Here’s a statistic that I just made up…
Approximately 50% of guys bench pressing in your gym are doing it with garbage technique.
OK, so even though I made that up… you KNOW there are a group of guys that go to your gym RIGHT NOW that bench press like morons.
Just being honest.
The only reason it looks like they’re lifting so much is because they’re only pressing a few inches at a time, relying on a ton of momentum, or they’re only one workout away from snapping their shoulders up.
Now, you may not know this, but you don’t have to cheat at the bench press to lift some impressive weight.
That’s why I created this 9-point checklist to explain how I set my body up for this common lift and how you can use this list to improve bench press technique immediately.
Every time I sit down to perform the bench press, I run through these steps every single time.
And… because of these tips, my bench press numbers haven’t stopped climbing.
They will eventually (everything does), but good technique leads to more balanced strength.
1. Tighten the Upper Back and Dig into the Bench
Set yourself up by grabbing the bar with both hands, pulling your back away from the bench, and then tighten it up before lowering yourself back down again.
Think of it this way.
Pretend someone put a tennis ball in the middle of your upper back and you’re trying to grab it with your shoulder blades.
That’s the tightness you should be feeling.
2. Move Your Feet Closer Towards Your Hips to Create a Slight Arch in Your Back
You’re making a huge mistake on the barbell flat bench press if you lay down like you’re about to take a nap.
Don’t just let your legs and flop around however they please because setting up your feet is a big part of creating additional leverage for a strong bench motion.
So, place your feet on the floor, with knees bent, closer towards your hips so that you can actually push on the floor and lift your butt off the bench.
This will create a very sturdy setup when you actually lift the bar off the pins.
3. Space Your Hands on the Bar Around Shoulder Width
You’re gonna have to figure out what grip for bench press that works for you, but when you’re holding the bar and your elbows are locked out, your arms should be making a modest-looking “V”.
If it’s too wide, you won’t be able to move the bar more than a few inches, which is gonna do practically nothing for your muscles.
If it’s too narrow then your triceps and shoulders will be doing all the work.
Find that sweet spot. For me, it’s slightly wider than shoulder width.
4. Let the Bar Rest on the Meaty Part of your Palms
The bar should be resting on the part of your palm that’s directly attached to your wrist.
You’ll find that when you do this, your thumb won’t COMPLETELY wrap all the way around the bar.
…and that’s fine. As long as it goes somewhat around and you don’t make a suicide grip, you’ll still improve bench press technique.
5. Tighten the Quads and Push your Upper Back into the Bench
This technique is typically called “leg drive.”
If you can master this tip, your flat bench barbell press numbers will go through the roof.
Essentially, use your quads to dig your upper back into the bench even more so there’s a firm sense of “tightness” when the bar is moving.
The first few times I did this, my quads were on fire after my session.
After a few sessions, they got used to the setup and the bench press seemed much easier to execute.
6. Unrack the Bar and Slowly Move out Over Your Chest
Don’t let the bar descend just yet.
One thing new lifters don’t realize during the bench press is that unracking the bar and doing the first descent are two different movements.
If you just let the bar drop right out of the pins, you’re gonna scare the hell out of your spotter (if you have one) and you might get a bar right in your neck.
That would be bad.
7. Lower the Bar in a Controlled Manner
In a controlled motion, let the bar descend down to your chest.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be slow, but you’re going to use those bench press muscles instead of letting gravity do its thing.
8. Let the Bar Sink into Your Chest (Pause 1 Second) Just Below Your Nipples
Now, what I’m describing here is a “pause bench” technique.
This indicates that when you descend the bar to your chest, that you won’t push it back up to starting position until it’s rested a full second.
The reason it’s a good idea to do this is because it recruits more muscles in the bottom position and completely removes momentum from the equation.
Overall, it’s better for chest development and improving your skill in the movement.
9. Explode Out of the Bottom Position
Don’t just push that weight up… fuckin’ explode.
Always think that you’re going to explode out of the bottom because research has shown that when you attempt to move the weight FASTER, you recruit more muscles in the movement.
This means… better development and more gains.
So, that’s your 9-point checklist to improve bench press technique, make better upper body gains, and move more weight.
- Tighten the Upper Back and Dig into the Bench
- Move Your Feet Closer to Your Hips to Create an Arch in Your Back
- Space Your Hands Shoulder Width Apart
- Let the Bar Rest on the Meaty Part of Your Palms
- Tighten Your Quads and Push Your Back into the Bench
- Unrack the Bar and Move Out Over Your Chest
- Lower the Bar in a Controlled Manner
- Let the Bar Sink into Your Chest
- Explode Out of the Bottom
Half of it is to get you nice and tight and the other half is to make sure that you don’t kill yourself.
And don’t be bummed if you don’t put all these into practice immediately because I didn’t.
It took me a long time to find the right grip width paired with a tight upper back.
Just make sure you keep at it and eventually your bench numbers will go through the roof.
To your gains,
The featured image is usable under this creative commons license.