The bench press is the most effective pushing exercise for gaining muscle mass and building strength in your upper body. Yet many people fail to make the gains they’re after.
But, you don’t have to ‘go hard or go home’ to get results.
An effective bench press isn’t about how much weight you can stack - it’s about perfect and proper form. Too much weight also means needing a spotter, which makes working out in a local or home gym environment more challenging.
To get the most from your bench presses on your own, train smarter. Focus should be on setup, form and how the lift is executed.
Here are the best bench press tips to benefit from this strength training staple.
Do Bench Presses First in Your Workout
The sequence you perform your exercises in can impact performance.
If you’re doing other weight lifting exercises, muscles will fatigue quicker, resulting in weaker bench presses. Instead, prioritise the bench press first. This also helps to add weight to the bar easier.
Invest in the Right Setup
Proper bench press setup comes down to equipment and how your body is positioned.
First, invest in a good weight bench. The ideal bench should have sufficient back padding, width for proper shoulder support and a well designed frame which is stable and strong. For weights you can choose to use either dumbbells or a barbell. Dumbbells don’t require a rack and allow for a larger range of motion at the top of your press whilst a barbell will allow you to increase and decrease weight easily without having to buy a huge weight range of dumbbells.
The best value way to purchase your set up is in a package complete with rack, bench, barbell and weights. If you’re really looking to invest, a smith machine is also a great investment because it’s versatile and has a built in spotter to keep you safe while lifting heavy weights – no training partner required!
When you’re ready to work out:
- Position your body: Pull shoulder blades into your back. Use entire body to lift and keep core engaged
- Grip the bar: Shoulder width apart with a tight grip
- Position your feet: Push flat against the floor with your feet
- Arch your back: Push chest out and keep feet apart to maintain a natural arch. Keep upper back muscles tensed on bench for stability
- Unrack the bar: Lock elbows out to move bar off hooks. If you have to push your shoulders upward to unrack the bar, it’s set too high
Tip: Use the bar to assume a safe position. Before you begin, lift yourself up off the bench using the bar and settle back, with shoulder blades rolled inwards and downwards towards your hips. Getting straight onto the bench can instinctively lead you to assume a comfortable position, which isn’t always the safest or best.
Strengthen Your Grip
Weak wrists are culprits for bench presses that don’t produce results.
Start by setting your grip right. The bar should be gripped tightly with straight wrists, which encourages optimal force. But watch the width. Too wide puts an excessive amount of stress on your shoulders, too narrow ruins the elbows.
Wrap your thumb around the bar to refine your grip, which also reduces the stress on your wrists. For weak wrists, include strengthening exercises into your workout such as wrist curls, hammer curls and cable wrist rotations. If they’re still hurting, consider wrist straps for extra stability. They’ll help keep your wrist in a straight line to improve on technique.
Use Your Legs
Leg drive is the most underrated component of the bench press.
The bench press is a full-body compound exercise. But because triceps, shoulders and chest are worked the most, attention usually lacks in the legs and feet department.
To improve form and build power and strength, use your legs and position feet directly underneath your hips. Feet and hips should be directly aligned.
‘Press’ your feet into the floor, driving through your heels. Keep glutes and core squeezed to develop that lower body action.
Arch Your Back
The most powerful position to bench from is an arch.
Arching your back shifts the tension to the upper part of your back and traps. It also ensures a neutral spine is maintained and keeps the back protected.
Tip: For strength and safety, contract the scapula whilst arching your back. Otherwise, arms and shoulders will take tension from the chest, which weakens the lift. This can also result in a smaller chest and shoulders vulnerable to injury.
Tuck the Elbows
Never let your elbows become parallel to your shoulders.
Elbow flaring, when they’re 90° out at the bottom of your bench press, will destroy your shoulders. Instead, tuck the elbows at a 45-75° angle, lower than your shoulders. Don’t let them touch your torso.
The most effective bench presses don’t necessarily need a ton of weights. You can still yield the results of a bench press workout through good form and the right techniques for your goals. For more information on how to improve your bench press, contact our team.
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