As a coach who works with lots of youth athletes, I can tell you that they all want to do the Bench Press—perhaps because it works big upper body muscles like the pecs, deltoids and triceps, or because the “get off me!” pushing motion of the exercise makes them feel empowered and tough. Whatever the reason, the kids get excited about the move. The only problem? Young athletes often perform it incorrectly.
The most glaring issue youths display while benching is lack of control during the movement. This can usually be attributed to poor technique, excessive mobility, or lack of stability. (Read how to Get More From Your Bench Press.)
Technique falters for a number of reasons. Besides using too much weight, instability of the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint or a protracted scapula are among the culprits.
One easy fix? Cue the athlete to squeeze his shoulder blades together (or, if you are the athlete, try to imagine squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades). Another helpful tip is to grip the weight very tightly—this forces the shoulder to be more stable.
Finally, on the downward motion, imagine pulling the weight toward you in a single plane. Thinking about pulling the weight in with your lats during a move with “press” in its name may seem counterintuitive, but trust me, it works. Why? Pulling with the lats helps you maintain the position of the glenohumeral joint—especially if you tend to exhibit rounded shoulders. (See Breaking Down The Bench Press.)
Bonus: The tension you maintain while focusing on pulling in as you lower the weight with control (aim for 5 seconds on each down rep) will help you progress to using heavier weight over time.
If an athlete’s shoulder is coming forward during his reps, or his elbows are splaying during the movement, there are a few ways you can help. First, you can physically cue the athlete to stop the motion before the anterior portion of his shoulder “juts” forward over his chest. Or, you can provide physical feedback by placing your hand where his elbow should stop after a full-range-of-motion rep.
If those techniques don’t work, have the athlete try performing the Bench Press from the floor (also known as a Floor Press). With this adjustment, he has no option but to stop at the bottom of the lift.
Whatever approach you try, the object is to control technique for a range of motion that best suits your athlete and his or her individual shoulder mechanics.
Lack of Strength
Youth athletes often lack sufficient stability to perform exercises like the Bench Press correctly. In this case, you can develop their stability by placing them in an unstable position, like performing the movement on a Swiss Ball or with one dumbbell. (Make sure they use light weights, of course.) I like to think of it as encouraging stability by facing instability. (Need help increasing your strength? Try 5 Tips to Increase Your Bench Press Max.)
The One-Dumbbell Bench Press challenges the rotary stability of the core. The athlete may feel like he or she will fall off one side of the bench. The only way he or she can respond is by tightening up the glutes, quads, and other lower limb muscles. It changes the Bench Press from an upper-body lift to a total body lift.