For many weight-lifters, or even guys hanging around in the gym, the bench press has become the go-to measure for checking overall masculinity. Squats, curls, treadmill all pale in comparison to the almighty bench press.
Unfortunately, this puts an inordinate amount of pressure on people to saddle up to the bench who have no idea how to press the weight properly. This does more than just waste time – it can also be deadly.
Why It’s Important to Master the Form
Without proper technique and a proper spotter, a lifter can become pinned to the bench by overestimating their ability level, or by something as simple as a small cramp. This student at Iowa State University died in 2016 due to losing the grip on the barbell he was lifting, sending all 315 pounds down onto his neck, killing him in a matter of hours.
The bench press doesn’t have to be fatal, however, nor does it have to be unsafe. By utilizing the proper technique and a few safety protocols, you can feel free to bench press anything you feel ready for, without worrying about getting pinned against anything. Here are eight things you need to know about bench pressing:
1. Use a Spotter
Since you are literally lifting an incredibly high amount of weight above some of the most delicate parts of your body, a spotter is invaluable for an exercise like the bench press. A good spotter will not only provide you with the peace of knowing they’ll be there for you if something goes wrong, but will also push you (or stop you) when they know you need it.
Unfortunately, not everyone works out with a buddy at the gym. If that’s the case, make sure whatever person you ask to spot you at the gym knows exactly what you want to do and how far you want to push it, so they can help you. Remember, communication is key.
2. Learn How to Bail Out
Bailing out is as simple as it sounds. Learn to dump the weights off either side properly in case you get pinned to make sure that you can get out of an emergency situation, especially if there is nobody else around. Here’s a video that shows you exactly how to do it.
3. Get in the Right Position
Before you even lift, make sure that you have full range of motion in your shoulders, the bar is at the optimal height, your head is slightly away from the bar position (ideally, over the forehead to allow for unobstructed motion), your feet are planted firmly on the ground, and your grip is right.
If your wrist is bending backward, you know that it’s in the wrong position. Getting specialized wrist wraps can help make sure they’re in the proper position.
4. Don’t Worry About the Back Arch
If you’re looking to go into competitive powerlifting, then a back arch may be in the cards for you in the future, but for those just looking to get into it, it absolutely should not be a concern right now. Many arch their back when lifting large amounts of weight under the assumption you’ll gain more leverage; you may, but not everyone is comfortable doing so.
One of the main advantages is that it shortens the length from the bar to your chest, thus allowing you to pump out more weight with slightly less effort. In competitions, that matters a lot; in the average gym, not so much.
5. Follow the Right Path
If you notice professional weight lifters, their bars hardly ever go straight up and down. On the way up, it goes slightly towards the face and then straight up, and on the way down, it goes down and slightly arcs out. This not only allows for more weight to be pressed but puts less strain on the shoulders. If your lift does not follow this route, here’s an article to help correct your bench press path.
6. Protect Your Armpits
For newbie weightlifters, the temptation can be to flare the arms out, sometimes rapidly, in an effort to lift more weight. In reality, all this does is make the overall lift more stable and increase the chances for injury. You don’t want your elbows touching your body, but you want them to stay underneath the bar at all times.
7. Keep Your Shoulders “Packed”
Like the elbows, your shoulders have a tendency to move as well, usually in a shrugging motion. Make sure that you keep your shoulders on the bench at all times by pretending that you’re trying to squeeze a grape between them. Some people recommend keeping your shoulders down and back in order to provide the necessary tension for your body and your shoulders.
8. Dig In and Keep it Tight
One of the reason sit’s paramount that your feet are flat on the floor is because it allows you to use your legs to drive through the bench press. Pushing your body into the bench and keeping your body still and tight allows you to focus all of your energy on what matters most: pushing up the weight. Also, don’t forget to work on your breathing. The last thing you want to do is pass out with 200+ pounds above your neck.