Fix Your Bench - 5 Quick Checkpoints

The bench press. The alpha-male’s alpha-exercise. Right? We can agree to disagree, but that doesn’t mean it’s a movement that should be neglected. The bench press, like many other compound movements, utilizes many different muscles at the same time during both the eccentric and concentric parts of the movement. This puts it high up on the movement efficiency list. It’s also one of the big-3 for the powerlifting movements. Although it’s the least important of them, it’s still ⅓ of your total. This article’s goal is to look at 5 quick checkpoints that can improve power and efficiency during the bench press. 

  1. The first checkpoint is grip. Many people loosely grab the bar. When you allow the bar to lay in your hands versus actually squeezing it, you lack activation in the forearm, bicep, tricep and even lats. All of which help with completing the pressing movement. You wouldn’t punch someone with a loose hand, don’t bench with one either. 
  2. The second checkpoint is upper back tightness. While each person will have different preferences - retracted shoulders, flat shoulders, etc, the upper back still needs to be tight and stable. Restricting the amount of movement in the upper back helps put more pressure on the chest, shoulders, and lats which are the major operating muscles of the movement. Proper breathing can also help initiate tightness. 
  3. Bar path is the 3rd checkpoint. Even though this one is up for debate, most good bench pressers bench from the sternum to over the lower face area. This helps engage the lats and release the triceps from finishing the pressing movement. On the flipside, if you’re trying to close grip or training triceps specifically, press directly up, but you’ll see how much more difficult that is. 
  4. Wrist Position is our 4th checkpoint. If we keep our wrists as straight as possible, the weight is properly transferred onto our arm muscles and through our body. Bent wrists can increase stress and improperly transfer the weight to the joint. Wrist wraps help for a reason right? The reason is they keep the wrist more straight. 
  5. Elbow position is our 5th and final checkpoint. During the descent of a bench press, a flared elbow will result in more shoulder & chest activation, whereas a tucked elbow will involve more lat and tricep activation. One isn’t necessarily better as we’ve seen great bench pressers come from both methodologies. What is important is consistency. Different elbow positions can be considered different ways to train a lift, that’s how much of a difference it makes. Stay consistent and only change when you have a reason to. 

Compound lifts have a natural complexity to them. There is no law or “right” way to do them. What was considered wrong a long time ago, we’re seeing people have success with today. The only way to find your perfect form is to make subtle changes over long periods of time and document what is helping to achieve progress.