Using Lats in bench press and bar path


Triple-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
In the SFL manual it talks about driving the weight off your chest by doing a lat spread (of sorts).

This seems very counter intuitive to me, as surely that means you'd be losing your upper back tightness.

Can anyone explain?

Also, in the manual it says to push the bar back up in a straight line. But if you are bringing elbows to 45 degrees, how is this possible? The bar shifts down below the sternum.

Arryn Grogan

Triple-Digit Post Count
Elite Certified Instructor
You can get the lats to create a shelf for you to press off of by having an arch and by "ripping the bar apart". Next time you bench, just before the descent of each press, try to rip the bar apart. You should feel your lats tighten and your shoulders stabilize without losing tension in your upper back.

The bar will travel in a mostly straight line. The idea is to avoid having such an arc that the bar ends up over your shoulders at the top of the press. I recommend attempting to press as straight as you can.

Arryn Grogan

Triple-Digit Post Count
Elite Certified Instructor
Straight line or vertical line?
I would suggest that the bar should move in a straight and mostly vertical line. Even if it is higher on your torso (if you drew a line straight down from the bar to your chest) than it is at the bottom of the press, IMO the bar should travel on a diagonal line, not an arc.


Triple-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
Ok thanks, but it sounds like you're just describing how to get tight?

In the SFL manual they are talking about using the lats in such a way to get some drive off the chest.

"With 135 on the bar, practice using your lats to drive the weight off your chest, you do this by initiating a lat spread of sorts at the bottom of the lift"

There is also another quote which says "As you press, squeeze your pecs together by flaring your lats"

I'd like to learn this.
I think you're using the load at the bottom as a brace against which to flex the lats. You can sort of mimic this by leaning against the edge of a table with elbows more than 90° bent and just do a lat flex.

IDK about "squeezing the pecs by flaring the lats", but definitely having the load at the bottom allows for the lats to engage. The higher the load - the more past the midline of the body the elbows travel- the less they will have a good angle on the upper arms to contribute, but at the bottom there should be a good feeling of lat engagement.

You can feel/make use of this even if you bench without an arch, but will be more pronounced as the upper body assumes more of a decline.

If you look at a diagram of where the lat insertion point is, you'll get a better idea of how this works and why the contribution trails off pretty quickly as the bar ascends.


> 1k Posts
I find that treating the eccentric portion of the press as a row by actively 'pulling' the bar to the chest will help fire up your lats for a stronger press on the way back up. Try a few sets with a light weight or an empty bar to start with and, if you're doing it right, you'll feel stronger and more stable at the bottom of the lift.

Doing a few sets of t-bar rows to the chest prior to your bench press will help 'wake up' your lats if you have a hard time activating them when performing bench presses in isolation.

I find a similarly beneficial effect when supersetting pull-ups and military presses.

Philippe Geoffrion

More than 500 posts
This has been a much debated topic, and a lot has been written on it but here's my take.

There are lifters in the lats and no lats camp as far as their relevance in the bench press. I happen to fall into the lats are important side. However, their role in the
actual lifting portion, I don't buy. For me, they assist in the unrack portion, shoulder position and arch position. Other than that, they don't do much else for me.

To me, the idea of flaring my lats only sends the message of internally rotating the shoulders, thus losing upper back position. Doing a lat flare, I feel you must roll your shoulders forward to accomplish.
As we know, this is not an ideal position to press from.

As for the descent, arm angle and gear usage are going to dictate what muscles control the eccentric. Konstantin Konstantinovs is a good example of a raw lifter who swears by the lats.
Note his elbow tuck and closer grip. Geared lifters bench with a lot of tuck, but also have to pull the bar down. The bar will not reach their sternum otherwise because of the strength of the shirt. For me, a close grip and tucked
elbows is not ideal. The moment arm from the shoulders (center of gravity) is too great, and stresses my shoulder too much. With a pec and shoulder injury in my pocket, this is just a no go.
However, someone who benefits from a close grip/elbows tucked should use it. Using the lats to lower the bar puts the descent on a very large muscle group and spares the pressing moves. For me, I feel it mostly in my rear delts and upper back. This is accomplished by really squeezing the bar and spreading it., as opposed to pulling it down. Also note, if your lats and arms are big, a close grip/tucked method will almost have the lats rubbing the arms, giving you a nice spring out of the bottom.

