The Bench Press is probably one of the most favoured exercises in the gym but did you know that 95% of people perform this technique incorrectly. When performing a bench press it is all about maintaining Position, Tightness and Bar Path. So, what is the right position for a Bench Press? When I was being taught to Bench press by the International Powerlifting Federation they told us to view the bench press as a horizontal Squat, which to me at first made no sense what so ever until put it into practice.
When viewing a bench press a lot of us just lie on the bench set our hands up and get straight into it but have you ever thought about your feet position? Your Feet position is crucial because it creates balance and stiffness for your upper body allowing for better bar control. When placing your feet set it up the way you would squat. Firstly, position the feet outside hip width while also turning them out to about 45 degrees (image 1.1). When you have achieved this apply pressure through your heels but not enough that it allows your hips to leave the bench.
Optimal Hand positioning on the bar will vary depending on the limb length of individuals. The Rule of thumb I have generally worked with from the spacing guide on the barbell (image 1.2) is 1 finger width for tall men, 2 fingers for medium to small men and 3 fingers for females. The spacing guide on the bar is the ring that has no knurling on it which is generally placed on the outsides of the bar this may vary between bars.
Shoulder position on the bench, should sit where your eyes are directly under the bar this will prevent you hitting the rack mid rep. When you have positioned your hands on the bar squeeze your shoulders together to a point where your chest sits in front of your shoulders (image 1.3). This is called pretension, pretension is where you apply stretch to a muscle. In this exercise, we are applying stretch to our chest muscles or technically known as our pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. This allows for preparing the muscle to receive a load and increased output of strength, using what is known as our stretch shorting cycle which is basically using the elastic potential of our muscles.
Bar Path is the distance and angle at which the bar travels between reps. So why is this an important factor of our bench press? Any variation in the angle at which the bar travels can put excessive load on the elbow and shoulder joint (image 1.4). When benching we are looking for no angle between the wrist and elbow when pressing. This is achieved by bringing the bar to the midpoint of chest which is situated between your nipple and sternum, this also creates even distribution of load between pec major and minor making it easier to press. The distance of the bar is changed by the angle at which we press if there is no discrepancy in the bar path we reduce the range at with the bar travels. Although it may seem shorter in distance in conjunction with traditional methods, any angle in the bar reduces control and stability which intern reduce strength and speed when pressing.
When applying these techniques to your bench press it comes down to the eccentric and concentric or commonly known as the lowering and pressing phases of your bench presses. After setting your hands and shoulders before un-racking the weight, take one continuous breath in to further tighten your upper body then un-rack the bar. When you have the bar situated over mid chest release breathe and retake your breath. When you have taken the biggest breath in possible start your eccentric (lowering) phase of your movement hold your breath all the way to your chest and to midpoint of the concentric (pressing) phase only releasing on lock out. Remember to not rush the movement and take your time because with better control comes power and speed in future. At first these techniques will feel abnormal but with practice they will come second nature and new personal bests will follow. Hope these tips have been helpful and have given you some insight to your bench press.