For any weight lifter, the bench press is an ultimate upper body must. Having a strong bench supports overall pressing strength which will be needed on other weight lifting exercises plus it works multiple areas of the upper body that are also desired for physical appearance as well as power. If done correctly you will gain tons of strength and power quickly. However, if they are done with poor form or half-assed…well…you get what you put in! I’ve seen some pretty horrible instances that involved major injury and poor results because of improper positioning and form when it came to the bench press. I want to use this post to inform how to do the perfect bench press, and the keys to getting the most out of this basic but often mis-performed exercise.
Look Before You Leap
Lay on the bench facing up with your feet flat. I’ve seen many modifications done with this simple and obvious step that has led to great injury both to the lifter and others. “DO NOT” put your feet on the end of the bench or raise your feet off the ground. I don’t care if the cut guy next to you is doing it…chances are he’s in for a world of hurt or he won’t be in the game much longer. I understand there are a lot of great modifications and ways you can do exercises now-a-days, but when it comes to the bench press, stick to what works. Now that we got that out of the way, the first thing you want to do is lift just the bar with nothing on it. Your goal is for proper hand placement. You can tell right away who is serious about benching when they start this way. Make sure when you lower the bar your forearms are as vertical as possible. This will give you the best performance and comfort. You may need to have a lifting buddy oversee if this proves difficult. A great tip is if you own your own bench set, tape the bar to know your placement every time. I’ve known some gyms that didn’t mind it if you tape it, but you would want make sure this would be okay before doing it obviously. To get a perfect grip with your hands on the bar, a great tip is to grab the top of the bar where your perfect placement tape is and rotate the bar down until your hands are at the bottom of the bar at the point where it is comfortable to lift.
It Starts In Your Legs
There is a lot of power that comes from your legs as you bench press. With your knees bent at about 80 degrees, and your feet flat on the floor, you will have the ability to push off your feet utilizing your legs which will transfer the force through your body and help push the bar up. This is a common term called “driving with your legs.” This is also why it is important to keep your feet flat on the ground and not put them anywhere else. Your body requires so much balance when doing this exercise, add in the extreme weight load and any modifications, you can quickly see how changing form in the slightest can be detrimental to attaining desired results or physical safety.
Lift and Lower
Tighten your arms, chest, and stomach and lift while lightly exhaling. With your first lift off the bar you will want to exhale only a little bit and breathe in and out until you are ready to lower the bar. You want to align the bar over your chest so as you lower it will touch right in the center where your left and right breast plates connect. Allow the bar to lightly touch your chest before you begin to lift. Remember that this is a delicate part of your chest, so do not put too much weight on it or bounce the bar on your chest. Cracked ribs are no joke! Before you get to that point however, there is one more thing to bring up.
You need to remember to breathe. Not breathing properly will not only hurt your form, but if you are not releasing the pressure, you are creating a lot of potential dangers. The pressure held in from holding your breath can spike blood pressure to dangerous levels, burst blood vessels, harm vision, impair hearing, and cause fainting (which is the last thing you want with a heavy bar hanging over your head). When lowering you want to breathe in steady, preferably through your nose. When lifting you want to steadily release your breath out of your mouth with pursed lips. This pattern will allow for a steady release of air both in and out. It is important to realize that there is a gray area when it comes to breathing. When dealing with extremely heavy weight or fatigue, it is totally natural and acceptable to hold in your breath at the very beginning of the lift to propel into it. Also, if you are lifting a lighter weight you may be comfortable with a normal breathing pattern…possibly even through only the nose. There are times where you may feel the need to take a couple of quick breathes before continuing with a drop down or lift up. Again, this is totally natural, and in most cases necessary. However, you may notice that many new or undisciplined lifters will force quick breaths and continually do it to the point where they risk fainting…don’t be that guy! Let your breathing come naturally depending on the situation described above. The key thing is you know how to breathe in those situations and that you are breathing.
Raise The Bar
While proper breathing and feet flat, begin to raise the bar. Pay attention to your feet as you lift. If you find yourself lifting your feet off the ground or there is a lot of movement which is common with heavier lifting, you many need to have a light plate (5lbs) lay over your foot. This will help stay mindful of your feet and aid in keeping them flat. Remember that if your feet leave you lose that transfer of power from your legs. When raising the bar there should be a slight arc that completes over your face as you straighten your arms.
You have just completed one rep in one of the most basic and utilized weight lifting exercises in the gym. Clearly it is easy to understand now that in its simplicity, this basic exercise is quite complex when you break it down. Much of the techniques discussed like balance and form you can also heed in other weight lifting exercises.
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