Bench Press Technique: variation for individual build

jca17

More than 300 posts
Hi,
I've been training the benchpress for about 4 months now. I've been around the forum for while, almost exclusively training with kettlebells but recently have access to a gym so I started training with barbells for the first time in my life. I have no pain in the any portion of the movement.
I am not sure about where the bar should touch my torso at the bottom position. I have heard that:
1. the barbell should be vertically over my elbows at the bottom position
2. the barbell should touch somewhere on my sternum at the bottom
3. the upper arms should be about 30-45 degrees out to the side

My issue is that I don't know if all of these conditions can be met with my body shape: so, which pieces are most important? My elbows touch the top of my hipbone when my arms hang down at my side (I think I have proportionally long arms?). Right now I am benching with my pinky on the rings, but if my forearms are vertical under the bar at the bottom, the bar is touching below my sternum, in the upper abdominal area.

Is this fine (as in:safe and effective), just natural variation based on body structure? Or should I try a wider grip and more open arm angle to get the bar to at least hit the bottom tip of the sternum? I have a neutral lower back arch just as a result of lateral arch through the scapula. I don't flatten or increase that arch.

Thanks for your help and your thoughts!
 

Debbie Hayes

SFG Team Leader, SFB, SFL, Iron Maiden, Sinister
Elite Certified Instructor
Hi jca17...it would be great if you could get to a Barbell course. The setup for the bench press is really hammered at the course and the cert! You didn't (forgive me if you did) mention your arch in the set up. When you get into the bench position, you should make a tight arch. Your points of support on the bench press should primarily be your feet and your pinched shoulder blades. Your body will make an arch. You want your eyes directly under the bar, 45 degree elbows. In the bottom of the bench press your forearms should be parallel. I like to put my thumbs on the knurling and open my fingers up then wrap there. Too wide a set up on the bar can stress your shoulders. You should visualize "rowing" the bar to your sternum. You are looking to keep your elbows in and force your chest to the bar. The bar should touch at the bottom of your sternum. Drive with the Lats and push the bar back up in a straight line.
 

jawamac

Double-Digit Post Count
Hi jca17...it would be great if you could get to a Barbell course. The setup for the bench press is really hammered at the course and the cert! You didn't (forgive me if you did) mention your arch in the set up. When you get into the bench position, you should make a tight arch. Your points of support on the bench press should primarily be your feet and your pinched shoulder blades. Your body will make an arch. You want your eyes directly under the bar, 45 degree elbows. In the bottom of the bench press your forearms should be parallel. I like to put my thumbs on the knurling and open my fingers up then wrap there. Too wide a set up on the bar can stress your shoulders. You should visualize "rowing" the bar to your sternum. You are looking to keep your elbows in and force your chest to the bar. The bar should touch at the bottom of your sternum. Drive with the Lats and push the bar back up in a straight line.
Excellent, Debbie!
 

Andrew Palmer

Triple-Digit Post Count
Hey jca17, I found varying my grip width had a huge effect on bench press form. I used to have my index finger on the rings but that never felt right, benching felt too difficult. I now have my middle finger on the rings on a PL bar and I feel like I have the optimal balance of lat/shoulder/elbow drive out of the bottom and a strong triceps contribution throughout the lift.

I also touch just below my sternum, the top most part of the abs. Forcing the chest out helps also, that is breathing in maximally and maintaining an expanded rib cage.

If you can, get some eyes on your bench press, either have someone view you or video.

The bench press technique I've found most helpful was Ken Fantano's technique I read in Marty Gallagher's book, "The Purposeful Primitive".
 

Arryn Grogan

Triple-Digit Post Count
Elite Certified Instructor
You could post a video for us to take a peek at. ;)

For a long-armed guy, I'd probably have them go wider than pinky finger on the rings. You may experiment with ring or middle finger on the rings. But still look to get around 45 degrees from your torso and your upper arms at the bottom of the press.

Where the bar touches on your chest will be determined by how big of an arch you can create. Someone with a big arch will probably touch just below their sternum. Versus someone with a poor arch or non-existant arch will probably touch low-mid sternum.
 

jca17

More than 300 posts
Alright, @Arryn Grogan , here are two sets from yesterday. I used a pinky on the ring width, so about an inch wider on each side than what I had been using and it felt good. This was my first time at 125lb.


