If there is one movement that defines strength, it is the barbell bench press. The barbell bench press has been a hallmark of strength, since the beginning of time. By building a stronger bench, you inherently increase the size of your chest (pectoral muscles), shoulders (deltoids) and triceps (upper arm). These muscle groups are all very visual from the anterior and well defined upper body is a symbol of strength, power, masculinity and hard work. The big question is? How do you bench? Here are our top tips to perform a strong bench press.
But first, before we hit you with our barbell bench technique hacks, here is a basic run down on the anatomy of the barbell bench and the muscles involved in this movement pattern.
What is the barbell bench press?
The barbell bench press is a compound, multi-joint, exercise designed to target many muscles of the upper body such as the pectoral, deltoid and triceps.
The joint actions during the phases of the lift are?
- Eccentric (Lowering phase): Horizontal shoulder abduction & elbow flexion
- Concentric (pressing phase): Horizontal shoulder adduction & elbow extension
It is all in the technique. Here is how to perform the barbell bench press:
Set your feet:
Foot placement, on the bench press, is just as critical as it is for the deadlift and squat. Your feet are the starting position for the production of power and a strong base will allow you to maximise strength and power while minimising the risk of injury.
Try to keep your feet back and towards your glutes, as far as you can while still keeping them flat on the ground while you perform your bench. Depending on your height and body type, this is going to look different for everyone. The main cue to focus on, is to plant your feet firmly, so that you can exert force from the ground through your entire body.
Position yourself under the bar:
Just like your foot placement, your back position is going to be unique to you, based on your build and mechanics. You positioning under the bar should be far enough underneath the bar that you are easily able to unrack the bar, but not so far under the bar that you hit the racking during your bench movement.
During the bench press it is critical that you squeeze your scapula as tightly as possible (Pinch the grape). By squeezing your shoulder blades together, you create a tight, stable platform for your upper back. This will pull your shoulders back and down, into their safest biomechanical position.
While the arch has been somewhat of a controversial discussion point among gym goers, research is clear that by retracting your scapula and creating an arch through your spine, you are in fact creating a more natural spinal position which is biomechanically safe and the most effective position to maximise your bench press. If you are not a powerlifter, your back arch does not need to be exaggerated.
Grab the bar tightly with authority. Every time you grip the bar, grip it like you are going to be lifting your max load. Hold the bar as far down your palm as possible. If the bar is positioned too high in your hand (or in your fingers), then you will increase the amount of flexion in your wrist. You only want the slightest amount of wrist flexion.
Your grip width will be determined by your body type and specific goals. Individuals with longer arms will need to take a wider grip, as will people aiming to exert maximise force, such as powerlifters. Most individuals should be aiming to grip the bar on or just inside the barbell rings. Make sure you always wrap your thumb around the bar.
Brace and unrack:
With one big breath of air, inhale then unrack the bar so that your wrist, elbows and shoulders are all aligned. Then let a slight breath of air out. If you have a training partner, ask them to help you unrack the weight. If you do not have a partner, drive your back into the bench hard so that the bar just pops off the rack. Maintain tightness throughout your whole body.
Firstly, take another big breath of air in, and force the air into your abdominal wall. As you do this, grip the bar tight and imagine bending the bar into a U shape to increase tension in your lats. Slowly lower the bar down to your chest while maintaining tightness through your upper body.
Maximise your press with leg drive:
Once the bar has made contact with your torso, initiate the ascent by squeezing your glutes and driving your feet hard into the ground. As you reach your sticking point, exhale as hard as you can, to power through to the starting position. The bar position should return to its initial position directly above your shoulders. Then repeat for your allocated amount of repetitions.
Work out what is the weak area of your lift?
By working out what exactly is the weakness of your lift, you will then be able to adapt your training to help rectify the issues and add accessory movements to help bring up weak areas.
Ask yourself the following questions?
- What part of the movement do you fatigue at? Do you fatigue at the bottom of the lift? If you can’t get the weight off your chest, you need to become more explosive at the start of the movement. Try incorporating explosive pressing one day a week, in-conjunction with your main training to correct the weakness. Do you fail to complete the lock out? If you do, focus some training on explosively benching off a block.
- What areas of weakness do you have in your set up? Are you set up correctly? Have you maximised your biomechanical positioning? Work on building up the consistency in your movement pattern. Remember that Rome was not built in a day and bench pressing is a skill. The more time you spend correcting and refining your technique, the faster you will progress your bench.
- What equipment are you using? If you don’t, try investing in wrist wraps, foot wear, chalk and a belt. Equipment is designed to help you lift more effectively and safer. Lifting equipment helps you enhance stability. The stronger your base, the stronger and safer your lift is.
What supplements can help increase your bench?
With nutrition the same underlying nutrition principles apply and there are no specific supplements that can help you with one exercise or movement over another. However, here are Scorpion’s top three supplements that will help support your muscle growth, strength and power.
1. Scorpion Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine Monohydrate is regarded as the most effective sports supplement ever developed due to its ability to assist athletes of any sporting code. Creatines popularity has soared over recent years as more and more athletes experience the amazing benefits of this super supplement. Creatine assists on all anaerobic levels; it is the first choice supplement for muscle growth and strength gains!
2. Scorpion Whey Protein
Scorpion Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) is an elite level, lean muscle builder and general health protein which is designed for those hard training persons and people looking to improve health and vitality. Derived from NZ grass fed cows, Scorpion WPC has a very high protein percentage (80% vanilla) which will deliver a full spectrum of desirable amino acids that will benefit your body. Blended into OUT OF THIS WORLD flavours (including 100% naturally sweetened options), Scorpion 100% Whey tastes amazing and mixes easily after a few shakes! Scorpion 100% Whey is the ultimate protein source!
3. Scorpion Disturbed Pre Workout
To trigger unearthly workout intensity, Scorpion Disturbed is the supreme ergogenic muscle enhancer that delivers a massive 300mg of Caffeine (per serve) that triggers insane instant energy and combines potent mega doses of Beta-Alanine, AAKG, Taurine and L Tyrosine to enhance nitric oxide production, which assists in giving you out of this world muscle pumps. Disturbed is one of the most potent pre-workouts on the market.