Stay Grounded for a Bigger, Safer, More Effective Bench Press
The bench press is the king of upper body exercises; it’s the one lift universally compared and used as a measure of overall strength, and it stacks on some serious muscle.
Benching activates a massive amount of muscle fibers,
including the entire chest, the intercostals, and the often-forgotten serratus anterior. It also activate the delts, and the triceps. What people don’t realise is the bench press also works the lats, traps, and core, as well as contributing to a larger lung capacity, and more powerful respiratory system.
There are many variations of the bench press,
including dumbbell versions, incline and decline, as well as a multitude of different machine options and grips. Whatever your chosen variation, the bench press should form an integral part of your workout routines.
They should also be performed at least once per week in some form. Get the most from your bench pressing with Sheer Strength Labs Sheer Alpha Testosterone Booster
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When you see people benching in the gym, you see many different variations and techniques.
Some use an ultra wide grip while others barely have their hands spaced shoulder width apart. Some people drop the bar high on their chests while others bring the bar down below nipple level. Some lifters don’t drop the bar all of the way while others stop before full lockout. Some use only dumbbells, while others use only the Olympic bar, and still others use a mixture of the two. Well, some of these differences are down to individual anatomy. Not everybody gets on with the barbell bench press, so they use dumbbells, allowing for a more natural, and greater range of motion. But, whatever your chosen variation, you should always use a full range of motion.
Always drop the bar down to just above your chest, and always lock at the top to take the strain from your elbows.
NEVER do a common beginner mistake that many lifters continue to do for years. Never bench press with your feet in the air!
Many lifters are guilty of bringing their feet up when bench pressing, especially beginners.
Everybody has tried it at some point and for various reasons. The most common reasons given are that elevating the feet is better for your back, feels more stable, isolates the chest better, and helps you to lift more weight.
All of those excuses are based on flawed logic.
They are wrong; so now science and reason will be used to dispel them one by one,
before teaching you the proper technique for achieving a powerful and effective bench press….
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Bench pressing with your feet up is far less stable
than if you have your feet planted firmly on the ground. This is just simple physics and logic. With your feet grounded, you have two stable points of contact, that can be used to right your balance if you wobble.
If you are unstable because you are stretching to touch the ground, get a shorter or adjustable bench.
You can also use discs or some similar objects to raise your feet up,
as shown in the picture.
Putting your feet on the bench can lead to nasty accidents. Don’t do it.
Raising Your Feet Does Not Isolate the Chest Better
When you are performing a bench press, you are working more than just your pecs.
There are many muscle groups working in synergy, and many more acting as stabilizers. Ideally, you should be puffing your chest out, almost reaching for the bar, while pulling your shoulders back, digging your shoulder blades into the bench. This position engages more of the muscles in and around your chest, as well as giving the bar a slightly shorter distance to travel, meaning that your shoulders and elbows aren’t placed under too much strain. More muscles activated, means more strength, and more weight lifted. Now try puffing out your chest and pulling back your shoulders with your feet up on the bench. This makes the position even more unstable and dangerous.
And, your lower back position simply won’t allow it. You need the natural curve of your lower back to fully extend your chest and hit that optimum position.
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Your Lower Back Should be Arched
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Wiki (Public Domain)[/caption]
While we’re on the subject of lower back position, raising your legs is not better for your spine.
The human lumbar spine has a natural curve to it, and during a bench press, this curve should be maintained. If you are experiencing lower back discomfort
when pressing, you may need to pack your feet up slightly, as mentioned above. Another reason people feel back discomfort is because they have not braced themselves properly. When bench pressing, your back and legs should be solid.
You should dig your feet into the ground and set your lower back into a powerful position. If you do this and still experience pain or discomfort, you may have a lower back issue, or are lifting too much weight
Powerlifters often over-exaggerate this lower back arch,
as in the picture. This not only serves to push their chest closer to the bar, so they don’t have to lower the weight as far, it also helps generate a huge amount of power through their legs and torso. While it is NOT recommended anyone use this technique without expert coaching, you should have a slight, natural arch in your lower spine. Ideally you should be able to slip your fingers between the bench and your back.
One Last Reason
The final reason you should never bench press with your feet in the air is simple to understand…….. you look stupid. You really do.
Stop doing it, it makes no sense. So now onto proper bench press technique….
How to Bench Press
If you want to build a huge, thick shelf of a chest anywhere near as good as the certain young man in the picture here, follow these steps:
Get onto the bench and get a good, tight grip on the bar. Do not use a false grip (thumb the same side as your fingers). It is bad for your wrists and elbows. Feel the tension in your arms and shoulders.
Plant your feet so your lower legs are slightly back from perpendicular with the floor. If you feel like you are stretching, place discs or blocks of wood below your feet. Tighten your thighs and glutes, and drive into the floor with your feet. Set that slight arch in your lower back and hold it powerfully.
Take a deep breath, push your chest up and out, as well as pulling your shoulder blades back into the bench.
With the aid of your spotter, unrack the weight. Keep the tension on your entire body, don’t relax or move a muscle.
Take another deep breath and bring the bar down to your chest, in a controlled manner. It should feel almost like performing an upside down row. Feel your lats stabilizing the weight. Make sure your elbows and wrists stay in line. Don’t let your wrists flop backwards. Everything should be tight and powerful.
Now, using all of that built up tension, power that bar back up to the start position. Feel the force come through your legs and back, before powering through your delts, chest, and arms Do not let your chest collapse, keep it nice and full. Exhale powerfully, as if you are blowing the bar upwards. This helps to strengthen your intercostal muscles and improve lung power and capacity.
- Take another deep breath and go for the next rep.
So, remember, keep your feet on the ground.
If you feel discomfort in your lower back, work on your bench press technique, find a lower bench, or pack your feet up. Don’t get lazy and put your feet on the bench, it can be dangerous, and prevents you from hitting the optimum bench press position.
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Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.