The bench press is an important exercise. It’s one of the three powerlifts and is a good compound movemement for the chest (primarily), shoulders and triceps.
It is probably a bit overrated by weight trainers in general. Beginners and intermediates often seem to place a lot of emphasis on the bench press rather than the squat or deadlift, both of which I think are better compound movements. I suspect even the standing shoulder press (military press) is a better compound movement than the bench press because it targets the lower back and core a bit more.
Nevertheless it’s an important exercise and this article looks at bench press technique. This particular article relates to using the bench press to improve over all strength rather than what you might call a pure powerlifting bench press or pure bodybuilding bench press. This is a general, all-purpose, strength-building bench press.
Lie on the bench with your eyes almost underneath the bar; they should be just in front (towards your feet) of the bar by an inch or so.
Take a medium width grip so that your forearms will be directly vertical – neither canted in nor out – when the bar touches your chest. Do not use a thumbless grip – it’s dangerous.
Your feet should be flat on the ground. If the bench is too high to achieve this, put some pads or a couple of 20kg plates under your feet. You should tense your quads for stability and power.
Form a slight arch in your lower back. Your bum, shoulders and upper back should always be in contact with the bench but you should be able to insert a hand underneath your lower back. Pull your shoulders down into the bench and expand your chest.
The Lift Off
Lift the bar straight up out of the rack and lock your elbows. If you have a training partner, they should assist you with the lift off.
Slowly bring the bar forward so it’s directly over your shoulders.
The Down Phase
Lower the bar – slowly and always under control – so that it touches across the middle of your chest (about 0.5 – 1 inch above your nipples).
As the bar comes down it should follow an ever so slightly diagonal path from above your shoulders to the middle of your chest. Your upper arms should not be at 90 degrees to your body at the low point; there should be an angle of about 45 degrees between your body and your upper arm.
The Up Phase
Now power the bar back up to the starting position so that the bar is once again over the shoulders. Whereas you lowered the bar slowly, you want to execute the up phase in a quicker, more explosive manner, although still perfectly under control.
Don’t bounce the bar off your chest.
Re-racking The Bar
When you’ve finished your set, re-rack the bar with locked elbows. You should have the bar rack set at a height that allows you to simply move your hands back (with locked elbows) and rerack it safely. If you have a training partner, they should assist with the re-rack.
Important Safety Note
Always, always, always bench press in a power rack, on a frame with spotter bars or with an alert training partner. The bench press – probably more than other exercises – is a dangerous exercises to perform alone. Never bench press alone without spotter bars – people have died doing so.