The lift used to measure up the strength of an individual more than any other is the bench press. When comparing strength, the inevitable next question is, “How much can you bench?”
Does it really matter?
Of course it does!
The bench press isn’t just about the strength in the chest. When done correctly, the bench press is the pinnacle lift for displaying a person’s complete upper body strength, but the lower body will play a part as well (as you’re going to learn in a minute).
Like any contest, when using the bench press to compare strength it’s important that everyone is playing by the same rules.
Just because everyone knows what a bench press is doesn’t mean they all perform it correctly. Those that are using faulty form aren’t going to be able to bench to their full poundage potential as said by many by famous fitness trainers.
Actually, I would argue that the majority of men and women aren’t performing the bench press correctly for optimum strength and muscle gains.
“What is there to it”, you might ask. “You just lay down on a flat bench and press the bar away from your chest, right?”
Well, kind of…
That’s the general description of a bench press, but there’s a little more to a proper bench press than that.
Let’s look at all of the aspects of proper bench pressing form – from the feet to the hands.
Most get the bench press wrong from the beginning. They lay back on the bench and then have their feet flat on the floor out in front of the bench.
That isn’t going to do anything in terms of giving you leverage or strength from your base.
The bench press, when performed correctly, starts at your base (your feet) and transfers power into your upper body.
Obviously, before this can happen you must first have your base properly in place.
Let’s have a look at how you do this…
When you lay back on the bench you’ll need to place the primary emphasis on your feet before anything else. Your knees should be bent with your feet in position underneath your glutes – not out in front of the bench.
Your toes should be digging into the ground and your heels should be raised off the floor. You’ll see why in just a minute.
Alright, now you’re under the bar and your feet are in place.
Before you grip the bar and un-rack it you need to check your shoulder blades. That’s right. I said check your shoulder blades.
Your shoulder blades should be contracted together and your chest should be puffed out. Having your shoulder blades squeezed together will give you a solid base to press from and helps bring your chest upwards.
Having a “peacock chest” places the intensity of the movement on your chest and shortens the distance the bar will ultimately have to pass from the point of hitting your chest to full arm extension.
Once you have your feet in position, and your shoulders and chest are in place, it’s time to bring the bar off the rack. The ideal scenario is to have a spotter, so you don’t waste energy un-racking the bar that could be used to squeeze out every last rep.
If you don’t have a spotter you’ll obviously have to un-rack the bar yourself.
When gripping the bar your fingers and thumbs will wrap completely around the bar, evenly spaced on each side at about shoulder width apart.
Next, take a couple of deep breaths, make sure your shoulder blades are pulled in, your chest is puffed out, squeeze the bar as hard as you can and hold the final deep breath before pressing the bar off the rack.
Once the bar is suspended in the air with your arms as full extension you will quickly turn your elbows in slightly.
This will keep your elbows close to your torso as you perform the movement and prevent them from flaring outward, which can lead to elbow and shoulder injuries, and will also preclude you from lifting max weight.
With your lungs still full of air you’ll bring the bar downward in a quick and controlled manner, with your elbows staying close to your side, until the bar touches the lower part of your chest.
At the exact moment the bar touches your chest you will press your toes into the ground with a forceful movement and press the bar upwards with maximum intensity while exhaling.
Pressing your toes into the ground will allow you to transfer power from your base all the way into your chest and arms. As you press your toes into the ground, your legs should contract, from the calves to the quads.
This will force your hip flexors to tighten and your lower back to arch upwards. When done correctly you will feel the power exuding from your feet into your upper body and assisting in the upward thrust of the bar.
The positioning and use of the feet while bench pressing seem like a minor component, but it will have the greatest impact to your bench pressing strength if you aren’t currently getting it right.
If you want to put your full bench pressing power on display, you have to get your base right. Period.
I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t want to increase their bench pressing strength and using proper technique is the easiest thing you can do to instantly add plates to the bar.
Since most people aren’t benching correctly, I trust that the instruction I’ve laid on you in this article will allow you immediately increase your maximum bench pressing power.
If not immediately, it will certainly make a huge difference in time!