Everything from foot placement to where in your workout you perform the bench press makes a difference. So, if you’re going to be moving some serious weight, you better know what you’re doing.

For better or worse, people often gauge their strength by how much they can bench. Now, you could easily argue that the deadlift, squat, or row are all better measures of strength. But, that doesn’t mean that having a strong bench press doesn’t come with many benefits.

If you’re going to take on the big lifts in weight training, it helps to focus on the finer details, and that’s where the bench press tends to receive less coaching. And, it’s probably why the bench press seemingly claims more injury victims to shoulder and elbow problems.

For advice on how to make the move safer and help you become stronger, Here are their coaching tips for bench press training.

Master Your Setup

Whether you’re a beginner or a weight room warrior, it’s worth mastering your setup with an unloaded bar, according to Kim, author of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. Checking your ego and knowing how to start could be the difference between no pain and a big bench or endless shoulder injuries.

And, because there are so many different chest exercises, such as flat bench press, incline bench press, and decline bench press, each setup will follow similar rules but feel slightly different and involve different loads (for example, you’ll be weaker on an incline bench than a flat bench). The small amount of time it takes under the bar will translate when you add weight.

Tip #1: Use A Shoulder-Width Grip

Shoulder joint injuries are common on many chest exercises, and especially with benching. If you want to keep your shoulder joint healthy, make sure you’re spacing your hands correctly.

According to Kim, most people’s hands are between 22 and 28 inches long. (A grip width of 32 inches is allowed in competitive powerlifting.) We bring this up because most people’s grips are either too tight, putting additional pressure on their delts (front portion of the shoulder), or too wide, creating an inefficient bar path and increasing the risk of injury.

Tip #2: Screw Your Feet Into The Floor

Many people like putting their feet on the bench to remove the arch in their back. Are there exceptions when you might need to put your feet on the bench? Sure. But, in general, the best anchor and leverage will come from “screwing” your feet into the floor and turning your legs and torso into a rigid, stable base. Your shins should form a nearly perpendicular line from the ground up.

Tip #3: Position Your Upper Back Flat Against The Bench

Your back plays a key role in the bench press. As you lower the bar, think about “rowing” the weight to your chest. More on this soon.

Also important to note: Your lower back will come up slightly, due to its natural arch. This is OK.

Tip #4: Fix Your Eyes on The Ceiling

“One of the biggest errors people make is to try to follow the bar with their eyes,” Rippetoe says. Instead, have them look up at the ceiling as the barbell comes out of the rack. Then, take a mental picture of where the bar is about the ceiling. 

Improve Your Bench Press Technique

Stretches and core work have more visible subtleties, but the bench press is a very complex exercise, and most people overlook the small details that make a huge impact. Here are all of the insider tips that will come in handy once you’ve racked the bar and are ready to lift more weight.

Tip #5: Think Chest Up and Tension In Your Back

By pushing your shoulders back below the bar, you’ll maintain your chest high.

“We focus on ‘chest up’ because it improves the mechanics of the move,” Kim says. From a “chest up” position, the bar’s path is a shorter, straight line, which is what makes the lift more efficient.

Instead of just lowering the bar, imagine doing a cable row as you lower the bar to your chest. This creates tension in your back, which will give you leverage and increase strength.

Take a deep breath, driving your chest upwards and pulling your shoulder blades back and down into the bench. For a full range of motion, you’ll want to bring the bar just above your chest, even lightly touching it to help maximize a full stretch in your chest.

Tip #6: Don’t Bench Press First In Your Workout

Before you try the bench press, consider doing some additional workouts for your chest, back, and shoulders. This doesn’t mean you should absolutely exhaust your muscles, but it does mean you should stimulate everything in your upper body in a way that reduces your risk of damage.

After all, you’ve probably had more than a few workouts where you haven’t done the most thorough warm up

Simple movements like pushups and band pull apart can be a great way to prime your body. If you can, add some low volume explosive movements, such as 3-5 reps of med ball chest press (throwing the med ball like a chest pass either into the floor or a wall).

Tip #7: Keep Your Elbows Between a 45- and 70-Degree Angle

Many people bench with their elbows at 90 degrees. This sets people up for their shoulders to internally rotate and cause pain. The angle of your elbow matters a lot, as does the alignment of your wrists, shoulders, and elbows. This will slightly change the way your range of motion feels, but it’s the best way to maintain the health of your shoulder joint, wrists, and elbows.

Maintaining a straight line between the shoulders and wrists ensures that all of the force from the push is straight to the bar.

Tip #8: Remember to Use Your Legs

The bench press is intended to increase upper-body muscle, but it’s hardly a yet another concert. When benching, the legs can—and should—get involved, contrary to common perception.

Much like when you set yourself up in the starting position, you want to create lower body tension throughout the entire motion. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, your legs should press into the ground, which will transfer the force through your hips to help reinforce the tension on your back.

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