The Value of the Bench Press in Strength Training
Now that I’ve covered the king of all lifts, the Deadlift, I think it’s time to talk about the upper body lift that all gym bros are obsessed with:
That’s right, it’s time to break down the Bench Press.
This is perhaps the most vital upper body lift available for people looking to build strength and mass, and there are a multitude of variations for this lift.
I’d like to give you guys a few tips on how to properly perform this lift, so that you can start reaping optimal benefits from this crucial movement.
Tip #1 – Pin your back to the bench
Just like in the deadlift, engaging the lats is incredibly important in the bench press.
To do so, pull back and down on you shoulder blades. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly when your elbows feel “locked in” to a position at the sides of your lats. In relation to the body as it lays on the bench, it should feel as though your shoulder blades are gripping the bench. This is what I refer to as “pinning” your back to the bench. This reinforces a proper bar path, and in doing so forces your body to utilize your back, chest, and triceps in order to execute the movement.
Not only is that important to promote progression in the lift, but when the lats are properly engaged throughout the lift, it also helps to keep the bar positioned lower and closer to the midline of the torso, making it difficult for the bar to “float back” towards the lifters shoulders, and putting those shoulders under an excessive strain that often leads to injury over time.
Tip #2 – Arch your back
This is one of the more difficult aspects of the bench technically, but can improve the quality of your bench as well as the increase load you put on the bar almost instantly if it’s implemented the right way. To properly arch, you must first engage your lats in preparation for the lift and “pin” your back to the bench as we’ve already discussed. Once you’ve done that, you perform a leg bridge using the floor or the bench, focusing on driving your hips as high as possible.
Think about keeping your back tight and chest high as you bring only your butt down back into contact with the bench. The only points of contact between your body and the bench are at your upper torso/lats and your butt. Arching your back further optimizes the bar path, making it both lower (toward the mid-torso) and shorter, consequentially making the lift easier.
It also reinforces the tightness in your lats, providing a stable base for the lift. If you want to go the extra mile, think about pulling your lats back even further during the execution of the lift. It will “pop” your chest out even further, making the bar path shorter, while still allowing you to get the benefits of the lift.
Tip #3 – Deep breath and Drive your legs
Breathing is an often slept-on aspect of resistance-training.
There are a bevy of studies that connect good breathing habits and inhalation with improved neuromuscular efficiency. Beyond that, a solid, deep breath that is felt from the lungs down into the stomach helps a lifter maintain the tightness they need in a bench press. If you think about the setup we’ve gone through, with tight lats and an arched back, the last thing you want is for that to “collapse” because you’ve run out of breath mid-lift.
Leg drive is another aspect of the bench that most beginners and veterans alike disregard. No surprise considering that the bench is such an upper-body-dominant lift. The muscles in the body, however, have a unique way of cooperating, and a proper setup to the bench actually primes the lifter to drive through their lower body, resulting in greater force production during the lift.
Tip #4 – Change it up from time to time
While the vanilla bench press is a valuable tool in your weightlifting kit, the real beauty of the bench press lies in its variability. There are countless variations, such as the Spoto press, the incline press, and the floor press, to name a few. These are all great compound lifts that target muscle groups in different fashions.
Knowing how to implement these bench variations in your training program will give you great flexibility in your routine, and have you on your way, progressing towards a monster bench in no time.