One thing that has been disorienting since training at the office gym this year is that they seem to want to be prepared for using strength in those carnival fun houses. Every direction I look are mirrors and illusions!
 

Antti

More than 2500 posts
One thing that has been disorienting since training at the office gym this year is that they seem to want to be prepared for using strength in those carnival fun houses. Every direction I look are mirrors and illusions!
The mirrors are a pain! When I've been deadlifting at the gym I frequent, I sometimes turn around and away from all the mirrors and stare into the crowd. I'm not sure what the typical gym goer thinks about seeing me turn red and huff and puff and stare at his general direction. And it's also not only about what they think, but the constantly moving things in my field of vision make it about as awkward as looking into the mirror.

I wonder if they'd replace the mirrors if somebody hit a barbell in some by accident...
 

krg

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
No comments on technique but I'm going to be all health and safety on this.

The weight is over you all the time in a bench press and there is no way of bailing out of a rep, this makes it pretty much unique in terms of the lifts (although back squat is pretty similar).

I don't like the idea of benching without safety bars or a spotter. I always bench in a power rack, and insist my son does the same. If I had no safety bars or spotter I would stick to the military press or work way inside my bench limit.

If you have to do it then I have seen people bench with no collars so if they get stuck they can tilt the bar and slide the plates off - would probably get you ejected from a commercial gym in a hurry though.
 

Arryn Grogan

Triple-Digit Post Count
Elite Certified Instructor
Alright, @Arryn Grogan , here are two sets from yesterday. I used a pinky on the ring width, so about an inch wider on each side than what I had been using and it felt good. This was my first time at 125lb.
Not bad. Glad the width experiment felt better for you. I'd focus on pressing the bar as vertically as possible. It looked as though the bar drifted towards your shoulders on the way up. Engaging your lats and "pressing towards your feet" will help your body find that vertical pressing path and keep it off of your shoulders.
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
I'd focus on pressing the bar as vertically as possible. It looked as though the bar drifted towards your shoulders on the way up. .

Bench Press Bar Path

Attempting to lower and push "The bar as vertically as possible" is biomechanically inefficient.

The most efficient Bench Press Bar Trajectory is an arch. Dr Tom McLaughlin's research (Bench Press: Bench press techniques of elite heavyweight powerlifters./National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal . 6(4):44-44, August 1984.) examined the bar path of Novice Lifters and Elite Lightweight and Heavyweight Bench Pressers.

McLaughlin is a former Powerlifter with a PhD in Exercise Biomechanics.

McLaughlin's illustration below identifies the biomechanically most efficient Bench Press Bar Trajectory/Bar Path.



upload_2017-5-19_5-15-43.jpeg

Elite Lightweight and Elite Heavyweight Bar Trajectory


The reason for the differences in the Elite Lightweight and Heavyweight Bar Trajectory (Bar Path) was due to the size of the lifters.

Bridges' height was at best 5'6" and Kazmaier's height was 6'2". Both mean use the maximum grip allowed in Powerlifting, 81 cm/about 32 inches.

Thus, due to Bridges' shorter arms and Kazmaier's longer arms, the biomechanical Bar Trajectory (Bar Path) was somewhat different in the concentric (upward) part of the Bench Press.

Bench Press More Now

McLaughlin examined on the most effective methods for increasing your Bench Press in this book, Bench Press More Now; a brilliant piece of work .

One of the most interesting pieces of information was McLauglin's finding of the evolution of Mike Bridges' (Lightweight World Record Holder Bench Presser) technique over time.

McLaughlin's research found that Bridges' increased the World Record in the Bench Press by slightly modifying the bar trajectory/bar path over time.

Take Home Message

The most efficient method of increasing your Bench Press is to follow the illustration above.

That means the Bar Trajectory (Bar Path) is an arch.

Kenny Croxdale
 
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Kettlebelephant

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Attempting to lower and push "The bar as vertically as possible" is biomechanically inefficient.
Don't want to be nitpicking here, but does it really matter as long as it doesn't lead to injury? For a powerlifter who's goal it is to put up the absolute maximum amount of weight on the bar possible this is very important.
For other people who just want to be stronger or build muscle it shouldn't matter though.
Inefficiency means you get the same results with less weight. For example two runners of the same structure and size. One is an efficient runner, the other is not. If a fast 10K time is the goal the more efficient runner will be at an advantage, because he can go faster (this would be the powerlifter in the bench example), but if it's just about burning calories the inefficient runner can go slower than the efficient one and still burn as much calories (this would be the guy who just wants more muscle/strength without prioritizing max. numbers).
This is all under the assumption that the inefficent movement doesn't lead to injury.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
No comments on technique but I'm going to be all health and safety on this.

