The Perfect Bench Press

Mj 618_348_the perfect bench press
Massimo Merlini / Getty Images

The bench press is an important move for strength training – when it’s done correctly. But knowing the right form is essential. Here’s how to do it right.

Arch your back a little.
The most glaring bench press mistake is usually keeping the whole back flat against the bench. A bit of back arch is not only safe – it’s recommended. In order to pull the shoulder blades together on the bench, the spine must be arched. This will also elevate the chest, which means the bar’s point of contact will be farther away from the floor than the alternative. That translates to less shoulder stress and a stronger lift.

Keep your arms under the bar.
The second most common mistake when performing the bench press is an improper bar path. As the bar moves, there should always be a part of the arm directly under it to provide support and keep the stress on the muscles, not on the joints. When the bar is in contact with the torso, be sure the elbow is directly beneath it  – not tucked in too far nor flared out too wide. At the top of the lift, the bar should be directly on top of a straight arm over the shoulder, and your arm should be perpendicular to the floor. 

Sweat the small stuff.
Once you have the big parts down – your arms and back –  start paying attention to the smaller movements. 

  • Pull the shoulder blades together, get the chest up, and stay tight. Set your hand position so that your elbow makes a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lift.
  • Be sure that the feet are pulled in tight – your knee angle shouldn’t exceed 90 degrees either. This will allow you to press hard into the floor and apply tension through the whole body.
  • Avoid raising the hips off the bench. You’ll actually be able to have a stronger result by learning to stay tight and in place. 
  • Lower the bar all the way to the chest until it makes light contact around the level of the nipples. If you’re a tall guy or have longer arms, make contact with the bar an inch or two lower on the torso. 
  • Remember to apply a tempo (or rhythm) to your lift. Try counting to two on the way down (the negative rep) and counting to one on the way up (the positive rep). 

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