The barbell bench press is the undisputed king of upper body exercises, but it is also one of the most misunderstood movements too.
Building powerful chest muscles is high on the agenda of anyone who trains with weights, but some people still insist of skipping bench press for other, less effective exercises.
If you’re not bench pressing then you are missing out on one of the most productive exercises there is! There really is no parallel in terms of effort invested vs. results delivered.
With that said, there is one thing worse than not bench pressing at all…
Bench pressing badly
If you’ve never benched pressed before in your life then you’re better off as you won’t have picked up any bad habits and you can learn the barbell bench press from scratch.
If you’ve never actually been taught the correct way to bench press then you will have been severely limiting the effectiveness of the exercise as well as risking long term shoulder injury which can blight your progress.
In this guide we’re going to learn how to perform the barbell bench press safely and correctly! Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How to position yourself to provide a stable base for the barbell bench press
- Creating a solid base for the barbell bench press
- Protecting the vulnerable shoulder girdle during the barbell bench press
- Safely and properly completing a full range repetition
Let’s get you benching properly!
Positioning Yourself Correctly
Ask people how they position themselves when they barbell bench press and the answer you’ll get is “I lie on the bench with my head under the bar”.
Whilst this sounds logical, it’s not very specific and means that they could be missing an important cue which instantly gets you in the right position.
- Flat and Centre – Lay flat on the bench with your back perfectly centre, not too far to the right, not to far to the left
- Eyes on Foot Side of Bar – You shouldn’t be looking directly up at the bar, your eyes should be just looking past the side of the bar your feet are on
Plant Your Feet
Please, please, please don’t bench with your feet in the air or on the end of the bench. This is totally backwards as it does nothing to contribute to helping you move a heavy weight.
Your feet should be firmly on the floor to provide a solid base for you to drive the weight up. Although the bench press is primarily an upper body exercise, your entire body plays a part and it all starts at your feet.
- Feet Flat on The Floor – Keep your feet flat on the floor, either side of the bench at all times. keep them there throughout the movement
- Feet Pointed 30 Degrees – Your feet should be pointed slightly out, around 30 degrees is perfect
- Knees at 90 Degrees – Your knees should be bent and be at a 90 degree angle, not too far forward, not too far backward
Tighten Your Core
Your glutes and your shoulders also play an important role; they keep your entire core tight which is key to pressing heavy loads. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when bench pressing and fixing it can instantly improve your bench press!
- Glutes Touching The Bench – Your backside should be touching the bench at ALL times! Lifting it off the bench during pressing is dangerous and inviting injury
- Squeeze That Ass! – You should squeeze your glutes hard and keep them contracted during all reps
- Tuck & Pinch Your Shoulders – Benches are usually narrow so when lying flat your shoulders will probably “hang” off either side. Your need to tuck your shoulder blades underneath your body and then pinch them together and down. This automatically pushes your chest high and arches your lower back which is good
- Keep Tucked and Pinched – Keep this posture throughout the entire movement and maintain the tightness.
Grip The Bar
Knowing where and how to grip the bar are important points that most bench pressers overlook. Here’s the right way to get a hold of the bar:
- Keep Your Shoulders Tucked & Pinned! – Reach up to grip the bar but ensure that your shoulders stay tucked and pinned and don’t roll forwards
- The Smooth Ring – Most Olympic bars have a smooth ring to guide you to where your hands should be. Go with where’s comfortable but ensure your little finger is within an inch or two of the ring
- Forearms at 90 Degrees – Your forearms should be at a 90 degree angle to the bar and the floor. If they are not then your grip may be too wide or too narrow and this can cause shoulder injuries
- Wrap Your Thumbs– Your thumbs MUST be wrapped around the bar, failure to do so could lead to severe disfigurement!
- Wrists Straight – Your wrists should not be bent backwards with the bar near your knuckles. The bar should be in the “heel” of your hand with your wrists completely straight
Unracking The Weight
Not just a case of pulling the bar of the stands, this is an important step that is often overlooked.
- Straight Up With Locked Elbows – With the bar is still in the rack, lock your elbows which will lift the bar a little (but still touching the rack)
- Bring Forward Over Nipples – Keep your elbows lock and bring the bar forward over your nipples
- Two Movements – These are two separate movements, do not try to make them one
- Visual Marker – Look where the bar is in relation to the ceiling. Fix your gaze on that spot and keep it there. This is where your gaze will stay even when you’re actually pressing the weight. This keeps you locked in the right “groove” of motion.
Lowering The Bar
- Deep Breath – The bar is over your nipples, your elbows are locked. Take a deep breath which will increase the tightness in your torso and help with power
- Pull The Bar Down – Don’t just let gravity take the bar down, “pull” the bar down in a controlled manner to your nipples
- Eyes on Your Marker – Don’t follow the bar with your eyes, keep your eyes on your visual marker on the ceiling
- Touch Your Sternum – Do not bounce the bar off your chest! Allow the bar to lightly touch your sternum with the middle of the bar
Pressing Back Up
- Press Straight Up – Press the bar upwards steadily and in a straight line until your elbows are locked at the top and the bar has returned to where your visual marker was
- Shoulders Tucked & Pinned Still! – Your shoulders should still be tucked and pinned, if they’ve rolled -forwards rack the weight and start again.
Racking The Bar
- Final Reps Like Any Other – When you come to your last rep you should not try to press towards the rack. You should press the bar to your visual marker like any other rep
- Lockout and Back – Press until your elbows lock out, pause, and then bring the bar backwards slowly until it makes contact with the rack. Lower the bar carefully (in case you haven’t racked it properly!) and let it settle on the hooks.
Surprised how technical the barbell bench press is? Shocked at how many of the cues you’ve been missing?
Every single one of us makes mistakes when we barbell bench press, even if we’ve been taught correct form. It’s about practice and constantly remembering your markers!
Here’s a handy list for you to take to the gym with you!
- Flat & Centre
- Eyes Foot Side
- Feet Flat
- Toes at 30 degrees
- Knees at 90 degrees
- Glutes touching bench
- Keep glutes contracted
- Tuck and pinch shoulders throughout
- 1-2 inches from smooth ring
- Forearms at 90 degrees
- Wrists straight
- Thumbs wrapped
- Straight up, locked elbows
- Forward over nipples
- Two movements
- Find visual marker
- Deep breath
- “Pull” the bar down
- Eyes on marker
- Touch sternum
- Press straight
- Shoulders stay tucked
- Same path as other reps
- Lock elbows
- Bring bar backwards and down slowly
Return from Barbell Bench Press to Weightlifting Exercises