While the barbell bench press is one of the best strength and muscle builders a lifter can do, it can also be quite damaging to the body. Ask any lifter with several years in the gym, and they’ll almost always tell you to learn how to bench properly first. If you don’t, you could end up suffering a torn pec, chronically inflamed elbows, strained shoulders, or even just fairly drastic muscular imbalances. Read on to learn how to bench properly and make sure none of this happens to you.
If bodybuilders can thank the powerlifting world for anything, it’s for teaching them how to bench properly. Most lifters let their elbows come out wide when they bench, such that their arms end up perpendicular to their torso. However, what you should be doing is as you bring the bar down to your chest, try to tuck your elbows.
You can cue this by mentally acting like you’re trying to “bend” the bar and touch your pinky fingers together. Doing this will take some of the emphasis off the chest and place it on the triceps, but it’s much safer for the shoulders. It also places less stress on the elbows and even lets you put up more weight.
A mistake you see rookie lifters make when they don’t know how to bench properly is performing the eccentric part of the movement too quickly and bouncing the bar off the chest. Instead, lower the bar slowly and explode with it off the bottom.
A good rule of thumb is to keep the negative roughly twice as long as the lifting portion of the movement, but don’t be afraid to spread it out even more. Lowering for 2-4 seconds, then performing the concentric as fast as humanly possible will maximize force production and muscle fiber recruitment. These will then both lead to more muscle and strength being produced.
Before you unrack the bar, be sure your shoulders are retracted as much as possible. In fact, focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together before starting your set is a great idea. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is because keeping your shoulders retracted will result in a more stable shoulder girdle as a whole. This then allows you to use more weight. The other is that if your shoulders are able to roll “forward” (in relation to your torso), there’s too great of a chance that the front delts will be engaged. This takes tension off the pecs and can result in muscular imbalances forming.
This is wise advice for any movement, but more so for the bench press. Too many lifters get caught up in ego battles with their gym buddies, trying to lift entirely too heavy before they adequately know how to bench properly. It might be a blow to the ego to not pile the weight on as fast, but the long-term gains will be worth it. If nothing else, you’ll be the one later on that’s still making gains while your old gym pals are laid up with nagging injuries because they didn’t take the smarter approach.
Bench pressing doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as you’re using good form with your elbows tucked, shoulders retracted, proper rep speed, and aren’t trying to lift more than you’re capable of, you’ll have a long, successful gym career. You can not only avoid injury, but also won’t have to be one of those guys who has to ice his elbows for two days after every chest workout. Just remember that a little bit of mental discipline now will result in a lot of physical development later.