Do you have a terrible bench pressing technique and you are trying to raise your maximum? Soon you are about to learn what some treasure as secrets – the correct technique of bench pressing!
Reading this article will make you lift more and raise your maximums to new levels! Keep reading and find out:
- The most effective posture and stance
- How to grip the barbell
- Lowering and pushing the weight
- Learning how to breathe correctly and how it effects your lift
- What training equipment you should use in order to avoid injury and gain more strength
- How to succeed each time you go for your max!
When I served in the military, I once taught a group of recruits how to bench press. During that brief lesson I explained the few important rules that must be known in order to bench press effectively. Surprisingly enough, after only a ten minute crash course the recruits all said that: “the new style or technique is way better than the old and the same weights they were used to train with felt much lighter”.
I will now explain my style of benchpressing. It is not the only way to benchpress, it is something I have done for years and succeeded!
Set your feet firmly under the bench, preferably on your heels and squeeze your legs together. The importance of legs, or thighs rather, is to squeeze them against the sides of the bench and thus holding your body firmly against the bench and decreasing instability and wobbling effect of your body during the lift.
When you have set your feet under the bench it is time for getting your “package” together and arch your back. Arching your back decreases the distance of your lift, because your chest is much closer to the bar. When arching your back the lift moves naturally towards your belly right under your chest.
Here is the first video example of my lift where you can notice how I achieve the arch and where my feet are during the lift:
The second most important thing to learn is squeezing your latissimus dorsi muscles aka shoulder blades or commonly called “lats” together. When you try to figure out how lats are put together this might help: think of when you do back excersises and you do seated rows and when you pull your elbows behind your back, your lats are at that point squeezed together. Now, maintain that posture and lie down on your back still holding the lats togtheter. Holding your lats together helps you to keep your arms closer to the side of your body and that will also decrease the lifting distance.
Decreasing the distance of your lift is the most important thing towards bigger and heavier weights. Achieving this is not to be considered cheating; rather it is using correct technique and avoiding injury. If you are a very tall person with long arms, achieving the proper arch is more difficult, since usually a long back is harder to arch.
During the lift, it is important to hold your legs pressed towards the bench, arching your back in order to raise your chest higher up and bring your buttocks closer to your upper part of the back.
Experiment between narrower and wider grip from the barbell and figure out which muscle group of the two, triceps or chest, is most powerful. A good rule of thumb is that the wider you grip the more you activate your chest muscles. The widest possible grip shortens the distance of the lift.
How you grip the barbell, whether it is thumbs over or thumbs under the barbell is up to you and a matter of personal preference. “Thumbless” grip is more popular, but also more dangerous; not using the full grip increases the risk of dropping the weight during the lift and risking a serious injury. However the “monkey grip” can improve your maximums and give you a better stretch on your pectoral muscles. Feel free to try both grips and see if the other works better.
Learn the lowering technique using only an empty barbell and try to figure out where the barbell should “land”, or touch your chest. The most optimal position is just below your nipples, on top of your diaphragm or on the top middle part of your rib cage. The lower part of your chest is very flexible and works as a “trampoline” and you can use it to your advantage by bouncing the barbell from you chest. Bouncing should still be used with moderation so it doesn’t become a prominent part of your lifts. In order to balance the bouncing lifts sometimes do extremely slow and controlled lifts where you try to avoid bouncing altogether.
When you lower the weight it should not happen too fast and it shouldn’tbe too slow either. Ability to lower weights quickly comes with practice and at the beginning of your learning process you should try to do slow lifts so the barbell always lands on the same spot on your chest. After much practice the weights should move like on rails, no matter how fast you lower or push the weight. So lower the weight with controll and with moderate haste, not to waste too much energy on the negative part of the lift.
In the animation below you can see how the weight moves on top of your diaphrag and the arms do not extend all the way. This form of bench pressing is called military-bench-press, where you keep your feet up and can’t use your body and legs for more power. Keeping your feet up makes lifting much heavier and that is why this form of bench pressing is considered a very effective way of measuring strength.
Pushing of the weight should be explosive and should begin on top of diaphrag. Notice the difference in your old lifts where you bring the barbell very close to your chin and now the lift begins 8 inches lower. The idea is to activate your chest and triceps more and have them work together.
Do not extend your arms all the way during the repetitions as this does not work your chest muscles at that point. Instead use the energy to lift couple of reps more and get the necessary pump for your chest muscles. If you are training for competition then you should of course extend the lift all the way up so you won’t get a failed lift.
Military bench press is a Finnish competition where the lifter has to do as many repetitions with his own body weight as possible, while keeping his legs up and touching the marker on each repetition. I have won the Finnish Military Benchpress competitiion two times on 2003 and 2004. On those occasions 41 repetetitions was enought for gold medal. I weight 160 lbs on the competition.
Last but not least is the breathing and how it should be done. Before you begin your lift, take only a small breath of air and bring the barbell over your rib cage, under your chest. In other words do not inhale your lungs full as you waste energy on that.
When the weight is securely on the correct starting position, inhale as much as you can and hold your breath. Lower the weight and only after you have begun to push, exhale and let out the air in your lungs. The reason why we do this is to build up and keep the pressure of your body, which works as a stabilizing factor and gives us more strength to push the weights up. You might now know it, but a lot of folks huff and puff and breath in and out during the lift and they really have no idea how much more power they could get with correct breathing technique.
Do not puff, pant of huff! Take big lungfulls of air and hold your breath during the down and up parts of your lifts. You will see how much power and composure you get.
Wrist support and belts are necessary to avoid injury and they should be used at the very beginning of your training career. Wrist support helps you keep your hands and wrists firm and steady and will also give you an extra boost on lift. If you keep bench pressing without wrist support your wrists will sound like Nelsons wrists in Simpsons after years of playing arcade games. I use Titan’s THP wrist supports, which have worked like a dream and never wear out! See them here: http://www.titansupport.com/products/wraps/wrist-wraps/titanium-wrist-wraps
When you learn to arch your back it will affect negatively on your lower back muscles. That is why using a professional belt is necessary on bigger weights. Belt supports your middle section of your body, stabilizes the lift and improves your lift’s overall steadiness.
Use chalk or magnesium to reduce the sweating of your palms and the slipping of the grip during lift. For a firmer grip, think about using high quality leather training gloves.
Do not lift and see what happens, rather, always mentally see yourself winning and achieving to most important thing in your life!
Inhale couple of times before lift, make your spotter hit you on the shoulders and make your blood flow and adrenaline levels rise up. Now it is time to lift, not think of your girlfriend, so wipe everything from your mind and concentrate!
It is the attitude that counts! Those who concentrate and put their minds into war-mode succeed in lifting bigger weights and get results. Laughers and losers rarely lift with attitude and you can tell that by looking at their body.
Change also your attitude, not just your technique! You will see the results yourself!
Truly learning these tips and tricks and technique takes a time and a lot of practice. It will not come easy if you have lifted years with wrong “shoulder press” –technique where your maximum has been 220 lbs for ages. At first you might even lose some of your weights before they rise up again. Do not quit, but press on and practice, practice, practice! Ask your friend to spot you and help to go on bigger weights. Eventually you will see how everything makes sense and your results are getting better.
You will have to make sacrifices and changes to your workout routine, but trust me, I have done it and it worked out amazingly! I have never been so strong and good at bench pressing and that is only because I realized what I am doing wrong.
See this video for inspiration and for final lesson on proper technique!
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Hope to see you soon on the gym!!
Remember to practice.