Just Learn How To Bench

17 Aug Just Learn How To Bench

6271157Everyone wants to know how much you bench press.  Are you sure you even know how to bench press though?  Most people don’t realize how much is involved.  Follow these steps to put pounds on this seemingly easy lift.


Just Learn How To Bench

I just returned from a powerlifting meet and I thought I would take some time to rant about something.  People who say they can’t get a stronger bench press annoy me.
The people who say this annoy me not because I think they aren’t working hard enough, but instead because they have no idea what the hell they’re doing.

What’s the first thing people usually ask if you look like you occasionally lift weights? I’ll bet it’s “How much do you bench?”

Let me make something clear, if your purpose in bench pressing is completely just to develop muscle, this article won’t be much use to you.  If you actually care about what you’re lifting though, this is exactly what you need to read.

If you’re an athlete and your coach cares about how much you bench press –which most I’ve met do- then this is for you too. If you just want to impress women and scare little children with the weight you are lifting, this also for you.

I’m going to present to you the powerlifting method of bench pressing.   Now just because it is the “powerlifting method” doesn’t mean it isn’t good to learn for other sports or purposes.

I’m going to take you through each step to building a better bench press and then I’m going to put myself on display by showing videos of my last powerlifting competition.  I’ll then explain what I did wrong and what I did right.
I’m not worried about showing you my mistakes because I want you to see that I am still a student and will remain one for the rest of my career.  To become an expert you have to constantly be striving to improve even your smallest link.

So without further rambling, the following is an organized checklist to building a better bench press that I’ve developed from reading from and lifting with some of the best powerlifters and strength training coaches in the world.

Change your Mindset

The first thing you have to realize is that the bench press is a full body lift.  Your legs, back and core have as much to do with you lifting that new PR as your chest, shoulders, and triceps.  In fact, learning this might be the key to blast though plataeus in your strength gains.

If you get this you’re on your way.

Set your back

This is arguably the most important step.  There’s a lot of ways to teach this but I’ll just tell you what has worked for me.

1. Pretend someone has stuck a pencil between your scapulae (shoulder blades) and told you to hold it there.

2.  Now that you are squeezing the pencil, try to bring your scapulae down as much as possible.  Make the opposite motion of a shoulder shrug.   If you feel extremely uncomfortable, you know you are in the right position.

3. Lay back on the bench , still with you back tight, and put your feet on the bench.  Push your heels into the bench raising your butt and lower back off the bench so that the only two areas in contact with the bench are your feet and your upper back.

4. Remember how it feels to have all that pressure on your upper back because that is how it is supposed to feel when you set your feet on the floor and get ready bench press.

Why do this?

When you bench press you want to think of pushing your back into the bench rather than thinking of pushing the bar away from you.  The bar is just there to help you push yourself into the bench.  This makes you involve your back a great deal more in the lift rather than just using your chest and arms.
The more you incorporate the back, the better the bench press.   Don’t believe me? Look at the massive size of the backs of the best bench pressers in the world.

Set your Feet

Once you learn to keep you back tight, you have to learn to position your feet on the floor in such a way that you feel the same pressure on your upper back that you previously felt.

1. Sit down on the bench and set your feet behind your knees placing them as far back towards the top of bench as possible without hurting yourself.

2. At this point the only part of your foot that will be in contact with the ground will be your toes.  That is unless you have attained fantastic hip flexibility from your new advanced interpretive dancing class.

Disclaimer: There are certain sporting events/powerlifting federations that do not allow you to lift with your heels off the ground.  I’m assuming that you will use this method to develop your maximal strength.  I am not giving you technique points for organized tests such as the 225 lb bench press test.

3. Reset your upper back and let yourself fall back on the bench. Notice how far back my feet are.



1. Your heels will not be on the ground.  Don’t worry, its fine just make sure that your legs are really tight and flexed.  This means that if Chuck Norris comes along side you and Roundhouse kicks the side of your leg it will not budge.

That’s right you are now on Chuck Norris’ level.

Why do this?

Pulling your feet back will set you up for the next step.  A little anti-climactic eh?


