Fix Your Bench Press

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No upper-body move produces more force than the bench press. So proper form is essential to help you develop your chest and triceps, and also prevent shoulder injuries. Whether you are looking for a PR or want to knock out joint pain, follow these tips to perfect your technique. 

Problem 1: Your Setup Sucks
Walk into any gym and some guys will have their feet way out in front of them while they lower the bar to 90 degrees. Others will be arched so much that their glutes aren't even in contact with the bench, or they won't even touch the ground with their feet, and keep them elevated so there's "no cheating." All of these techniques stray from the goal of developing basic movements aided by biomechanics. Follow this checklist before your first rep: 

  • Feet firmly planted with a knee angle of 90 degrees at most. 
  • A fair arch under low and mid back. Should be able to fit your forearm in the space.
  • Retracted shoulder blades. Use the friction from the bench to "pin" them back. 
  • Eyes are under the bar when it's racked. Choose your target spot on the ceiling and attempt to hit it when you're lifting.
  • The position feels slightly uncomfortable. You should be staying tight everywhere, and it shouldn't feel relaxed. 

Problem 2: You're a Half-Repper
Don't be that guy. It's a cheat method that won't get you anywhere in terms of true strength or even size gain. Make sure you're going all the way down. Some coaches recommend against going lower than a 90-degree elbow bend to prevent shoulder injuries. But proper setup (seen above) will stabilize the shoulder and support a full range of movement. Plus, you won't just be working on tricep lockouts anymore. 


Problem 3: Your Bar Path is Off 
It shouldn't be a straight up and down movement. As you lower the bar, your arm bends and elbows tuck — especially if you're a longer-limbed lifter. Because of that, the best way to create constant support from the arm when pressing the bar away from you would be to press slightly backwards. The contact point of the bar on the torso is around the nipple line. When you finish your lift, however, the bar should be stacked over the shoulder, or very close. That would mean that through the movement, it migrated backwards by a few crucial inches. Practice this path for safety and added strength.
 
Problem 4: The Movement Causes Pain
If full range-of-motion pressing causes shoulder joint pain, one common culprit is an unstable shoulder capsule. To make it stronger and sturdier, focus on the upper back muscles. Your rotator cuff muscles attach on your scapulae (shoulder blade), and pull-oriented exercises that train the upper back are the golden ticket to stabilizing them. Row variations, chin-ups, and reverse flyes are lifts to start with. Also, your upper body strength sessions should have a two-to-one ratio of pulling to pressing moves to prevent injury.

For the Visual Learners
Here's a quick demonstration video that shows you how to master the bench press form.