The bench press is one of the staples of any weightlifting routine. At the gym it is common to see a few people performing it right and a lot of people performing it wrong. This is why I decided to write this post on ‘How to Improve a Bench Press Technique That Is Broken”.
The ‘bench’ is one of the three lifts in powerlifting along withe the squat and deadlift. While I have never competed in powerlifting I do have massive respect for those guys.
It is also one of the best chest movements there are for packing on solid muscle. This makes it an extremely popular exercise with gym-goers.
It’s popularity has led to the bench press becoming a sock measuring contest among gym bros.
Often you will hear guys ask “how much you bench bro?” and replies such as “225lbs for reps.” What you fail to see is the horrific reality of what those reps actually look like. You can be guaranteed they will be performed with disastrous technique if anything. Talk is cheap.
If you want to know how to improve a bench press technique that is broken then let us begin. Whether you want to fix your own or a friend’s, it is possible.
How to Improve a Bench Press Technique That Is Broken
The bench press isn’t as simple as it looks. Just press the bar up right? Not so fast.
What looks like a straightforward movement actually has a lot of intricate details throughout the process.
Each part of the movement, from the set up to the end should be done correctly.
To get the most out of the bench press, you should have a solid foundation of knowledge behind the exercise.
It is a bad idea to just go in guns blazing.
Doing so will lead to you getting hurt. Nobody wants to get hurt.
With that said let us remain healthy.
Today we will cover common mistakes so you can know how to improve a bench press technique that is broken.
If you put all of the points covered into practice correctly it will put you ahead of 90% of the guys at your gym.
Not Retracting the Scapula
When bench pressing the scapula should be retracted fully. This will decrease the range of motion and increase stability which will allow you to lift more weight.
The scapula should be retracted before getting into position. Do so sitting at the end of the bench.
To retract the scapula bring your shoulder blades up, back and down. Think of it as “putting your shoulder blades in your back pocket”. This will help keep your scapula in place and improve your stability in the bench press.
Retracting the scapula properly will also put more emphasis on the chest muscles. This will lead to more muscle development. I’m sure you will be glad to hear.
Retracting the scapula is a great first step in knowing how to improve a bench press technique that is broken.
Here is a quick video by Matty Fusaro demonstrating this in action:
Not Arching Your Back
Arching your back in the bench press is another great method of increasing stability which will allow us to generate more power. It also helps to decrease the range of motion. The combination of these two factors mean we can press more weight.
A common complaint is of lower back pain when arching for the bench press. This is because of lumbar (lower back) arching. In reality the thoracic portion (mid back) of the spine should be arching instead.
Here is Alan Thrall explaining it in more detail if you are interested.
Not Creating a Stable Base
On top of retracting the scapula and creating an arch you must dig your traps into the bench. When benching it is important to have your back pressed tightly into the bench. Doing so will give you a solid base to press off against.
It is also important to have a strong foot position. Some prefer to have their heels on the floor and some just their toes.
Either way the feet should be planted firmly into the ground and tucked underneath and close to the bench. Foot position can vary a lot between persons as limb length and height of bench are factors.
Having your feet positioned properly will allow you to squeeze your glutes and quads to push off the floor.
Not Using Leg Drive
This is a continuation from my last point. If you are just aiming for chest activation then this may not be applicable. However if you are seeking to move as much weight as possible, using leg drive is key.
Using leg drive will allow you to keep your whole back tight while benching. This will help protect your shoulders.
Longevity is key in the iron game. If you have ever seen someone’s butt come off the bench while pressing, they are using leg drive. Most people would consider this bad form however. It is best to keep your butt fixed in position.
Here is another video by Alan Thrall explaining how it is done:
Gripping the Bar Too Wide or Too Narrow
The position of your hands on the bar will vary from person to person due to limb length differences. A wide bar grip will shorten the range of motion but too wide and you risk shoulder pain.
If you grip the bar too narrow then you will be decreasing the tension on the chest muscles and the triceps will take over. The close grip bench press is a fantastic triceps builder but if you are looking to hit the chest then I suggest using a wider grip.
Around just outside shoulder width seems right for most people. Try this and adjust depending on your requirements.
Unracking the Bar Incorrectly
Whether you have a spotter or not there is a right way and a wrong way to unrack the bar. A spotter allows you to save energy with the lift-off which is great. This means you have more to use for the benching part.
If the pins are too low you will have to use more energy during the lift-off. This can result in less reps/weight lifted. When correctly positioned, all you should have to do is extend your elbows to unrack the bar.
I appreciate not everyone can use this information. A lot of bench presses do not come with the option to change the height of the pins. At least if you ever come across one that does you know what to do.
Not Touching Your Chest with the Bar
When performing the bench press the bar should touch your chest, repeat after me.
Not touching the chest is actually dangerous. Sooner or later it will lead to shoulder injury. By not touching the chest often, the bottom portion of the lift is neglected and the shoulders will become tighter. Over time this can build up and lead to imbalances.
Flaring Your Elbows Too Wide
If you want to know how to improve a bench press technique that is broken, this is a big one.
When the bar is touching the chest your elbows should be tucked in at a 45 degree angle approximately. A common mistake is to see guys flare their elbows out wide.
Flaring your elbows is bad for the shoulders and will cause damage long-term. Not only that but it is not a strong position and will lead you to bench pressing less weight.
Lowering the Weight Too High on Your Chest
When benching the weight should actually be lowered to your lower chest. Think of the nipple area.
Lowering the bar to this area will allow you to press the bar back up in a ‘J’ curve motion. The bar should end up over your shoulder joint with your arms extended. This is actually the most efficient bar path and not a straight line like many think.
Lowering the weight to your lower chest and then pushing back towards your face will allow you to lift the most amount of weight. Mechanical tension is very important for muscle growth so this information is not just for guys who want to lift heavy.
Getting Help from Your Spotter
There is nothing wrong with getting help from your spotter. It can be effective when approaching failure or when grinding out the last few reps to overload the muscles.
However these should not be counted as reps you performed on your own. Very often you will see guys claim they can bench 225lbs for 5 reps but they get help on the last 2 reps.
In reality they can only do 3 reps. The other 2 do not count.
If your spotter touches the bar at all then the rep doesn’t count. To make true progress you need to be strict and fair. There is no benefit to fooling yourself by saying you did it all on your own when you did not.
This was ‘How to Improve a Bench Press Technique That Is Broken’ and I hoped you enjoyed today’s post. Use the information in here to increase your bench safely and with confidence. There is no point throwing heavy weight around if it will lead to injury.
Thanks for reading,
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