“International Chest Day” is what Monday is popularly called in the fitness community. Arguably the most admired muscle group, especially among men, the chest is primarily trained through a number of movements, chief among which is The Bench Press. Although it is a highly effective movement for chest development and building overall upper body strength, what most lifters, especially newbies and intermediates, don’t realize is that the bench press is meant to be a whole body lift that focuses on joint stacking, breath control, constant tension throughout the body and leg drive. I have divided the bench press into two parts Setup and Execution.
Think of the loaded bar as a rocket which need to be propelled upwards powerfully. For this to happen you need a solid, stable platform to launch from. Your entire body serves as this launch pad. Start by lying on the bench with the bar directly above the eyes.
Keep your feet shoulder width apart and placed directly below your knees or slightly behind them.
Grip the bar at about an inch outside of your shoulder width. Always use a closed grip and make sure the wrist is not hyperextended.
This phase of the lift is probably the most neglected and often lifters start pressing without creating a strong integrated base for the lift. Tightening up will help you lift the most weight and keep you safe at the same time.
- Start with pressing your feet firmly against the ground.
- Keep your glutes contracted and engage your core.
- Pull your shoulder blades close together and bring your shoulders down as in the downwards phase of a shrug.
- Twist the wrists and elbows inwards slightly as if you were trying to “Break the Bar”.
Practice these cues with an unloaded bar before your actual working set.
Unracking the Bar
I highly recommend a spotter for the initial lift off. However if that is not possible, simply maintain tension in your lats and back and pull the bar horizontally forward instead of pressing the bar up and forward. This will ensure that you do not lose the stability you have created in the phase above. These elements when effectively put together create the perfect setup for a correctly performed Bench Press.
You can breathe in a few different ways during the lift. One way is to mildly breathe in on the way down and forcefully breathe out on the way up. For heavier lifts though, you should take a deep breath before you start the lift, hold your breath keeping your core tight as you lower the bar and exhale forcefully on the way up. This is known as the “Valsalva Maneuver”. More advanced lifters can hold their breath for 2-3 repetitions in a row.
Elbow Angle to Torso
Try and maintain a 60 degree angle between your upper arm and torso. DO NOT flare your elbows out at 90 degrees as doing this will put your shoulders at great risk.
Start Point and Finish Point
Lower the bar to the point where the sternum or breastbone ends which should be a little below midchest. This is your start point. Press the bar to a position just above the shoulders. This is your finish point. As opposed to the squat and deadlift the bar DOES NOT travel in a straight line in a bench press. Note: Always maintain full body tension from start point to finish point.
Start Position Finish Position
The pace of the movement should be as controlled as possible with an attempt to maintain a 3:2 seconds ratio with respect to lowering the weight vs pressing it up.
Head Position and Line of Sight
Place your head comfortably on the bench and do not raise it under any circumstance. Also do not watch the bar as it moves, instead keep your eyes fixed in a straight line at a spot on the ceiling. This allows for more stability in the movement.
Racking the Bar
Place the bar back in the same way you unracked it i.e. a straight horizontal backward movement to the rack with the elbows straight and the back tight.
Now that you know the finer points of bench pressing, feel free to practice these techniques with an empty bar before you move on to heavier weights and before you know it you’ll be setting some new PRs.
Author credits – Suraj Ray