The weight is over you all the time in a bench press and there is no way of bailing out of a rep, this makes it pretty much unique in terms of the lifts (although back squat is pretty similar).

I don't like the idea of benching without safety bars or a spotter. I always bench in a power rack, and insist my son does the same. If I had no safety bars or spotter I would stick to the military press or work way inside my bench limit.

If you have to do it then I have seen people bench with no collars so if they get stuck they can tilt the bar and slide the plates off - would probably get you ejected from a commercial gym in a hurry though.

I've shucked 'em off me a few times that way. Usually training on a Sunday morning, the only other person in the gym is a hungover guy napping on the preacher curls and the music is too loud for him to hear "Can I get a spot over here!" directed at the ceiling from across the room as the bar tattoos a knurl pattern into my sternum.

As far as the OP, form is not bad. I'd say do a lot more reps at lower weight. Strip the bar and pretend its the weight of your fridge coming down. Slow down, slow up, and repeat for a bunch of reps, a dozen or twenty. I used to do this every time prior to benching. This visualization made a big difference in my press mechanics. If you don't like the exact hand placement, position under the pegs etc, change it now. You will probably change all of these several times a small amount as your weights increase and your form dials in anyway, but get comfortable to start.

Likewise the trajectory of your press is going to change a little over time - I agree with kennycro it is and will be an arc, but mentally drive it straight at the ceiling. Keep your focus on how it is balancing in your hands and you'll find the path that is the best fit for your skeleton and musculature.

I am (was) a bit unorthodox with my benching style as I used to pull my knees up and cross my shins at the ankle - a method adopted from a friend I used to train with who had a bad back - contact only at the small of the back and dead across the shoulder blades. This may have held my numbers down a bit but I honestly don't think so. It does help the upper pecs contribute more to the lift. Also I did not wrap my thumbs under the bar but kept them lined up with my fingers, bar resting on my palms.

Anyway, form is not bad at all just needs more mental programming. Forearms parallel at the bottom, exact placement for this is partly dependent on how far out you are comfortable having your elbows. Get comfortable.

Martin
 
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North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
A last thought, the comments re having a spot are dead on. Without a good spotter you will never get anywhere near your potential in bench press. If you don't have one or don't trust the pool of possibles, you might want to switch to dumbbell benchpress.
 
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kennycro@@aol.com

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Don't want to be nitpicking here, but does it really matter as long as it doesn't lead to injury? For a powerlifter who's goal it is to put up the absolute maximum amount of weight on the bar possible this is very important.
"Technique Is Everything

As you stated, it primarily matters for Powerlifters and individual who want to push up more weight.

Thus, practicing the movement with near max load with 85% for 1 - 2 Repetition per set is necessary.

For other people who just want to be stronger or build muscle it shouldn't matter though.
Yes and No

Let's look at some of the prime factors that...

Increase Strength and Size

Research shows one of the major components of increasing Strength and/or Size involves constantly varying exercise from different angles.

"Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength."
Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength. - PubMed - NCBI

Out of the four training protocols tested, the two that increased Strength were those in which exercises were varied. Training Cycle Example: Cycle 1d: Bench Press, Cycle 2: Incline Press, etc.

McLaughlin addressed this is Bench Press More Now.

The foundation of Louie Simmons' Westside Training Program is built on this, as well.


Dr Michael Zourdos' Research

It demonstrated that in conjunction with varying exercises, Strength was optimized when Hypertrophy, Power and Strength Training was employed in an individual's weekly training program.

Inefficiency means you get the same results with less weight. For example two runners of the same structure and size. One is an efficient runner, the other is not. If a fast 10K time is the goal the more efficient runner will be at an advantage, because he can go faster (this would be the powerlifter in the bench example), but if it's just about burning calories the inefficient runner can go slower than the efficient one and still burn as much calories...
Good Point

Any new movement require more energy, calories being burned. Exercise plays a role in burning; providing a synergistic effect when it come to fat loss/weight loss.

