My Top 5 Bench Press Tips
Here's a quick discussion of my favorite bench press tips and cues. Try them out and let me know what you think!
1.) Set Up-
While setting up for your bench press, there are a few things you should keep in mind. For starters, you want to make sure that your set up is consistent across all sets and reps, just like with any other lift. There are lots of different ways to set up for bench press, but they have a few things in common:
digging the top of your shoulders into the bench
setting your butt on the bench at a point as close to your shoulders as possible (creating the arch)
placing the feet flat on the floor in a position that allows for good quad drive. Even if you are a USPA lifter, I maintain that benching with flat feet and employing good leg drive will get you a stronger bench in the long run.
hands are placed on the bar at a distance that is optimal for YOUR levers and strengths. Maxing out grip width is NOT the best choice for everyone. Many very strong benchers use a closer grip. Find the grip that works for you, and use it!
Arching is a controversial topic among lifters. Here's my explanation of how to do it and why it's perfectly safe.
2.) Speaking of quad drive:
I chose the term quad drive carefully here. There should be a specific technique to using your legs. If you just blindly drive with the legs, you will probably waste a lot of extra energy that isn't going towards driving the bar up and back. You may also pop your hips up off the bench if you are driving with the hips too much.
To solve this problem, think about the system as a whole: we want the force coming from the legs to translate through the spine to the chest and arms to drive the bar up (and back, slightly). So it makes sense that rather than driving the hips up, we want to drive backwards (towards your head) with the legs. Think about trying to extend your knee with your feet planted on the ground, as if you are pushing yourself backwards on the bench.
Here's a video explanation for my visual learners:
3.) Bring your chest to the bar:
It can be difficult to keep your upper back tight with a lot of weight in your hands. My coach, Brian Minor, taught me a great cue to help with this, so I am passing it along. As you bring the bar down to your chest, think about trying to bring your chest up to meet the bar. This will help you maintain tightness, and will often help you hold and even increase your arch. If you struggle with extending your arch into your thoracic spine, this cue is a great starting place!
4.) Control the descent:
In my Fix Your Squat series, we talked about optimal descent speeds. Let's apply the same concepts here:
a slow and controlled bar descent is optimal for benching, as it allows the lifter to maintain tightness while cashing in on the added benefits of stored elastic energy in the musculature involved.
"dropping" the bar straight to your chest results in a loose and unstable base of support, and often knocks the lifter out of his or her arch. Now the lifter must try to recover their position AND bench the weight.
5.) Take your own hand-off:
There are lots of opinions on this one. I'm sharing what works best for myself and many lifters I know, and I'll give you my reasons.
Consistency: I train by myself often, which means I don't have anyone to lift off for me, or at least not someone whom I trust to give me a good lift-off. Getting used to my own lift-off allows me to use a consistent set up across all bench sessions and workouts.
Getting a feel for the weight: Taking your own lift-off allows you to get a bit of a feel for the weight you're about to bench before you actually have to bench it, allowing your CNS to prepare for the level of muscle fiber recruitment necessary to lift the weight. Have you ever tried to pick up a box thinking it was heavy when it was actually light? Your body probably recruited way more resources than it actually needed, and you ended up off balance. Same thing can happen in the opposite situation. If you think something is going to be light, but it ends up being heavier than expected, it can completely throw you off. If your spotter is holding most of the weight during the hand off, and then they let go and it's not what you expected, you're going to be surprised and left scrambling.
No need to rely on bad spotters at local meets: If you've competed in a few local meets, you probably already know that not all spotters are created equal. Sometimes you get someone great, and sometimes you get someone who yanks you out of the set up you worked so hard to perfect. We love our volunteers and are so thankful for their help, but...Taking your own hand-off eliminates this issue completely.
Try out a few of these tips in your next bench workout, and let me know what you think! As always, shoot me an email if you have questions!