For most lifters, chest day is the most sacrosanct of gym sessions. And the Bench Press is to chest day what adamantium is to superhero Wolverine. Few moves are more integral to strength and size. Whether the thought of benching pumps you with excitement or fills you with trepidation, one fact remains: there's every chance you've been doing it wrong all along.
Most people have technique flaws during the Bench Press. The most important moves are often the easiest to get wrong. But if you're serious about your physique, if you want to develop formidable upper-body power and thick, visible pecs, you need the bench on your side. I'm here to help you master it.
If nothing else, proper technique protects you from harm. It also happens that perfect benching posture promotes the biggest gains. Internalize these 7 technique pointers and your pecs will thank you for it.
1. Set Your Legs
It's easy to concentrate too much on your chest and arms when bench pressing. If you watch people at the gym, you'll either see their feet tapping the floor, their legs up on the bench (presumably to target their "core") or their legs flailing around like an Irish dancer. If you are one of these people, the only way to get the most from a Bench Press is to dig your feet into the floor, hard. This gives you a solid foundation.
Set your feet firmly on the floor, tense your quads, squeeze your glutes and concentrate on tightening up your body as a whole. A Bench Press isn't designed to strengthen your core or build abs. Many other exercises are better for that. A solid foundation will give you the benefits you seek and what you need to build a killer Bench Press.
2. Get a Grip
When most people grip the barbell, they tend to grab it high in their palms—and some around their fingertips. Both of these grip errors contribute to a lack of development which might be frustrating you, and they can even lead to an injury in the long run. Time to switch up your grip.
Next time you lift, grip the barbell deep in the palm of your hand. Keep your wrists bent slightly throughout your set and you'll soon begin to see real benefits.
3. Focus On Your Goals
What are you aiming for? If you are training to have a big barbell Bench Press, then this movement is very important. If you are training primarily for chest development, then working on an incline or slight incline can be more beneficial than flat work. If chest development is your goal, use a slight incline and the progress template below. If progress halts, switch to a flat bench and roll with this until progress slows down. Variations ensure progress is consistent. But it is crucial to track your loads and stick to the format mentioned.
4. Progress Each Week
Going to the gym every week and lifting the same weight is a surefire way to plateau. To progress, you need to consistently increase the stimulus. This requires progressive overload, meaning lifting more weight over time. Plan this progressive overload to maximize results and easily bust past sticking points in your progress.
A great way to do this is by cycling your reps. Start in week 1 by lifting 5x6 with a weight you can rep 8 times for one set. In week 2, go 5x5 with a slightly heavier weight. The next week, lift 5x4 with a slightly heavier weight than the previous week. In week 4, go back to 5x6, but use the weight you used in week 2. This format will give you steady gains and progressive overload.
5. Get Past the Bouncer
I don't mean the guy guarding the door. I'm referring to a common mistake people make when bench pressing, especially if they are not familiar with the exercise. The problem comes on the downward part of the rep. Many people "bounce" the bar off their chest. It may feel like you're doing it properly, but you're cheating yourself, because you're generating momentum to lift the bar rather than using just your muscles. It can also be problematic, especially if the bar slips or you drop the weight suddenly.
If you find yourself doing this, the weight is probably too heavy. Lower the weight to the point where you can touch the barbell to your chest comfortably. If you are going for power and strength, pause for a second before pushing it back up.
6. ROM to the MAX
ROM stands for "range of motion" and, like many things in life, size is important. The larger range of motion you have, the greater the promotion of muscle and strength gains you'll feel. This is much more advantageous than pushing yourself to lift weights that are simply too heavy for you. You may see people lowering the barbell by only an inch or two each rep. This happens because they have too much weight on and their ROM is consequently reduced.
When you're bench pressing, get the bar as close to your chest as you possibly can. If it's just touching it, even better. You should be doing this every time. To bring your shoulders into play, try using a board or do floor presses to shorten the ROM naturally. This is better than artificially truncating it with weight that is too heavy.
7. Give It The Elbow
The way you use your elbows has a huge impact on the effectiveness of the exercise. If you find your elbows splaying out to the sides, you're putting an awful amount of stress on your shoulders and joints. That never ends well. Also, it alters the pathway of the bar, decreasing the distance the weight has to move, so you don't get the full benefit.
If this is happening to you, grasp the barbell with a narrower grip than you normally use. This will help you maintain posture, and your elbows will stay closer to your sides as the barbell comes down. It's a simple but effective change that can also reduce the risk of injury.
For more information on my training methods, the movies I work on and for advanced training programs customized to your body and lifestyle, head to www.davidkingsbury.co.uk
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock