Beginner's Guide to the Bench Press

STACK Expert Daniel Payseur offers beginners (and experienced lifters) three valuable tips on improving their Bench Press.

You've probably heard it a million times: "What'cha bench?" Bench pressing is the ultimate measuring stick in the weight room, and it's the best exercise for upper-body muscle growth, power development and strength. Every sport needs all of these attributes in some fashion.

How can you take your Bench Press to the next level? This question is often posed by athletes who don't have a lot of technical experience. Although you might have performed the Bench Press for years, you still might be making some novice mistakes. Here are three technique tips you need to be aware of to develop a serious Bench.

1. Maintain a strong arch in your back

Dumbbell Bench Press

When they built the aqueducts, the ancient Romans knew that an arch was a strong support structure—it could support a lot of weight and not cave under the load. Similarly, with the bench, arching your back allows you to support more weight and reach higher PRs.

Arching your back while bench pressing creates a kinetic chain, in which you link multiple active muscles in sequence to perform one stronger movement. When you arch your back, you drive your feet into the ground, activating your lower-body musculature. The erector spinae of your lower back and the latissimus dorsi of your upper back contract to create the arch. Your lats, specifically, create a stronger shoulder joint to facilitate a much stronger push through a concept called co-contraction, which makes the joint stable and essentially locks everything into place.

Finally,  arching your back creates a shorter distance for the bar to travel. When you arch your back, you lift your rib cage higher. Because the end range of motion of the Bench Press is where the bar touches your chest, lifting your chest lessens the distance the bar has to travel. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that moving heavy weight a short distance is easier than moving it a long distance.

Is it OK to arch your back ridiculously high? We'll leave that for the powerlifters. However, it is OK to arch your back a few inches off the bench to create that needed tension in your body.

2. Punch the bar

Barbell Bench Press

The Bench Press has a distinct sticking point. Anyone who benches has felt that point when the bar leaves their chest, travels a few inches and won't move any farther. The sticking point is often the one thing keeping you from a new PR. But how do you get past it? It all comes down to attitude. When benching, try punching the bar off your chest. The harder you punch, the faster the bar will move. If you can create bar speed, you can accelerate the bar past your sticking point and into lock-out territory. A lot of times, simply trying to be in control and making sure technique is correct can be detrimental. Control the bar down, then summon your inner Mike Tyson and punch that bar off your chest like a madman.

3. Bar path

Bench Press with spotter

Proper bar path can do wonders for your bench. Watch other people as they bench. It's almost guaranteed that the better bench pressers move the bar in a slight J-shape. The bar should touch your body at the base of your chest, just below the nipples. As you press up, the bar should not move in a straight line. It should press out and slightly up, in the shape of an upside down J. This path gives you the best mechanical advantage over the barbell.


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