How to Bench Press
In this video we cover our teaching progression for the bench press. We’ve also included a helpful video so you can watch / learn the progression in real time. To get the most out of this article, I would recommend watching the video first, reading the material, then watching the video again. Complete this cycle as many times as needed for you to confident in your set up next time you head to the gym.
(1) Why we bench press so much at Brentwood Barbell
(2) The 6-Step Set Up
(3) Errors & Corrections
Why we Bench Press at Brentwood Barbell
The bench press serves as the primary upper body strength driver in our programming model. People often say the bench press isn’t functional but this is a misunderstanding of what strength is and how it is used. We define strength as the ability to exert force (force production) against an external resistance. Our view is that bench pressing allows for very heavy weights to be used and heavier weights build strength, muscle mass, and improve our force production more effectively than lighter weights. The added strength, muscle mass, and force production attained from bench pressing can then be used for whatever “functional” task you would like to use it for. In short, there is no “football strength”, “golf strength”, or “functional strength”, there is only strength (force production).
The 6 Step Set Up
Step 1 – Set the Shoulders in Retraction
Sit on the edge of the bench in a tall posture. Squeeze your shoulders together and lift your chest. In this posture, notice the increased back arch. This position will be your final adjustment prior to bringing the bar out of the rack, it’s simply easier to teach while sitting up.
Step 2 – Set the Bar
Lie flat on the bench and roll the bar to the end of the hooks. Once the bar is set you will need to position yourself so that your eyeballs are directly under the barbell (note: The bar height should result in a slight elbow bend but allow for easy racking / un racking).
Step 3 – Set the Grip
Grab the bar (men pinky on the inner 1/8” ring, women thumb length from knurling) placing it in the “lifeline” of your palm. This grip will place the bar over the “bones of the wrist”. We encourage our lifters to maximally press the pads of their fingertips into the barbell. This position is commonly known as the “bulldog grip” and helps most lifters get the bar into the optimal position.
Step 4 – Set the Feet
With your hands set on the bar, walk your feet back as far as possible until the heels rise approx. 1” off the platform. Push your heels into the floor, your back should now be tight and feet pressed firmly into the floor. We will refer to this set up as “leg drive”. This leg drive will help stabilize the pelvis and minimize wiggling under a heavy barbell.
Step 5 – Setting the Back
Pinch your shoulders together, actively tighten your back muscles, drive the heels into the floor.
Step 6 – Bar Path
Bring the bar out of the rack and place it directly over the shoulder joint. Take a big breath and lower the bar to your mid sternum. Pause in this position for a couple of seconds. A proper bottom position will result in vertical forearms and elbows placed slightly in front of the bar. Push the bar back to the starting position and repeat for 5 more repetitions. From here, simply repeat the process adding a little weight each set of 6 repetitions. We are looking for a weight that presents a little challenge but allows for perfect technique. This is usually represented by the point at which the lifter “slows down”.
Errors & Corrections
Let’s now cover a few major errors in bench press technique. Of course this list is not exhaustive, that would be impossible. These are some of the more common issues that we see however, so chances are that the error you’re making is on this list.
Error # 1 – Flat Back (no arch)
A flat bench posture usually results from a lack of lumbar erector contraction and leg drive. To illustrate this position, we place a towel roll under the low back. Focus on “pulling your back off the towel”. Once you have figured out how to “tighten your back” you’ll notice a much improved arch. A simple giveaway here is to look at the bottom of your rib cage (if you’re taking video), it should be flared or “open”.
Error # 2 – Inefficient Bar Path
We use a simple drill in this situation. Hold the top position (bar over the chest, elbows fully straight), push the bar a little too far (toward your hips), feel the awkwardness, now push the bar a little too far toward your forehead, again feel the awkwardness. Now, find the middle position, placing the bar directly over the shoulder joint. Perform the next few reps with a slower tempo so you can “feel” the bar position change as it goes from over the shoulder to the mid sternum.
Error # 3 – Poor Elbow Position
A flare is often the result of a flat back posture (see error #1), grip width is also important. We want a grip width that results in vertical forearms under the bar. After grip has been check and deemed appropriate, we then cue the lifter to “tuck the elbows”, this “tucking” often results in the perfect elbow position under the bar.
Error # 4 – Not Taking a Big Breath
The universal problem. The best advice here is to simply equate breaths and reps. In fact, a big breath is part of a proper rep. 6 reps will yield 6 big breaths. Ultimately, you may decide to perform multiple reps on a single big breath but at the beginning you will likely find it more useful to take a big breath between every rep.
Thanks for checking out our bench press progression, we hope you enjoyed the content. If you have a specific question about benching, send us a question, we’d be happy to answer it. If you did enjoy the content, please drop us a line and let us know or share this material.
Question? Drop us a line, we love helping people pick up barbells!