By Jaime Rice
My last post I discussed my love of the deadlift and explained the difference between conventional and sumo deadlifts. Today I would like to talk about my second love, the Bench Press
I have been bench pressing, in some variation, since I was in college. This is why my upper body is so much more developed than my lower. I was one of those who did not know how to effectively train legs and did not know the benefits of leg training. My poor legs were under trained for years!
I have since learned the error of my ways and corrected it with training legs hard, several times a week. But that is post for another day. Today I will tell you why I absolutely love this exercise and think it is one of the best for upper body strength.
Bench pressing doesn’t just work the chest muscles (pectorals), the shoulders and triceps are involved as well. This is why some will train chest and triceps in the same day. Benching also increases your push power and upper body muscle mass.
Ladies take note; this does not mean you will become a man beast from consistently bench pressing! I am a prime example. I have been lifting for years, I train hard and move heavy weight, yet I am still 120Lbs and wear a size 2.
Ladies do not be intimidated by this exercise. If you can do a push up, you can bench press. Essentially that is all the bench press is, pushing the weight away from your body. As with any exercise, start with low weight until you have proper form.
Just like any other big lift or exercise there are a bunch of variations. There is regular flat bench, decline bench (less stress on shoulders), Incline Bench (upper pectorals and shoulder focus), and dumbbell bench. Today I will discuss the traditional flat bench.
Bench pressing requires less equipment than some lifts. Unless you are a serious lifter, powerlifter, or moving some heavy heavy weight then you will not require any specific equipment. I use wrist wraps when I bench only because I bench three times a week with a lot of volume. The causal lifter should not have to bother with wraps unless they have wrist pain.
Lets get to it!
The flat bench is just that, flat. I’m sure everyone has seen the bench presses in their respective gyms. Usually you will not find a free bench on a Monday because its International Chest day. Not really, but seems everyone trains chest on Mondays. Once you find a free bench press, stake your claim to it and get settled in and ready to bench.
Think of the setup for bench press in terms of taking an athletic stance in basketball or football. The athletic stance is your foundation/base for any movement you make after you take that stance. The setup for bench press is your weightlifting athletic stance, provide you with a strong and solid base.
- Hand positioning. Most bars have markers on them that you can use to get the correct hand positioning. I do not like to go super wide on bench. This will strain your shoulder more and can cause shoulder issues down the road. I suggest slight wider than shoulder width-like a standard pushup width.
- Feet Positioning Feet should be flat on the floor. Some powerlifters arch with their toes touching but unless you are a competitive powerlifter then there is no need to have an excessive arch with only toes touching. I suggest feet flat on the ground, toes pointed out. This will look different for each person depending on body size. This will provide a solid base and allow you to drive with your with during the lift.
- To Arch or not to Arch– Some think arching is strictly for powerlifting but I disagree. The arch will help stabilize your back and spine. Now you do not have to exaggerate it like a powerlifter, but a slight arch will help keep your base strong. The key to the arch is to keep your booty and upper back on the bench the entire time. This allows you to drive with your feet. I have noticed a significant difference in my bench when I incorporated the arch. I no longer felt like my chest was the only body part utilized. Having the proper base from your feet up allows you to use your entire body to move the bar.
4. Abdominal Bracing– I mentioned abdominal bracing in the deadlift post, but it is essential in the bench press. Correct breathing is just as important in lifting weights as it is in running. You want to take a deep breath before you unrack the bar. After the bar is unracked, let the breath out and take another deep breath before you lower the bar. Breathing correctly helps stabilize your spine and strengthens your base.
5. BENCH! Below is a video of me demonstrating flat bench. The first part is with minimal back arching, what a nonpowerlifter or causal lifting bench press should look like. The second is more pronounced arch indicative of powerlifting. You will see my feet are flat on the floor, booty and shoulders stay on the bench during the entire lift. I take a deep breath prior to lifting the bar off the rack and then another deep breath just before I lower the weight.
I have also included Layne Norton’s Bench press Tutorial below. He does an excellent job in breaking down the bench press. Happy Benching!