September 12, 2016 at 4:44 pm #5780Kevin SmithKeymaster
We see a lot of threads asking for bench form critiques on this forum. I feel like most of these threads are made because people don’t know how to critique their own form. They just don’t know what to look for. I’m hoping to narrow that gap with this thread. I’m not going to touch on everything, but I will touch on what I feel are the majority of issues people have. These are some of the questions you should be asking yourself when watching your bench video.
Are my wrists straight?
Regardless of whether you are using suicide grip or a thumb grip the weight needs to be over your forearm. The top photo is incorrect and the bottom photo is correct.
Are my elbows under my wrists?
You need to keep your elbows directly underneath your wrists. This is a stronger and much more natural position. Only powerlifters in special circumstances deviate from this. If you were one of these people you wouldn’t be reading this thread. The first photo is incorrect and the second photo shows the correct position.
What about the arch?
Bodybuilding-If your primary goal is bodybuilding then you might not want as much of an arch, but you still want a slight arch. Laying completely flat back isn’t advised. You will want to use the most range of motion you can as long as you remain pain free. More range of motion means better muscle development.
Powerlifting- If your primary goal is to build strength and press more weight then you want the biggest arch you can comfortably handle. The fact of the matter is the larger arch you have the less range of motion you will have to press. Below you’ll see a photo of an extreme arch. It is quite debatable his butt doesn’t have solid contact, but the picture is to show that however big your arch is it can probably be bigger.
What are my shoulders doing?
You need to be pulling your shoulder blades together very hard. The most common mistake I see is people push their shoulders forward when unracking the bar. You need to keep your shoulders back and not use them when unracking the bar. The video shows me doing some unracking. The 1st and 3rd unracks are done correctly with the shoulder remaining still and pulled back. The 2nd and 4th unracks are done incorrectly with the shoulder coming out of place to unrack the bar. A mental cue to help with this is to pretend you are trying to “bend” the bar in half. This constant pressure exerted outward will help to keep your shoulders back in place.
Am I staying tight?
The tighter you keep your body the more stable platform you have to press from. If any part of your body is loose or wobbling around you are losing stability and therefore power. Your entire body needs to stay tight. Feet don’t move, legs are stable, entire back tensed and traps/shoulder blades dug into the bench. Some people feel they are able to stay tighter by imagining pulling the bar down to your chest instead of letting gravity do the work. Please keep your butt on the bench. Don’t be that guy. Proper powerlifting bench form is downright painful. If you aren’t pretty uncomfortable when you are set up on the bench then you aren’t tight enough. Even doing warm up sets with light weight I’m still breathing hard when I get up, because of how hard I’m working to stay tight.
The first photo depicts flared elbows and the second shows tucked.
What is my bar path?
Bodybuilding- Look back at the photo of the flared elbows above. You can see how touching high forces your elbows to flare. Many bodybuilders will use a high bar path like this to get more pec activation. There is much debate about the safety of this approach. Use this style of benching at your own risk.
Powerlifting- Again, your bath path directly relates to how your elbows flare. In many cases for you to tuck your elbows properly you will need to touch lower on your sternum. Due to your arch, you will also be limiting range of motion by doing this since your upper abs are higher in the air than your chest. As you press the bar it should slowly move back over your upper chest and at lock out should be directly above your shoulders. It should move in a diagonal fashion towards the rack. In many cases when people struggle to press the weight they immediately move the bar over their upper chest and flare their elbows. This is what we want to avoid. Controlling your bar path will ultimately control your elbow flare.
In the below video the first two reps are done correctly. The second two reps are done incorrectly and probably the most common mistake seen in beginners.
How wide is my grip?
Grip width also relates to elbow flare. If your grip is narrow it can help you to keep your elbows tucked in well. If it is wide it will help to flare your elbows more. Grip width is determined by height, bar path and desired elbow flare. Once you learn the bar path you’d like to go with, have decided what degree of elbow flare you are comfortable and pain free with you’ll find your grip width. Bottom line is to choose a grip width that will allow you the best bar path with your desired elbow flare. If you don’t have your bar path under control your grip width has much less of an impact. You can flare your elbows to 90 degrees while doing a close grip bench press if your bar path is over your upper chest.
It is also worth mentioning that when you are trying to fix your form, you can’t fix everything at once. If you have several problems, then pick the one that seems most important and focus entirely on it for several weeks or more until it becomes second nature. Trying to implement a bunch of changes all at once will only lead to you spinning your wheels and not making any actual progress. You need to drill these into your form until you do them without even thinking about it.
For a more in depth look at form and how you can improve it you can watch the “So You Think You Can Bench” series on youtube. It is over 30 minutes long, but it is a very well put together series. It goes over most of this stuff again along with a few more great tips. If you see anything I’ve missed feel free to let me know. I’m sure I’ll be doing some touching up on this. I’ve intentionally left out foot position and leg drive…I may add it in the future.
Here’s another thread on benching which addresses many common questions:
http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showth…hp?t=157280613September 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm #5792Kevin SmithKeymaster
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