Bench Press Form: What Not to Do
Incline benching and flat benching are my two favorite chest exercises! Simply, with proper technique these two movements can build an absolutely phenomenal chest and godlike upper body pressing power. Unfortunately 90% of guys, if not more, that I see benching are doing it entirely wrong, yet they think they are using proper form. Not only are these poor souls putting their shoulders in a compromised position, but they are also placing less work on their chest. The people that say bench press and incline bench does nothing for their chest usually have horrendous form. Similarly the people that can’t add weight to their bench to save their life, tend to have sloppy form.
If they were to use this shaky form with heavy weights exceeding 250+ lbs their shoulders would buckle and tear. In fact, I often cringe when I see people take the barbell out of the rack for bench press. Their shoulders are rolled forward, as if they’re trying to reach for something and their chest is completely flat. This is an incredibly weak and dangerous bench press position. One which places extreme amounts of stress on the rotator cuff. For example, take a look at the picture below. Back is flat and shoulders are pulled forward, this is a very weak and dangerous position.
It reminds me of a story a long time ago when I was going for a one rep max on bench press. It must have been 4-5 years ago and at the time I was attempting 265 lbs. I asked one of the personal trainers to give me a spot. I got into position, had my chest up and shoulders rolled back and down and I proceeded to unrack the barbell. As I pulled the barbell out, the personal trainer lifted the barbell up 3-4″ higher than the pins, this caused my shoulders to roll forward and out of position. At this very second I new I was in for a surprise. I began to lower the barbell down towards my chest and my shoulders felt completely out of whack.
After touching the bar to my chest I attempted to push the bar up but I had absolutely no strength. I just didn’t have a solid base to push off of. I managed to get the bar half way up and then said, “help”. The next week I came back with my buddy and got him to spot me. I instructed him to only lift the bar up just high enough to clear the pegs. I managed to blast 265 lbs up with ease. It’s amazing how much a slight adjustment in shoulder position can make to your strength. The heavier you’re going, the more noticeable this is. If you’re ever going to do a one rep max you better have rock solid form.
The Perfect Bench Press Position
The ideal position is to have your shoulders pulled back and down and locked in place. With this position, you will naturally create a space under your lower back, between the bench. You’re not intentionally arching your lower back, it just naturally happens with proper form. You just can’t possibly have your chest up and scapula retracted (shoulders pulled back and down), while keeping your lower back on the bench. The space between your lowerback and the bench is good, you want this! As long as your butt is on the bench then you’re in an advantageous position.
As for your feet, I like to drive my toes into the floor, under my butt. This reinforces the stable position and keeps my body tight and secure. It may feel awkward at first, but ever since switching to this foot position a month ago I have added 5 lbs each week to my bench.
With this bench press position you are going to be doing a few things
1) You will protect your shoulders from injury
2) You are putting your chest in the strongest position possible. This will allow you to lift more weight and give your chest a much better workout
3) You will be working your entire body. Your lats will be tense and activated, your glutes and legs will be working hard, driving into the floor and you will build strength and support throughout your entire body.
4) You will also be making it much easier on yourself to make steady strength gains. The stronger you get the more muscle you will build. The stronger the bench presser, the much more likelihood they are using proper form with retracted scapula, chest up high, natural lower-back arch and feet under their butt.
Seeing it in action
Here is a video of me hitting bench press with tight, solid form.
Here is a video of me hitting incline bench with proper form. You’ll notice my back looks very arched, this naturally happens just by rolling my shoulder back and sticking my chest up. The arch is perfectly safe and in no way is dangerous. If you’re not used to this position, I recommend doing a lot of hip and back bridging. This will strengthen your lower-back, as well as the muscles along the spine. The functional triad is great for this.
It’s crucial that you have the barbell at the proper height. If it’s too high you won’t be able to maintain proper form while un-racking the weight. If it’s too low then it will be very difficult to safely take the barbell out of the rack. With shoulders pulled back, you should have the pegs 2-3″ shy of lock out.
I also recommend having your mouth under the barbell for flat bench when the weight is racked. You don’t want to have to pull the barbell out with your arms stretched back. For flat bench you want to lower the weight to your nipples or slightly below. Some people do flat bench with their elbows flared out to the side, this is a very dangerous position for your shoulders. As well, it sucks for building strength.
For incline bench, due to the angle you want to have your eyes directly under the bar when taking the barbell out of the rack. This is because with incline bench you need to lower the barbell high on your chest to keep your forearms perpendicular to the ground.
Build Huge Strength and a Killer Physique
Once you have proper form locked down then you will benefit from a solid strength training program. My Kinobody Muscle Building Course works incredibly well at building strength and adding muscle for the chiseled greek god look. Most people will add about 15 lbs to their incline and flat bench each month on the strength and density program from the manual.