Boost Your Bench

A step-by-step guide to proper bench-pressing technique.

Courtesy of Weider Health & Fitness

6. UNRACK

Position yourself so you need to move the bar forward no more than a couple of inches, just enough so your reps clear the supports. (Having to reach back to unrack the bar by yourself and then pull it forward drains energy and strength before you’ve even begun your set.) Take the barbell off the supports, ideally with the assistance of a spotter, by slightly straightening your previously slightly bent arms. Throughout the liftoff, keep your shoulders back (don’t bring them up to unrack the weight), chest up, back tensed, spine naturally arched, butt brushing the bench, glutes and legs tensed, and feet firmly on the floor. 

7. HOLD YOUR BREATH

Inhale deeply before each rep. Hold that breath as you lower and raise the bar, and exhale just as you’re locking out each rep.

8. LOWER THE BAR

This is the most important part of the lift because it’ll set up how you press the bar. If your form isn’t right when the bar’s coming down, it’s going to be wrong as the bar goes up (or doesn’t go up). The first thing to know is the bar shouldn’t travel straight down because it shouldn’t travel straight up. Take it down at a slight diagonal angle from your shoulders to your lower chest. (This will be more pronounced after your first rep.)

The second thing we need to focus on is elbow flair versus elbow tuck. Traditionally, bodybuilders bench-pressed with their arms at 90-degree angles to their torsos. Necessarily, they also lowered the bar to their mid- to upper chests. Watch videos or look at photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Franco Columbu benching and you’ll see their arms flaired out perpendicular to their sides. Together that duo possessed four of the best pecs of all time.

Conversely, powerlifters usually tuck their elbows in, aiming for 45-degree angles, though some keep their elbows even closer to their sides—especially if they’re wearing a bench shirt that severely limits mobility. The Arnold and Franco way targets the pectorals by stretching them more, but it also puts shoulder joints in jeopardy. The powerlifting way places you in a safer and probably stronger position but works the chest less. Compromise and go with another widely prescribed number: 75. Keep your arms at approximately 75-degree angles to your torso as you lower the bar.

Keep tight from your hands to your upper back to your glutes to your legs. If anything, you want to get even tighter as the bar descends. Lower the bar under control, but not slowly. Imagine you’re doing an upside-down barbell row. You don’t want to waste any strength on the decent, but you also don’t want the bar to fall out of its groove or descend so fast that it bounces against your chest.

 

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