Proper Bench Press Technique & Variations
The bench press has been considered one of the “core” weight lifting exercises
for many years. The reason for this is simple: this exercise is extremely
effective in strengthening the prime movers of the upper extremity. Examples of
this can be found in:
Football: tackling, blocking, and passing;,
Swimming: crawl and breaststroke,
Track & Field: pole vault, shot put, and discus,
Baseball: throwing and hitting,
Basketball: shooting, boxing out, and rebounding.
The muscles strengthened are the triceps, anterior and middle deltoids,
pectoralis major and minor, and wrist flexors (grip). Also, the rotator cuff and
biceps work as shoulder stabilizers and are slightly strengthened with the bench
Preparation For The Lift
Prior to the lift, the lifter should be certain that the weight is balanced on
the bar and that collars are securing the plates. Improper balance can result in
an awkward and uncomfortable left attempt that may result in injury.
The lifter should position themselves so that the bar is located above the eyes.
The back and buttocks should be firmly placed on the bench pad. The feet should
be placed flat on the floor.
The grip should be centered on the bar. Most athletes will feel comfortable with
the arms slightly wider than the shoulders. Longer armed athletes however, may
prefer a wider grip while shorter armed athletes will find a slightly narrower
grip more comfortable.
A spotter should be present to assist the lifter. The function of the spotter is
to help the lifter when assistance is necessary. The spotter should do very
little work during the lift. If the lifter requires assistance, the spotter
should lift with two or three fingers from the center of the bar, applying only
enough force to help the athlete past the trouble area.
Proper breathing is another important aspect of the lift. The athlete should
inhale as the bar is lowered to the chest. The breath is then exhaled as the bar
is pressed off of the chest.
The Down Phase
The down phase begins as the lifter lowers the bar to the chest. The pectoralis
major and minor, deltoids, and triceps contract eccentrically (lengthening
contraction) to lower the bar at a controlled pace. The weight continues down
until it gently touches the chest just below nipple level.
If the bar is lowered too quickly control is lost resulting in the bar bouncing
off of the chest. This is improper for numerous reasons.
Striking the chest with too great a force can result in fractures to the sternum
or ribs. The bounce off of the rib cage generates upward momentum, resulting in
less force generation by the muscles. This will result in less strength gains by
the prime movers of the chest. Ultimately this results in poor strength
throughout the full range of motion.
The Pressing Phase
The pressing phase begins as the weight is pushed toward the starting position.
The lifter exhales as the muscles contract to control the ascent of the weight.
The pressing phase concludes with the arms fully extended and the elbows locked.
The muscles can only develop optimally if they exert controlled force through
the entire range of motion.
Common errors during the press phase include: arching the back and lifting the
feet from the floor. Arching the back is a cheating movement that is the result
of a lifter attempting too heavy of a weight. The back arch allows the lifter to
cheat by utilizing the force generated by the buttocks and hips to assist the
chest in the lift.
The back arch places the bones and intervertibral disks at risk of injury. The
back was not designed to arch in this exaggerated manner. When the lifter arches
his/her back to compensate for a lack of strength, the intervertibral joints can
sustain injury due to the combination of compressive and expansion forces
simultaneously affecting the joints and disks.
To correct this problem, stress proper technique. Also, the weight should be
decreased to a level that is more appropriate to the strength of the lifter.
This can be a problem with the competitive ego-driven male. Simply reinforce the
notion that proper technique leads to proper strength gain in the target
An alternative method for correcting this flaw is to have the lifter place
his/her heels on the end of the bench. This method has inherent limitations and
risks. First, the bench may not be long enough for taller lifters to perform
this technique safely. Secondly, moving the feet from the floor to the bench
results in a less stable support for the lifter. Feet on the floor will
stabilize the lifter so that if there is a struggle he/she will not feel as if
they are falling off of the bench. This should only be attempted with low weight
to reinforce not arching the back.
Reverse-Grip: Accentuates the outer pectorals, medial triceps, and serratus
Close-Grip: Accentuates the inner pectorals and places a tremendous load on the
Pause-lockout: This uses a pause at chest level to cause maximum muscle
recruitment for maximal strength gains.
Dumb-Bells: Using dumb-bells adds variety to the lifting routine and can result
in strength gains in the accessory muscles of the shoulder.
Incline Bench Press: To strengthen the upper pectorals and anterior deltoids.
Decline Bench Press: To work the lower pectorals.
by David Edell