Boost Your Bench

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

Kevin Horton


Touch the barbell to your lower pecs. Don’t pause. Powerlifters have to do so by rule. But there’s no good reason for you to make your bench presses harder. Touch and go, but never bounce.


Keep your butt on the bench, and drive your feet down, as if to push them through the floor. Simultaneously, press the bar away from you by driving your upper back into the bench. Keep your chest up and your shoulders down. Instead of focusing on the weight’s movement, imagine that you’re pushing yourself away from the barbell, as if doing an upside-down pushup. This will help you stay tight and form the strongest base of strength to propel the bar up. Your upper arms are going to stay at the 75-degree angle. Your forearms should be nearly vertical but angled backward very slightly, and your wrists need to stay straight without your hands bending back.

The reason the bar traveled down at a slight diagonal angle is that it’s going to go up at the reverse diagonal angle from your lower chest to your shoulders. Of course, the shortest path is always a straight line, so it’s rational to assume straight up and down would be the most efficient bench-press route. However, another law of physics alters that first law. This one, involving something called the moment arm, says you want to keep the resistance close to the axis of rotation, which in this case is your shoulder joints. You also want to get the bar over all the involved joints and muscles at the difficult lockout portion of the lift. So even though the movement is a little longer, bringing the bar slightly backward as you lift puts you in the strongest biomechanical position to complete a rep.


The barbell should end its up-and-down journey above your shoulders. Lock out your elbows briefly at the top while maintaining the tension in your body and arch in your spine. (If you have trouble with lockouts, do sets focused on just the final half of reps in a power rack or on a Smith machine.) Don’t pause. As with the touch-and-go at the bottom, lock briefly and go on to your next rep. Or if it’s your final rep, rack the weight and rest up for the next set.