Maybe I'm missing out and if I took the SFL, I could learn to use them properly. But honestly, the descent to me has become easier not thinking about using them. I more like to think of my body as a spring by pulling the bar apart and squeezing it and bracing everything, including the lats but not especially, as to release it all into the bar for the ascent.

Here's a nice in depth article from Greg Nuckols on the topic.

The Lats and the Bench Press - Much Ado About Very Little • Stronger by Science

> 1k Posts
The bar will travel in a mostly straight line.
The Bench Press Bar Path

Research on Elite Bench Pressers by Dr Tom McLaughlin (PhD Exercise Biomechanics/Former Powerlifter) determined an optimal Bench Press Bar Path has an arc.

Bench Press Bar Path: How to Fix Your Bar Path for a Bigger Bench

This article by Dr Greg Nuckols does a nice job of breaking down some of the...

Key points:
  1. Drive the bar back toward your face as you press the bar off your chest instead of initiating the press by driving the bar straight up. This makes the lift MUCH more efficient.
  2. Most people can lift more weight pretty quickly simply by correcting their bench press bar path, and at the elite levels, adopting a more efficient bar path is the primary way lifters keep improving their numbers.
This graph demonstrate the...

McLaughlin determined that light weight, smaller Bench Pressers (like Mike Bridges) and heavy weight (like Bill Kazmaier) Bench Pressers had a similar arc.

The slight variation was due to the grip width on the bar being 81 cm/32 inches.

Lighter, smaller lifter like Bridges (around 5'6") were able to take a wider grip relative to their arm length compared to heavier, larger Bench Pressers like Bill Kazmaier (6'2") with longer arms.

Bench Press More Now

McLaughlin's research lead to a more in depth analysis of how to train the Bench Press as outline in the chapter listed...

Chapter One: What’s So Interesting About the Bench Press
1.1 – A brief history of the bench press.
1.2 – Its widespread popularity.
1.3 – Current world records.
1.4 – Research on the bench press to date.
1.5 – The purpose of this book.
1.6 – How to use this book to increase your bench press.

Chapter Two: Biomechanics of the Bench Press
2.1 – The rules of bench pressing.
2.2 – Typical bar velocity and acceleration patterns.
2.3 – The degree of control used in lowering the bar.
2.4 – Forces exerted on the bar in the bench press.
2.5 – The sticking point.
2.6 – Horizontal position of the bar path relative to shoulders.
2.7 – The sequence of bar movements used in raising the bar.
2.8 – Grip spacing.
2.9 – Angling of the arms.
2.10 – Torques about the shoulder.
2.11 – Changes over time in top bench pressers.
2.12 – The “pause” in competition.
2.13 – Arching/bridging/bouncing.
2.14 – Hand/finger orientation in holding the bar.
2.15 – Symmetrical loading of the bar.
2.16 – What if you miss?
2.17 – Power output.
2.18 – Relationship of bench press capacity to bodyweight.
2.19 – Importance of chest size.

Chapter Three: Developing the Key Muscles Used in Benching
3.1 – What we know about muscle involvement in the bench.
3.2 – Training the chest.
3.3. – Training the triceps.
3.4 – Training the shoulders.
3.5 – Training associated muscles.

Chapter Four: Training Ideas for Developing a Bigger Bench
4.1 – General philosophy.
4.2 – Optimal training for key bench press muscles.
4.3 – Technique training for the bench.
4.4 – The “total” bench press training program

Kenny Croxdale

Arryn Grogan

Triple-Digit Post Count
Elite Certified Instructor
Ok thanks, but it sounds like you're just describing how to get tight?

In the SFL manual they are talking about using the lats in such a way to get some drive off the chest.

"With 135 on the bar, practice using your lats to drive the weight off your chest, you do this by initiating a lat spread of sorts at the bottom of the lift"

There is also another quote which says "As you press, squeeze your pecs together by flaring your lats"

I'd like to learn this.
Getting tight will help move the bar off your chest. Just as when you have a proper deadlift wedge, the bar almost wants to come off the ground, right? Same thing.

