This series of articles will be catered towards the beginners, so we will not replicate the same level of nuance and details that some other professionals out there have provided. Instead, we aim to simplify the concepts and basics of the big three lifts such that it is easily digestible and executed. We hope that you can improve on the execution of your lifts, one way or another after reading our series of articles regardless of your experience level!
We have previously talked about the squat and how to execute them all the way from the set-up, to the execution. So what comes after? It’s the exercise everybody loves: the Bench Press. To the gym bros, the bench press is the holy grail of exercises. But to some, it is simply a break between squat and deadlift. Jk. Bench press is important. Don’t neglect it. Every kg builds your total.
The bench press is probably one of the first few exercises that most of you meatheads learned the first time you step into the gym. Who doesn’t love a big chest and big triceps? The bros love training their chest. However, for some people, the bench press may not come as intuitively as the squat or deadlift. Perhaps it is because the movement pattern is not something you typically do everyday. You sit on a chair, and you pick stuff up from the floor all the time, but you hardly press something off your chest in your daily routine. But like all movements, it can (and should) be kept simple, and easy to understand.
The basic principles
Just as we did in the squat, let’s physics the shit out of the bench press before we move on to the set-up and execution. I hope you guys didn’t forget that we are still fighting against gravity, and the laws of physics must still apply. When we talked about maintaining balance in the squat with the least amount of effort as possible, we established that the barbell should be vertically above our mid-foot. But in the bench press, we are lying down, so what does “maintaining balance” in the bench press look like? Well, we still want to achieve the same thing. We want the least amount of effort as possible to maintain balance in order to establish a good starting position. To understand how to do that, we need to understand our base of support first to make sure that the barbell doesn’t come crashing down on you and behead you.
keep most of the stability on your upper back region.
Let’s talk more about what creates that stability in your upper back. As you have observed in the picture, a proper bench set-up has an arched back, amongst other things. This bench arch is the by-product of the shoulder retraction and depression. Why should you stabilise your upper back? That’s because your shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in your body and thus, it is susceptible to getting hurt in exercises such as the bench press when executed poorly. By retracting and depressing your shoulder blades, you extend your upper back and create an arch that puts your shoulders and rotator cuffs in a much safer position to execute the movement. This way, your body will also be in a more advantageous position to use your chest muscles to press the barbell.
First things first, you want to lie down and establish a with all of your fingers in contact with the bar. You want to set the bar nicely on the meaty part of your palm such that it sits directly on top of your wrist and forearms.
Barbell is not stacked on top of the wrist and forearms.
Barbell is stacked on top of the wrist and forearms.
Grip width will differ from person to person and establishing one that allows you to lift the most amount of weight will take some time and experimentation. Taking a grip width where your forearms are perpendicular to the barbell when it is on your chest is generally a good starting point to adjust from.
Symmetrical grip width, with perpendicular forearms when the barbell is on the chest.
Maximum legal grip width on the bench press, with the rings covered by the index fingers.
Displaying the inner ring covered with index finger on the maximum grip width.
Showing both the inner and outer rings on the barbell.
Once you have established your grip, accordingly with the bench and barbell, with the barbell along your eye level. You can make use of the centre knurling on the bar as your point of reference. as if trying to grab a pencil between them.
Shoulder blades are not retracted.
Shoulder blades are retracted.
Using your legs to push on the bench, slide yourself further up the bench to and slide them into their ‘back pockets’. Get your , and by tucking in your chin. Stop when the barbell is approximately above your mouth/chin. It will help shorten the distance that the barbell has to travel out when you unrack, which will give you a much easier time to preserve your shoulder retraction and depression that you created in your set-up during the unrack
Slide yourself further up the bench to depress the shoulder blades, get your chest high towards the barbell and flatten the neck against the bench.
Gently put your legs down onto the ground to maintain your leg drive as much as you can and Your feet position here will differ from person to person. Generally, you want a feet position where your knees ideally end up below your hips once you have unracked the bar and set your butt down onto the bench. To start with, set your feet just outside the bench and slightly behind your knees. Adjust slowly to a feet position where you feel the most stable and are able to leg drive without your butt leaving the bench during the movement.
After unracking the barbell and putting the butt down, the knees are below the hips, with the feet slightly outside the bench and behind the knees.
Demonstrating the unrack.
After completing your 59 seconds of exorcism, you have 1 second left to execute the bench press. Breathe and brace, and initiate the bench press by breaking at your elbows. Guide the barbell diagonally down to your sternum, keeping your forearms stacked under the barbell. At the same time, think about approaching the barbell with your chest.
A non-linear bar path in the bench press, while keeping the forearms stacked under the barbell.