By Frances Manias and Jennifer Thompson
The bench press is perhaps one of the most technical lifts to master because it requires unique considerations and presents challenges to both the average strength training athlete and the powerlifter alike.
Beyond the obvious challenges of equipment – most gyms don’t offer the best possible equipment in which to practice and perfect the lift – the mythology surrounding the bench press makes this particular movement inherently difficult to teach.
When performing or coaching the bench press, be sure to identity the purpose of incorporating this movement/exercise in your programming: are you bench pressing for muscular development of the chest, shoulders and triceps, or are you looking to increase your 1 RM?
Also, when it comes to pressing for a competition bench press scenario, the rules of the specific federation/organization must be considered. As an example, both Jennifer and Frances compete within the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation), which requires the head to be on the bench, the feet to be planted on the floor, and the shoulders and buttocks to maintain contact with the bench. As well, the lift must be performed within the commands of the head judge, which include: a “start” command (elbows are locked out and the lifter is in control of the bar), a “press” command (bar is still on the chest) and a “rack” command (the bar is under control and then replaced on the rack after lock out).
Hence, one’s training must incorporate elements of the competition requirements in order to allow the lifter to gain specific proficiency within context of a competitive lift. The most important piece of this equation is often the pause portion of the bench press. It requires that the bar is both under control on the chest and the athlete is in the best possible position to press and lock out the barbell. In order for this to take place, the bench press training must allow the athlete to learn how to do this in the most efficient way possible.
Here are three keys to coaching the bench press to boost strength, power and, ultimately, efficiency in the movement:
Don’t Ignore the Setup
From grip width to creating a solid base of support with the body, from the ground and/or bench itself, the setup is foundational to the success of the bench press. Grip width of the barbell is perhaps the easiest technique modification with which to experiment. Start by measuring the distance from one end of the clavicle (acromion process) to the other.
The distance taken on the barbell between your first fingers – aka the grip width – should be twice the distance measured between your clavicles. For the average person this grip width will give them the biggest mechanical advantage when pressing.
Create the Best Possible Leverage Position
A key factor for a strong bench press is to create the best possible position for pressing by maximizing leverage. This includes: maximizing grip width while still maintaining optimal force production; decreasing the travel distance of the bar to the chest and back to full extension of the elbow flexors by optimizing bar path; and creating an arch.
The most common complaint or concern about leverage creation on the bench press is, “Won’t I hurt my back if I arch?” To which we reply, “The arch is relative to you creating the best possible body position in which to create leverage.” An arch (both a ‘vertical’ arch and a ‘top to bottom’ arch) has to be developed and nurtured, and can’t be at the expense of being able to implement the other techniques, like leg drive or optimal bar path.
This is a Full Body Exercise
Ultimately, between learning how to create tension (both on the bar, and with one’s body/breathing) and putting the concept of leg drive into the descent portion, and subsequent ascent of the barbell, one can experience the bench press quite radically different from a typical bench press. Both the drive of the legs (creating stability and tension on the descent of the bar) and the subsequent “throw” of the barbell in the initial press/ascent contribute greatly to the force production of the bench press. Learning how to consistently apply more than just the chest – or in many instances the anterior deltoid musculature – to include the legs, lats, chest, delts and triceps (think pinky squeeze to finish the lift) is the challenge.
Technique is only perfected with training. Knowing how to lift, how much to lift, how often to lift, along with the implementation of key accessory movements and exercises will be further discussed during the presentation at canfitpro 2019. Join in to learn more about Building a Better Bench Press!
To find out more about the perfect bench press and to take their sessions, catch Jennifer Thompson and Frances Manias at canfitpro2019!