Once you lay down on the bench, you want to keep your feet and legs from moving until the end of the lift.  You are now going to try to bring your shoulders/upper back towards your butt.

1. Keeping your legs set and your back tight, use the bar or the posts of the bench press to work your body into this position.

2. You are going to basically fold your body and arch your lower back up and off of the bench.  If the top of your butt comes off of the bench it is alright as long as some of it is still in contact with it.

3. Work yourself into this position until you feel that same pressure on your back as you felt when your feet where on the bench.

4. Before you attempt heavy weight in this position, practice with light weight, get a good weight belt, and learn about bracing techniques.  More about that later.

Why do this?

This decreases your range of motion.  You are meeting the bar with your body instead of just the other way around.  This is why you pull your feet back as far as you can.  It allows for you to arch up even higher.  The objective is to push your stomach up and keep your chest up while driving your back into the bench as hard as you can.

This also helps set you up to tuck your elbows better.  I’ll explain that in a bit.  I’m all about the suspense today.

Grip the bar

There is more to this than most think.

1. Make your grip as wide as comfortably possible.  Most people bench with their hands way too close together.  A wider grip decreased once again decreases range of motion and allows you to tuck your elbows better.

2. Wrap your hand firmly around the bar and yes this includes your thumb.  I don’t care how long you have used a thumbless grip.  Chances are you are doing it the wrong way anyway and if you want a bigger bench press you have to use everything you got.

This means using your forearm muscles.  How do you activate them? Well, by gripping the bar with your whole hand and squeezing the crap out of it.

3. Squeeze the crap out of the bar.  I know I repeated myself.  I felt it needed repeating.  Think about trying to crush the bar in your hand.

4. Think about trying to pull the bar apart and bending it in your hands.  This will help you use your back and your triceps more during the lift.

Why do this?

Already explained it.

Lowering the Bar/Tucking

This is where tucking comes into the picture.  All of the best bench pressers tuck their elbows when they lower the bar.

1.  Make sure you’re in good position and start lowering the bar towards below your chest line.
You want to aim for just below your sternum.  The low bar position allows better elbow tucking and can help back involvement in the lift.

2.  Push your chest/stomach up towards the bar and meet it.

3. Tuck you elbows as close to your body as possible.  Ideally you want your elbows to almost scrape against your lats on the way down.

4. Resist the urge to let your elbows flare.  This will cause you to touch the bar high on your chest.

Why do this?

Benching this way saves your shoulders because there is more tricep and back involvement.  It allows you to drive you back against the bench and decrease your range of motion to bench more weight.

Breathing/Bracing your core

If done properly, breathing and core bracing techniques can make a world of difference in the amount of weight that is lifted.
There is more to this than I’m going to cover right now but if you are interested, check back on the blog for a completely detailed post on this.
The short version follows these steps:

1. Learn the Valsalva maneuver.
Do not use the Valsalva until you have not seriously researched it or have been taught it by a qualified individual.  Also, do not use it if you have any heart or blood pressure issues.

2. Forcefully push your belly out against the weight belt you are using as hard as possible.

Why do this?

This creates intra-abdominal pressure which in turn helps you stabilize your trunk.  What’s this mean for you? You guessed it more weight on your PR.

This stabilization also protects your low back while arched into that extreme position.


So finally you’re in the correct position, you’ve lowered the bar, and you’re ready to finally press the damn weight.  I just got a couple more things for you to remember.

1. Keep your elbows tucked as much as possible while you press.

2. Attempt to press your heels against the ground.  If your feet are pulled back that far you won’t come close.  That’s not the point. Make the motion and flex your legs as hard as you can.

Why do this?

This turns the bench press into a complete total body lift.  Although you’re toes are probably the only thing touching the ground, you are still using the reaction force from the ground and the leverage of your legs/trunks to press the weight up.

Now I know that I said I would show you what I did right and wrong from my last two competitions but this post is already way too long so you’re going to have to wait until the second part.

Have any opinions or questions about the bench press?  Leave them in the comments.  I promise it’s coming soon.

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