I don’t think there is any gym in the world that doesn’t have a bench press. I say this because since the 50’s, the bench press became the most recognized exercise movement in the world. And if it were to compare what movements are done with the worst form by the average Joe and Jane, the bench press would be in the top 3 movements right next to squats and deadlifts.
Ever heard the famous saying “How much you bench brah” or “What’s your bench bro”?
I bet you’ve heard…
The barbell bench press is also one of the best shoulder destroyers out there. It is a fact that many people want to impress their friends by trying to lift weights that are over their safety margin, and which could potentially wreck their shoulders.
I want you to learn the correct bench press form with which you can lift the most weight in the safest way possible.
The Proper Barbell Bench Press Technique/Form Step By Step:
1. Starting Position On Bench
Start by laying down on the bench with your feet in a nice and comfortable position, flat on the floor.
Start getting into the proper position by squeezing your shoulder blades together just like in the picture bellow and shrugging your shoulders down (keep that position).
2. Lower And Upper Back Position
You have to keep your lower back slightly arched just like in the picture above. Keep your upper back with the blades retracted together (imagine pinching a pencil between them). Also, keep your chest lifted high.
The lower and upper back position should look like this:
In case you have some lower back issues, especially disk issues, and the pain is there when you try to arch your lower back, then it’s safer for you to take a flatter lower back approach.
The upper back arch should still be there along with shoulder blades squeezed together as this will not probably hurt, even if you have lower back issues.
At first, you might have to practice getting into the position, but after a while everything should come easy. Just remember to stay in the final proper position with shoulder blades squeezed, ass touching the bench, lower back arch, and chest high along with proper feet position on the floor for the duration of your bench press set.
DON’T get out of that position!
3. Eye Position
The common mistake that many people do when they want to bench press, is not taking into account proper eye position under the bar. The proper eye position is slightly in front of the bar or right under it (your eyes will not pass the bar’s vertical path).
4. Bar Grip
Before assessing the proper grip width you should have, I will show you the correct way to grip the bar. Let’s first start with two wrong ways of gripping the bar:
Wrong way number 1:
This will put too much stress on your wrists. The following picture has the same problems:
I know this grip looks weird but believe me, I saw a guy gripping the bar like this one time. This is why sometimes, I go into great details even with minor stuff like this.
This is the correct way to grip the bar:
The bar needs to rest directly over the forearm bone, on the heel of the palm, so the power transfer is exactly up the arms without affecting the wrists. Wrap your fingers on the bar!
This will ensure that your wrists are kept healthy on the duration of the bench press execution.
There are too many guides on the internet regarding the ideal this and that, and the proper bar width grip is one of them. There are some general numbers you can use like 22-24 inches measured between the index fingers.
My opinion is that there are no “ideal numbers” but there are guidelines that will help you achieve the safest grip width position for your body.
Common mistakes that should be avoided like plague is a thumbless bar grip which is both dangerous and not practical. There is a saying “what the hands cannot squeeze, the shoulders cannot drive as efficiently”. Having a thumbless grip is out of the question.
The general guidelines for a proper bench press grip width are that when you are in the bottom position, your forearms should be perpendicular on the floor. You can try to get into this position with the empty bar.
Practice until you get a sense of where your grip should be so that your forearms are vertical with the floor in the bottom position.
The bottom position should look like this:
5. Proper Starting Position
After steps 1-3 are in place, start looking at the ceiling ,and keep that position at all times during the bench press. Don’t try to follow the bar because we want to achieve the same path in the finishing position relative to where you look at the ceiling.
Now start un-racking the bar, and drive it into a vertical position just directly over the line of your shoulder joints.
This is the starting position because you don’t need to waste any energy to keep it there.
You can use all the energy for the specific movement. The elbows should be locked, and your arms should be perfectly vertical relative to the floor and shoulder joints.
6. Proper Bottom Position
In the proper bottom position, your elbows will be directly under the bar, perpendicular with the floor, and the bar will have touched the chest. DON’T DO PARTIAL REPETITIONS!
The bar should be slightly in front of yournipples, with the elbows tucked slightly in a 30-45 degree angle.
This is the position that could be described as best of the both worlds. A bodybuilder would have his elbows flared higher with a 90 degree angle. A powerlifter would have his elbows tucked more close to his body.
You will keep the middle way.
7. Proper Breathing Patterns
As for every barbell exercise, proper breathing patterns ensure great support for the bench press.
For the general novices, a big inhalation before starting the repetition, and exhaling out at the end of the repetition, should be as good as you can get it. Some advanced benchers like to use the technique also known as “one breath for the whole set”.
Don’t try to use advanced breathing techniques. You are good enough with the basic one I outlined here.
All that remains now after the setup is complete, is to start benching.
The proper way to rack the bar back is not hard. After you finish the last rep, which should look identical with the first one, keep your elbows locked up, and the bar into a vertical position over your shoulder joint.
Get the bar back (keep the shoulders locked) until it touches the bench rails. This is the proper sign that you can lower it into position.