The bench press is the most popular strength-training exercise in the U.S., but most people don’t know how to do it correctly. I’ll give you full disclosure and admit that I’m not a huge fan of the exercise.
The reason is not because the bench press is “bad” per se. It can add strength and size to your upper body pushing muscles and this, in turn, will carryover to many sports.
The problem I have with the bench press is this: out of all the strength-building exercises it’s one of the most common exercises that guys screw up. When you bench press with poor form it can really wreak havoc on your shoulders and elbows. That’s why it’s imperative to get the technique right.
Luckily, Jim “Smitty” Smith has put together a comprehensive list to ensure that you’re pressing with perfect form. With this information you’ll build awesome upper body power while saving your joints.
Smitty: There are seven very important key points to remember when performing the bench press to ensure healthy shoulders and longevity. In fact, these key points apply to all the horizontal pressing movements in general.
1. Keep a tight grip on the bar at all times, a tighter grip equates to more tension in the lower arms, upper back and chest.
2. Keep your chest up (thoracic extension) throughout the movement.
3. Elbows should be tucked and end up at approximately 45 degrees from your side.
4. Unrack the weight and take a deep breath and hold it.
5. Row the weight down to your chest, like a bent over row. Do not relax and let the weight drop.
6. Back, hips, glutes and legs are tight and isometrically contracted.
7. When you touch your chest, drive your feet downward and reverse the movement.
If there is pain with this movement, regress back to a neutral grip dumbbell bench press. This means that you take a set of dumbbells and do the bench press with your hands facing each other. Sometimes this is referred to as a “hammer” grip or a neutral grip. If there’s still pain my suggestion is to regress further to more of a basic, fundamental movement, such as a push-up.
The push-up is an incredible tool that most lifters don’t do because they want to build a big bench. So they spend hours in the gym on the bench press, with poor form wrecking their shoulders. Follow these steps, but don’t forget to always include basic movements such as a push-up.
CW: Thanks for the tips, Smitty!
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