5 Tips for the Big 3, Part 2: The Bench Press
by Jason Colenzo
Ah the bench press. The most popular exercise in the gym world. Monday might as well be renamed Benchday for the prevalence of bench pressing on that day. Men and women young and old do everything they can to get their bench better. But are they doing it the right way?
Here are 5 tips for the bench press that you may find useful.
1) Pinch your shoulder blades. By pinching your shoulder blades together you create a nice stable surface in your upper body. In addition, you put your shoulders in a better position to press. People with shoulder problems will benefit greatly from pinching their shoulder blades. To give a visual for you, picture someone putting their finger in between your shoulder blades. Now visualize trying to squeeze their finger by pulling the shoulder blades together.
2) Get an arch in the back. A lot of people advocate benching flat because “arching is cheating” or arching is bad for your back. If you lift your butt off the bench then yes you are cheating. A good arch not only cuts down your range of motion. it also again puts your shoulders in a better position to press. Start small with arching and as you get more flexible work on arching higher. Practice arching during your warm up sets using a foam roller or PVC pipe to arch over. Start small and progressively use a larger foam roller or PVC pipe. Some benchers have actually been able to cut their bench ROM down to 6-8 inches because of arching.
3) Make your feet stable and drive through your heels. Some federations mandate that your keep your feet flat on the floor, and other federations don’t care. If you’re not competing, position your feet how you feel comfortable but make sure that you stay stable. Too many times you see people shift their feet while they’re benching, and this causes you to lose your form, stability, and possibly injure you. When you go to press from the bottom, drive through your heels to get the legs involved. Picture your toes being forced through your shoes when you go to use leg drive. This will help to push your heels down to effectively get more leg drive.
4) Tuck your elbows. The amount of elbow tucking you do is up to you but at least try to tuck to some degree. When you bench with your elbows out, unless you have great flexibility, your shoulders will be under lots of unnecessary strain. A 45 degree angle between your upper arm and your body would work just fine. Some people tuck their elbows all the way to their body’s and flair out the elbows when pressing up, but again its up to the lifter to decide what degree of tucking is appropriate.
5) Visualize pushing yourself away from the bar. What I mean by this is when you get to the bottom of the lift and you’re ready to press back up, it should feel more like your pushing your body away from the bar than pushing the bar away from the body. This sounds weird, but it makes sense when you apply it in training. By pushing yourself away from the bar, your back will drive hard into the bench, which then gives you additional driving force for the bar to travel upward. Next time you bench, look straight up at the ceiling and push your body away from the bar. You will notice the additional drive almost immediately.
That about wraps it up for the bench press. Part 3 will feature the do or die lift of the big 3, the deadlift!