The Bench Press uses the chest, shoulders and triceps, but due to the set up, and its additional benefit to the lift if done correctly, I would consider it closer to a full body movement.
The Bench press is one of the ‘big three’ compound movements; accompanied by both the Back Squat and Deadlift. As it is one of the big three, and one of the same three movements used in powerlifting competitions, it’s unsurprising that a lot of weight can be used with this movement.
The bench press is a relatively easy movement to improve, with the majority of us repeating the same bad habits. However, due to this considered simplicity, it is easy to load heavily and complete badly – jeopardising the health of the shoulder and elbow joints.
Whilst mobility will only become an issue if it is very bad, the bench press and other exercise in general will likely benefit from improved flexibility and mobility. Try completing this Upper Body Stretching Routine at least twice per week to improve your suppleness!
How to Bench Press:
- Find an appropriate bench press, with the bar loaded 1 catch/hole below the maximum height you can un-rack the bar from.
- Sit on the bench, and place your feet flat and outside shoulder width, ensuring your knee is directly above your midfoot.
- Lay back on the bench (keeping the feet planted) and assume the bottom of a lat pull down position with the bar and arms. This position – with the shoulders retracted back/down and the lower back arched – is ideal for stability, protecting the shoulders and facilitating good technique.
- Without letting the back and shoulders move out of position, grip the bar just outside your shoulder width, using the markings on the bar to ensure you are gripping it equidistant from the middle of the bar.
- Selecting an overhand grip, with the thumbs wrapped under the bar, ensure you are gripping the bar low in the hand. This stops the wrists flexing backward if held too high, but don’t grip so low that it feels like the thumbs are at risk – we want the wrists (neutral throughout and) relatively aligned with the forearms.
- Un-rack the bar, extend the arms, and ensure the bar is level and you are balanced.
- Breathe in to fill the diaphragm and help stabilise the body, before smoothly lowering the bar until it touches the chest just below the nipples.
- Aiming to keep the elbows close to the sides, drive the bar away from the chest, flexing the chest hard at the peak of each rep and breathing out as you extend the arms.
- Ensure the bar is level, breathe in and go again.
- Breathing out too early – when you start to push – will have the same negative effect as breathing out too early when you squat or deadlift. Negating good posture and a well braced core under load.
- If you struggle to balance the bar then practice pause reps. Rest a more lightly loaded bar on your chest between the reps, levelling it out before pushing back to extension. This helps you learn what an even bar and symmetrical effort feels like before you increase the load and rep speed.
- Wrist supports are great for those that find maintaining neutral and or stable wrists an issue under heavier weights (on all pushing and arm exercises).
- A wider grip reduces the range of motion and lends itself to loading the shoulders too much. Gripping the bar just outside shoulder width allows a greater range of motion and more comfortable loading of the pecs.
The Bench Press is undoubtedly a great exercise for increasing strength and muscle size throughout the chest, shoulders and triceps, but if you want to get the most out of the movement we would suggest breaking down the entire lift (including the set up) and rebuilding. We have all done it here, and although it felt like a step backward at first, we soon exceeded our previous personal bests, without tight or painful shoulders.