I suggest trying both versions on your next warm-up sets and see what you respond to better. With a light weight, you could even try one rep to rip it apart and one rep trying to shorten the length of the bar (the pec squeeze version). Both are useful depending on the person, and one of the techniques will respond better. But both will stabilize the shoulders and fire the lats more, thus benefiting the press off your chest.

Experimentation is often the best teacher. ;)

> 1k Posts
Doing a few sets of t-bar rows to the chest prior to your bench press...
Some Lat Work Before Bench Pressing

Research show that performing a light set or stretching the Antongistic Muscles (the Lats in this case) increases force production in an the Agonist Muscle, the Bench press in this case.

Many lifter automatically do without knowing it. In positioning themselves in the Bench Press set up, they often preform a Pull Up on the racked bar.
Kenny Croxdale

Joe Fraser

Triple-Digit Post Count
Drive the bar back toward your face as you press the bar off your chest instead of initiating the press by driving the bar straight up. This makes the lift MUCH more efficient.
100%, driving back towards your face helps. I believe it puts your elbows in a better position by keeping them in front of the bar.

In almost every other exercise, the goal is a straight bar path. It would be more efficient here too if not for the design of the shoulders and resulting impingement and rotator cuff damage if we used a straight bar path above the shoulder joint.

Hence why we have to bring the bar to a lower touch point on or chest.

Build Your Bench Press Arch | Barbell Logic
Lats are to the bench as
Adductors are to the squat

I don't understand the 'flare' cue, when I'm benching or doing PUs for that matter the lats are pulling in hard - that's what keeps the elbows close to the rib cage. Drive through the armpits.
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> 1k Posts
The Bench Press

This article provides some good information on the trajectory of the bar in the Bench Press.

The Flaws Of The Article

"...the best way to move barbells for general strength is in straight vertical lines with no unnecessary horizontal displacement from any joint or balance point. For the squat, overhead press, and deadlift this means that we strive for a vertical bar path as part of the correct execution of the exercises."

The shortest distance between anything is a straight line. However, the body doesn't move in a straight line. Secondly, moving in a straight line is often inefficient.

The Squat

Research by Dr Tom McLauglin (PhD Biomechanics/Former Powerlifter) has determined the path for a Squat is optimal when the bar travels straight up, vertically.

That because the bar weight in a Squat is positioned directly over your body's COG, Center of Gravity. The closer you can keep the bar to your body Center of Gravity, the more weight you can push or pull.

The Overhead Press

The Overhead Press needs to be driven up and back over your head; keeping it in line you Center of Gravity. Driving it straight up isn't effective.

The Deadlift

The Deadlift needs to be pulled up and back on top of you; pulling it in closer to your Center of Gravity.

Kenny Croxdale


Triple-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
So in that photo, the forearm is not vertical, and the elbows are in front of the wrists. Is that optimal?

I thought elbows directly under wrists was optimal?

Alan Mackey

More than 300 posts
I've found that, trying to "bend" the bar via scapular retraction when my arms are completely extended before each rep, helps to engage the lats and spare my shoulders.

Timo Keskitalo

Triple-Digit Post Count what about this article? First mistake:

Always push the bar in a straight line up from where it makes contact with your lower chest–not from your chest in an arc back over your face. If you’re pushing the bar back over your face, you end up rotating the elbows outward, which cause a rotator injury and pec tears. When taking the bar out of the rack, take it out over the stomach and lower it in a straight line, then concentrically press straight upward. The elbows will remain under the bar at all times–no rotating, no injuries. This requires strong triceps and lats, along with strong rear and side delts. The triceps must be the strongest muscle group involved in this lift. This ensures that the triceps start the lift, and not the pecs that are highly susceptible to injury.

Bench Press Bar Path: How to Fix Your Bar Path for a Bigger Bench

This article by Dr Greg Nuckols does a nice job of breaking down some of the.
This article leaves out triceps. How can you do that? I accept that the lift must end nearer to shoulder than where it begins. When I looked at ipf classic bench -74kg worlds for a while, I don't see any big arcs in bar path. Louie might also talk about geared bench.

If I try to simulate the rule "push yourself away from the bar" while standing, my arms tend to remain lower, chest level. Compared to if I push the bar away, my hands will rise higher to shoulder level, and in the end my shoulders turn forward, not good.

