A Deeper Look At The Bench Press

You Can't fire a canon from a canoe


We have all walked into the gym and looked over to the weights area and seen a group of testosterone fuelled, vest wearing meatheads congregating around the bench press station and thought we’d be safer on the cross- trainer. Now while this is probably true, please don’t tarnish the bench press for the company it keeps, its not its fault. Upper body strength is something that everyone should spend time developing and this also goes for women too. So here is my guide to the bench press. 


When it comes to the bench press there are a lot of things to consider in terms of shoulder health. Mindless lifting, poor range of motion and a lack of understanding on what you are supposed to be doing/feeling can all lead to problems in the long run. I plan to address the main points in the lift to keep your shoulders healthy and pain free, whilst enabling you to lift more weight, because after all that’s the name of the game here.


Protect your shoulders

The most common mistake I see is mindless lifting and by this I mean they only concentrate on the pressing part of the lift. An analogy I like is “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”. In essence this means that in order to produce maximal force you must create a stable and solid base for this force to be applied against. This is where the upper back comes in, when lowering the bar down to your chest you want to create tension in your upper back and your lats. Think squeeze and pull the bar down to your chest. If you have ever done a band pullapart then the feeling in your upper back when the band is across your chest will give you a reference to what you should be feeling here. All too often people relax the upper back which lead to the shoulders rolling forward at the bottom of the lift placing them in a poor position to press. Over time this can lead to pain and discomfort, both are things we do not want when we train.


Get a Grip

Now lets talk grip, personally I don’t like the false grip (where you don’t wrap your thumbs around the bar) and wouldn’t advise anyone use this. When you grip the bar, you need to grip it HARD. A strong grip switches on the shoulder stabilisers, allows us to apply a little torque to the shoulders which gets the lats firing, both of which we want working when we a are bench pressing as stable shoulders equals strong shoulders (cheesy but true). 


Once you have you have put the above points into practice its now time to check your ego. Far too often I see people put too much weight on the bar and start to press.  Now, by press, I mean lower the bar two inches and press. A full range bench press has the bar lowered to the chest with control. Loading the movement and restricting the range of motion is a quick fire way to injury for most beginners. Yes, you can do things like board presses to overloead the triceps but that’s a different blog post all together. For now, concentrate on getting strong through the full range of motion and worry about your lock out later.


Now, this post has mainly spoken about pressing with a bar but lets not forget the dumbells. Dumbells have a lot of benefits as well, the main one being the ability to press with a neutral grip, which is much nicer for the shoulders as there is a lot less external rotation occurring at the shoulder and a lot less load going through the rotator cuff.


I would recommend varying you styles to keep your shoulders healthy for the long haul.