Original Post written by Austin Nicoson, Certified Personal Trainer in Houston, TX
Bench pressIf you’ve ever researched how to add size or definition to your chest, you already know the first thing that pops up is the barbell bench press.  The problem is, most people naturally perform the barbell bench press incorrectly! Or at the very least, they don’t perform it optimally.
As a fitness coach, I see this particular movement performed worse than almost all others (except maybe squats, but that’s for another day). So I’m gonna break down the bench press into 5 easy steps to ensure you’re minimizing risk of injury, getting the most power output, and activating the right muscle fibers to build that almighty, sculpted chest!

#1: Change Your Thinking

First off, calling it a bench “press” is actually a bit of a misnomer. If we take a moment to analyze the anatomy of the chest musculature, you’ll see that the muscle fibers actually run laterally (somewhat diagonally) from your sternum over to your humerus, aka upper arm. Which means, the chest “press”  is more of a chest “squeeze”. In addition, since we know our chest fibers attach to our upper arm (humerus) it’s beneficial to think about squeezing your elbows in towards your chest and forget about your forearm/hands. Your chest only controls from your elbow-up!

#2: Plant Your Feet Below Your Knees

I’ll often see people bringing their knees up from the floor, as if they’re about to bust out a set of abdominal crunches. Planting your feet flat and firmly on the ground is a fundamental block in the solid chain of energy you’re trying to create. Your lifts should always begin with you driving your feet into the ground, forcing you to dig your shoulder blades deeper into the bench, thus efficiently propelling the bar off your chest. 

#3: Retract Your Shoulder Blades

It’s extremely important to retract your shoulder blades and keep your back musculature flexed as you’re setting up for your bench. Any loose points, such as feet off the floor, loose legs, or your back muscles being relaxed, will result in an immediate loss of energy and sequential power with your lift. And don’t go crazy with the arch in your lower back. The small arch is primarily a result of locking in your legs (flexed) with your feet beneath your knees, indicating a solid kinetic chain in your lower extremity. An overly-excessive arch can cause serious back problems, particularly in your lumbar region.

weights#4: Keep Your Wrists Locked!

Start by placing the bar in the lower part of your hand, directly above where your forearm (radial/ulna bones) forms a joint with your hand. Having the bar placed any higher results in a bent wrist (quite painful) and a loss of direct energy from your chest to the bar. It’s also important to grip the bar tight. Your forearms will remain flexed and sturdy, resulting in a more powerful lift

#5: Keep Your Elbows At 45 Degrees

You NEVER want to let your elbows drift out to 90 degrees when you’re bench pressing. Not only do you lose a tremendous amount of energy from your chest, but you put your entire shoulder joint in a compromised position. Instead, keep your elbows slightly tucked, roughly 45 degrees from your chest. If you recall how the direction the muscle fibers of your chest run (diagonally), you can see how having your elbow at more of a diagonal angle from your body will allow the fibers to shorten along their natural direction, resulting in more activation and strength output.
After un-racking the bar directly above your upper chest, think about lowering it at a slight angle towards the bottom of your chest. And pay particular attention to your forearms, you want to ensure they remain perpendicular to the floor throughout the entire movement. Any excessive leaning of your forearms forward or back will result in loss of energy.

Wrapping it all up…

So there you have it, 5 simple steps to improving your bench press.
It may seem like a lot to remember, but just take it slow, and perform numerous repetitions with light weight to really ingrain the movement pattern. If you’ve been neglecting one (or several) of these steps, I’m willing to bet you’ll see immediate improvement in not only the weight you’re able to handle, but in how well the movement feels, which is what’s most important.
Happy benching, comrades!

Contact Austin today to schedule a free personal training session. If you are looking to lose weight, build muscle, or improve your overall quality of life, a RightFit Personal Trainer will help you set and achieve your health and fitness goals.