Maybe it's because of Louies writings and I don't acknowledge it.

> 1k Posts
Always push the bar in a straight line up from where it makes contact with your lower chest–not from your chest in an arc back over your face.
Geared Bench Press

Tim, as you noted, Bench Pressing in a Bench Press Shirt changed the trajectory of the bar.

There is no research on how much a Bench Press Shirt changes it.

There is no data demonstrating that the most effective method of pushing the bar up in a Bench Press Shirt is to drive the bar straight up or an arc back over your face

That means Simmons is speculating driving the bar straight up wearing Bench Press Shirt it the optimal method.

My Personal Perspective

My personal perspective is that even with a Bench Press Shirt, there is going to be some arc in when wearing a Bench Press Shirt.

I personally have determined, with myself and some others, that arcing the bar back when wearing a Bench Press Shirt is necessary.

To reiterate, since there is no research on this, I am speculating (guessing) as is Simmons.

it makes contact with your lower chest
Lower Chest Placement With The Bench Press

Most Powerlifting Bench Pressers lower the bar to the lower part of the chest, at the upper end of the abdominal muscles.

Doing so, means the bar is does not have to be pushed as far up.

Also, it makes it harder to push the bar straight up, the bar move better if you drive it up and back at the same time.

Ricky Dale Crain's Bench Press Shirt

Years ago, Ricky Dale Crain (Crain's Muscle World) made and sold a Bench Press Shirt that was made specifically to assist in driving the
Bench Press back up in an arc. The Japanese Bench Pressers (some of the best) were arching the bar back up.

Something else to consider is the...

Mountain Climbing Example

The shortest distance between two objects is a straight line. Many believe that means the Benching Pressing the bar straight up works best. Many believe the same about the Deadlift.

However, the body doesn't move in a straight line.

Secondly, in climbing a mountain, which is easier...

1) Climbing straight up?

2) Traversing the mountain, walking by moving back and forth, side to side, slowly ascending?

Angled Leg Press Analogy

One of the interesting things about about an Angled Leg Press is the loading.

As an example, if you load it up to 800 lbs and preform the Leg Press, you are only pushing around 560 lbs.

Due to the Laws of Physical, the angle decreases the true load 30%.

Based on the information below, Mike Bridges was able to Bench Press more weight without getting stronger. I suspect (guess) that Bridges did so by arcing the Bar Trajectory back. As with the Leg Press, the arc/angle allowed him to slightly decrease the true bar load at a weak point and drive the weight up.

Pushing and Pulling The Bar

One of the things that I feel is successfully in pushing or pulling a heavy weight up in that the arc is like the bar is on rails, like in a Smith Machine. The bar glides up.

Bench Press More Now!

Dr Greg Nuckol's article is based on Dr Tom McLaughlin's book, which is based on his research in Bench Pressing in a T-Shirt; before Bench Press Shirts. I have the book, as well as McLaughlin's original research article.

McLaughlin PhD is in Exercise Bio-Mechanics. McLaughlin examined the Bench Press Bar Path of Elite Bench Pressers (Kazmaier, Bridges, etc) and Novice Lifters.

McLaughlin determined driving the bar back in an arc was the most effective.

Mike Bridges's Bench Press

Bridges' was one of the best Bench Pressers of all time.

Bridges was one of McLaughlin's studies.

McLaughlin determined that Bridges increased is World Record Bench Press not by getting stronger but by slightly changing his Bench Press Arc, Trajectory.

In plain English, Bridges found an easier way to get up the mountain to the top.

This article (Nuchols') leaves out triceps. How can you do that?
The Weak Point In The Bench Press

The Bench Press is an Ascending Strength Curve Movement; hard at the bottom and easy at the top.

McLaughlin's research determined the sticking point in a Bench Press was in the first third of the movement. The same is true for all Ascending Strength Curve Movements; Squat and Deadlift.

a) Bench Press Shirt Lifters: The Bench Press Shirt eliminates the Bench Press from being an Ascending Strength Curve Movement. It turn it into a Descending Strength Curve Movement; easy off the bottom and harder at the top.

