If you have ever bought a supplement, there is a high chance that you know what the bench press is. You know that it is king of the upper body exercises, it gets your brutally strong in the upper body and it is the first thing that every bro will ask you about. But have you ever looked at the different ways that people bench and why? This article will give some insight as to why certain people bench certain ways, benefits, cons, and why you should bench xyz way. Let’s start with one of the most controversial ideologies about the bench press, should I arch?
The arch: powerlifting v bodybuilding
If you talk to a bodybuilder who has been benching since the golden ages of the sport, there is a good chance they will tell you that the arch is “bad for your back”. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and has been bunked by tons of research over the years. So let’s nip that in the butt first. However, there is a possible benefit to benching with a flat back.
Flat back benching will increase the Range Of Motion that occurs at the pec. Therefore it COULD be a fair assumption that muscle activation with the pectoralis major could be increased by keeping the back flat. This type of muscle recruitment can cause an unnecessary amount of stress on the tendons that attach the pec to the humerus bone (the arm). This motion will also place more stress on the rotator cuff and can tear the subscapularis muscle. Therefore, it should be exercised with caution as it can increase the incidence of pec tears. Let’s look at the reasons the arch can be beneficial.
Powerlifters tend to love the arch, and here’s why. As a lifter raises their rib cage higher and higher, they are minimizing the distance that the bar needs to travel. Well here’s the cool thing, force production is directly correlated with distance by a good old equation:
Force = Distance/Time
Therefore, as the distance between the bar and your chest decreases, you have a high potential for either an increase in force, or a decrease in the time that the bar moves! Both excellent things for a strength athlete!
Secondly, pinching the traps and lats tight together will stabilize the entire motion. Often for strength athletes, the bench is a battle to get tighter and tighter. So this tension in the back, and consequent increase in arch is an absolute necessity. This “tightness” or “rigidness” during the motion will also decrease the likelihood of injury at the pec or the rotator cuff, due to an increase in efficiency in bar path.
What is “bar path” you may ask: bar path is simply, well, the path that the bar will take. Duh, right? For a powerlifter, this means greater neurological control and hitting a consistent “groove” and for a bodybuilder, this means you are going to constantly be forcing the proper muscles to fire! Both pretty nice reasons to have that arch rolling for you.
There are two major forms for benching within the powerlifting community. Option 1) Slower descent for the top portion of the motion, and at half way point the barbell “dive bombs” into the chest and sinks. There is a brief pause, and the bar is launched off the chest and often slows at midpoint of the motion, and becomes very difficult to lockout.
Option 2) Constant descent speed from starting position, until the bar has come to a controlled stop, nearly hovering on the chest. On the ascent, the bar is usually slower off the chest than at lockout, but is fairly smooth throughout the entire lift.
There are pros and cons to each form version. In motion 1, the lift is very fast off the chest but when attempting to lockout the bar the lifter will likely stall. This lift also requires more hip drive to push the barbell BACKWARD off the chest and initiate the bars movement. This makes the butt much more likely to come off the bench and cause a lifter to miss a lift in competition.
In option 2 where the lift is “controlled” greater, the lifter may stall more at the chest. This means that the chest and shoulders need to be extremely strong to start the lift, but often the lifter will have the lift once it breaks the chest. This method is more common among “big benchers” as it allows them to stay tight and keep the bar within a consistent bar path.
If you perform your bench press like lifter 1, be diligent about close grip bench press, board presses, and in general tricep or lockout strength. This will enable you to fight through the sticking point that occurs with the aggressive “heave” of the chest.
For lifter one, motions like low pin presses, spoto presses, and dumbbell bench presses will strengthen the chest and bottom portion of the lift.
Additionally, both lifts get a great deal of assistance from having strong shoulders and upper back. The upper back stabilizes on the descent and prevents major pec/shoulder injuries, while having strong shoulders enables a lifter to be consistent in their press from the start of the ascent.
Simple tips to build the bench
Here’s the abbreviated version for the article:
-learn to get tight and high on your traps, this stabilizes the bench press
-build muscle in the upper body, big back, chest and triceps equal a big bench
-if you struggle off your chest, add dumbbell bench press and spoto presses
-weak lockout means you need to work your triceps, board presses, and close grip bench press-don’t forget about your rotator cuff! Perform motions for your rotators and upper back regularly to warm up properly and prevent tears!