However, exercise role with increasing caloric expenditure is minimal.

The most effective method of increasing calorie expenditure is a diet that focuses on a Calorie Deficit.


...(this would be the guy who just wants more muscle/strength without prioritizing max. numbers).
We Back to Yes and No

This a grey area.

Training for Strength is different than training for Size.

Increasing the inefficiency of an exercise can be an effective method.

The key is determining the objective. Then writing the right training program.

Kenny Croxdale
 
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kennycro@@aol.com

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
...mentally drive it straight at the ceiling.
Mental Cueing

A lifter interested in developing technique for the Bench Press (any movement) needs to mentally focus on preforming the movement correctly.

The correct Bar Path technique is an arch. That means visualization prior and during the Bench Press should focus moving the bar in an arch rather than driving the bar "straight at the ceiling."

Some individuals, such as myself, are more kinesthetic than visual. Rather than mentally visualizing the correct movement, we feel the correct movement.

When your technique is spot on, the bar feels like it's gliding up; like it's on rails in a Smith Machine.


Keep your focus on how it is balancing in your hands and you'll find the path that is the best fit for your skeleton and musculature.
"Keep your focus on how it is balancing in your hands..."

This is a good example related to learning to feel (kinethetic) when it's right.

Kenny Croxdale
 
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Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
@Kettlebelephant, IMHO, there is a use for inefficient training - I particularly like it for ballistics and for working on body composition. But for strength, if the goal is to become strong, then the goal should be to become as strong as possible, and there's no reason to BP 295 when you're capable of 315 if you take a different route with the bar. One of the reasons for heavy training of grinds is to find that right groove for yourself. And becoming as strong as possible doesn't mean testing yourself every training session, but it does mean testing yourself from time to time to see if your training is advancing you towards your goal.

I will concede your point that not everyone trains with a goal in mind other than "stay in shape" but, IMHO, people who train with a goal stay in _better_ shape, and are happier.

JMO, YMMV.

-S-
 

Kettlebelephant

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
@Steve Freides
I'm with you that I too would want to bench 315 instead of 295. What I wanted to say is that even tough you only have 295 on the bar with an inefficent path your body and muscles still work as hard as pressing 315 with an efficient path. You are still as strong!
If A has a bigger bench than B that doesn't necessarily mean A is stronger than B. It just means that A has a bigger bench than B.
The reason for that can be e.g. that A has a more efficient barpath.
If you don't compete e.g. in powerlifting or oly where the numbers you put up actually matter, it doesn't matter if you bench 295 with an inefficient path or 315 with an efficient path, because your body is as strong as it is.
I might step into the territory of philosophy here, but stronger doesn't mean higher number.
I hope everyone understands what I'm saying here.
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
Eh, we now get into the slippery slope of, "If you have better technique, are you stronger?" It sounds to me like you're arguing no to this question, and I don't agree with that. More weight is more weight, and technique is part and parcel of strength. Strength does mean a higher number, IMO.

-S-
 

Kettlebelephant

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Eh, we now get into the slippery slope of, "If you have better technique, are you stronger?" It sounds to me like you're arguing no to this question, and I don't agree with that. More weight is more weight, and technique is part and parcel of strength. Strength does mean a higher number, IMO.
I don't disagree but also don't agree with you. Yes technique is a part of strength, but you still can't measure strength in numbers IMO. Of course this is all opinion based and it's good that there are different opinions.
Maybe we should come back to the original topic and because of that I'll just leave a last example:

Take two people, A and B...
A benches more than B.
B kicks As butt in a fight.
A has a bigger back squat than B.
Bs deadlift is higher than As.
A can push a car 100m faster than B.
B can shop down a tree faster than A.
These are all things or events we associate with the term "strength", but between the two who is stronger?
Many would say both are equally strong. Powerlifters might say A, because out of the three powerlifts A is stronger in two or they decide based on the total of all three lifts. Fighters might say B. Average people also might say B, because he won the fight (especially kids decide who is the "strongest" by looking at who's the one who can beat up all the others).
In my opinion you can't say that one is stronger and you can't say they are equally strong. All you can say is that...
A has a bigger bench & squat and is better at car pushing
B is the better fighter, has a bigger DL and is better at shopping down trees.
 
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