The Bench Press Shirt assistance is in getting the bar off the chest and past the initial sticking point.

Once past that point, the Bench Press Shirt provide very little, if any assistance, in finishing it with the Triceps.

That mean the Triceps now have to push up a much greater load than they would have in a T-Shirt Bench Press.

My Bench Press Shirt increased my Bench Press 30 lbs. Some Bench Press Shirt can increase a Bench Press around 100 lbs.

That means your Triceps now have to push, let's say 30 to 100 lbs more than they would in a T-Shirt Bench Press.

Triceps now become the weak link in a Bench Press Shirt Lifter. That is why so much Triceps Training is necessary for Bench Press Shirt Lifters.

b) T-Shirt Bench Pressers: The weak point is the first third of the movement, with the sticking point about 4 inches off the chest.

Once the bar moves past that sticking point, most lifter finish the lift with the Triceps.

Triceps Training

Triceps Training will assist a T-Shirt Bench Presser to some degree. However, not that much, since the Triceps predominately finish the top part of it. The not in the bottom third of the movement, the weak link.

Greater training focus needs be placed on working on the first third of the Bench Press; the development of Maximum Strength, Power and Technique.

I don't see any big arcs in bar path.
What You Don't See

Just because you don't see a big arc doen't mean there is no arc in the Bench Press Path.

McLaughlin had the equipment to graph the Bench Press Trajectory. McLaughlin then broke it down frame by frame in plotting.

Visual observation often are misleading.

Dr Craig Marker

As he basically stated in one of his articles, "Your feeling (what you feel and think) don't matter as much as the facts."

Simmons' Bench Press Observations

He might be right when it comes to Bench Press Shirt lifting; pushing the bar straight up.

However, he might be wrong. He has gotten thing wrong before, as have I and everyone else.

Two are...

Stretch Reflex

Research shows the Stretch Reflex can last up to 4 seconds. However, it quickly dissipates. In one second 50% of the Stretch Reflex is gone. After 4 seconds, it is completely gone.

However, Simmons has state that the Full Stretch Reflex last up to 4 seconds.

Perform a Touch And Go Bench Press. Then perform a Bench Press with a 4 second plus pause and see which you Bench Press more weight with.

Complex Training

After using this method, years ago, I spoke with Simmons on the phone about it. I thought he might like to write and article on it, which he did.

Simmons told me it was a waste of time and then wrote an article about it being a waste of time.

That prompted me to write an article on it for Powerlifting USA.

A year later, Simmons wrote about the benefits of Complex Training; finally coming around.
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Timo Keskitalo

Triple-Digit Post Count many thanks again. First of all I didn't question my memory but remembered that Bridges wasn't that good in bench. Kazmaier seems to be some kind of freak, the difference between start and stop height.... What I did see from the worlds was slight turn towards shoulders at least for some. But only after 1/3 - 1/2 of the lift. When they supposedly flare the elbows?

I still have a hard time to understand it. When you bring the bar back it keeps your elbow more angled. The definition of lockout is elbows straight. Maybe it's that the combination of elbow and shoulder joint movement results in more vertical force on the bar. Because the vertical force doesn't go away when moving horizontally. You still have the whole vertical force, gravity? Now here's another problem: power = force x speed. If you get enough speed you can ride through your sticking point. So what is force x acceleration?

I think you should at least be cautious with it. Louies pec/shoulder warnings can not come from thin air? The later you flare, less shoulder rotation occurs? The second thing is that you can apply max force a limited amount of time. Hence the shortest way, instead of rock climbing. Again, I accept slight turn towards the point of support, shoulder joint. But what if your triceps are so strong that you can push straight up, stabilize with, pecs, delts, back? Edit: besides, bench has two points of support, so it doesn't matter like in squat, deadlift./end

My original problem is a friend. When I spot him, at least some times on heavy weight, it looks like he moves the bar almost horizontally away from the chest and then pushes up. That can't happen without shoulder rotation? I tried to say push straight up and he threw me with this article about MacLaughlin's book and bar path.

Funny stuff of Simmons, but he does say that he admits if he's wrong. Did he?

Btw. This is what I call speculation.

Edit: And yeah, you guessed it, to me Louie Simmons is by far greater than Gene Simmons./end
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