The quintessential gym movement. The Bench Press, for some reason has become the go to exercise for wannabe gym warriors all over the world. Whenever a person joins a gym, invariably the first movement they start with is the bench press. If you are a beginner, let’s talk about the bench press. Should you be benching? How do you bench properly? How can you build up to a bench press? How should you include it in your program?
Should You Be Benching?
Many people have changed their minds on the bench press in recent years. While once revered as the ultimate chest builder, more and more people are turning their backs on the move, many eliminating it entirely from their programs. What about you?
What are your goals? Do you want to train like a powerlifter? Many people do, and that is a great way to train, if that is the case, you will need to bench. It is part of the sport, so benching is completely necessary. It is used by many strength athletes as you can use huge amounts of weight in the bench press. If you are just interested in muscle growth, then there are better ways.
Are you a complete beginner? For complete beginners, there are better ways to begin your training instead of leaping straight into the bench press. Most people don’t bench properly, so once you have a little more experience with handling weights, you might want to try it then.
You just want to bench? The end of the matter really is, if you feel that you’d like to become good at benching, then you can throw it in to your training. The move can still create huge amounts of mass and strength in the upper body, and improve your general athletic condition.
How to Bench Properly
There are a few tips that you should hear if you want to bench properly. It isn’t as simple as laying down on the bench and pumping the weight up and down. If you want to get a decent bench, you need to involve your whole body. The movement is demanding, so pay attention and you can nail it.
Your body position. You are not laying down on the bench, imagine you are a door stop. You are going to wedge yourself under the bar. Your whole body must be tight as you squeeze under the bar. Let’s see what you should do with your body to achieve this, from the top to the bottom.
Shoulders. You should be retracting your scapula. This means squeezing your shoulder blades together, keeping your entire upper back tight.
Lats. Your lats are like a shelf off which you are going to be pushing. So when you get under the bar, your lats should be tensed and fully engaged.
Back. You are allowed to have a slight arch in your back. This reduces the distance between your chest and the bar. Don’t go crazy and create some insane semi-circle with your body though.
Abs. You should have your entire core tight.
Glutes. You guessed it, tensed.
Legs. Sorry to be boring, tense these tight too. Your legs are the most powerful thing you can use during your bench. You will be pushing off them to lift the weight. Make sure they are ready and engaged.
Feet. Drive you feet firmly into the floor. You need to feel like you can push the floor very hard through them.
So, basically your whole body needs to be one taught piece. This isn’t a chest exercise, it is going to need your whole body to do it.
The Actual Movement
So, now we are set up and ready, let’s proceed to the actual lift.
The start. It is better if you have a spotter with you to unrack the weight, this will mean that you can have a strong starting position with your arms locked out, and your whole body tight.
The descent. You should now lower the weight in a controlled manner until it touches the lower part of your chest. Ensure that your elbows are kept in to roughly a 45 degree angle to your shoulders. The wider your elbows are, the more your chest is involved, but the less you can lift.
The press. This should be an explosive movement from your chest back up to lockout. Focus on pushing your feet into the ground, pushing power through your legs, and explode the weight upwards. Think about pushing your body away from the bar.
Other tips. Inhale a large breath before executing a rep. When you get the bar off your chest on the way up, you can exhale to help explode the weight up.
Being explosive is one of the most important things you can do in your bench, throw the weight up! Don’t bounce the weight off your chest. Once the bar reaches your chest, it should be raised up in a fast and controlled manner. Bouncing off your chest doesn’t help you, and no one else is impressed.
How To Begin The Bench Journey
Maybe you fee like you don’t want to start straight away with benching. This is fine, and there are things you can do to build up much of the stabilizing strength you will need for the movement.
Pushups. If you cannot already perform at least 25 good form pushups, you will want to start there. This will give you a good start for your chest strength.
Dumbbell Flat Bench Press. Doing a bench press but with dumbbell can be a great teaching technique. Many people name dumbbell bench press as the number one chest builder for muscle. This can and should be used to build a great chest. However, if benching is your goal, then getting to grips with dumbbells first can give you a good advantage. Your chest will be strengthening, and you will have to build a lot of shoulder strength to stop the weights from waving around.
Shoulder Pressing. In a flat bench press, your front deltoids are recruited a lot. This being the case, becoming strong in the shoulder press is going to help your bench. Your triceps and shoulders will become stronger, making you more able to handle a big bench.
How To Program Benching
If you are a beginner, you may want to use the 5×5 program. This has you benching twice per week, on week A and once per week on week B. This will help the movement become ingrained into your nervous system. However, moving forward, unless you are going to be competing as a powerlifter, benching once per week is sufficient. Don’t fall into the trap of just hammering your chest and arms whilst neglecting the rest of your body. Now, go forth and BENCH!