bar when bench pressing should move in a straight line, avoiding flaring of the elbows as well as dropping the barbell below the nipples. I’ll talk about each point in specific here.
First if you are working in an adjustable cage or rack then make sure you set set the hooks at a distance almost 70-80% of your full arm reach. Lay on the bench, a little bit down towards your feet from where your optimal position is, then with your legs push yourself back a little bit until you feel weight coming down on your traps, bring the legs closer keeping the heel firmly planted. Tuck your shoulder blades together. You should feel your hips flexing a bit, it takes a bit of practice and people will have variations based on their preference so experiment a bit.
At this point you really should feel tension in all your body but at the same time it should feel ‘right’, you should get a sensation of pressure building up that will propel the bar upwards.
One of the biggest mistakes beginners do is either placing their grip too narrow, or not having solid grip on the bar and moving their wrist when the bar moves. As you can see in the picture below a standard barbell will have ‘rings’ that I highlighted, these function as points of reference to establish a symmetrical grip of optimal width. Olympic barbells will only have 1 pair of rings while non-olympic ones will usually have 2 pairs, the inner pair are for narrower benching.
For beginners I recommend gripping the bar with the pinky on the rings, now this varies from person to person but I wouldn’t recommend a narrower grip than that. This grip is one of the narrowest grips you can have without going into ‘close grip bench’.
Wide grip bench is anything outside of middle or ring finger on the ring. If you want to transition to a wider grip I recommend slowly moving one finger at a time every week or two, till your body adjusts.
The wrist must be straight and it should remain that way throughout the movement. If your wrists are moving then that puts more strain on them and might cause injury.
The majority of inexperienced lifters drop the barbell too high on their chest which causes rotator cuff and elbow problems, bad leverage, and overall reduced muscle recruitment. I personally hurt my rotator cuff pretty badly from this exact problem and it really made me pay attention to my form, it took me months to just regain my strength afterwards.
If you haven’t worked on your form before chances are you dropping the bar too high. Whenever you switch your form it takes a while for your body to re-adjust, a lot of your strength comes just from adaptations and practice, which is why you see beginners double their bench within couple of days. So start with dropping the barbell lower every session, make sure to start with lower weight, and work on the form.
Here’s how not to bench:
This guy is doing everything wrong, elbows flared, dropping the barbell too high, you can see his grip is too narrow and his forearm is at a sharp angle which then he has to compensate with his wrist. This form wouldn’t last long.
Here’s how you should look like:
You can see everything is tight, chest is full, bar is coming down low, and elbows are tucked in. You can see how the wrist is straight which makes it stronger. Now I want to note that you’re not going to lower the barbell as low as guys you see in competitions or any kind of equiped bench. Equiped benching is different but the same rules apply to both.
Main movers: Chest – Shoulders – Triceps