So, You Want to Bench Press?


So, you want to get a bigger bench? Yeah, you and every other person who remotely considers themselves a powerlifter, too. Well, here's the deal. I won’t say that I am the expert on the subject, but I’ve had some pretty damn good success so far. A second reason I don’t consider myself the expert on growing your bench press is simple, I do not know you. Each person will find specific cues or developmental techniques that work for them. That being said, we can start with some basics for you to build with. From there, take cues based on what you learn works or does not work for your own training.


As you probably know, the bench press is one of the big three. You get into position, unrack the bar, control the weight to your chest, and press. That is it. Like most powerlifting movements, the outside perspective makes it pretty simple. However, in my opinion, the bench press is THE most technical lift. So, let’s start with your form to grow your bench first. Form fucking matters. A tweak in form here or there on even experienced powerlifters can be the difference between hitting an all-time PR or getting stapled. Personally, when discussing form I like to start with the feet and legs first.

Legs/Leg Drive

With your lower body positioning, you need to do what is legal for your federation, that is step one. If you can have toes up, go for it, if you need flat feet to make damn sure that you train as such. Practice as you play, it is the only logical way to start. From there, make sure that you set your feet firmly on the ground and focus on stability–that is where leg drive comes from. Leg drive isn’t about flexing your quads as the weight sinks into your chest, it is about creating tightness. Personally, on a raw bench, I like to have my feet tucked as far back as possible, toes up, and squeeze the bench as hard as those women online who pop watermelons with their thighs. However, in single-ply, I have a wide setup for extra stability. Again, find what works for you, but make sure it is stable. Any amount of wiggle is lost power. You will also want to have your butt touching as lightly as possible, this not only helps with leg drive and muscle engagement but your arch as well.


Torso

Legs, more or less covered, now it is time for the body. Your torso should have some arch to it. While not everyone needs/wants/can arch like crazy, it is important to have some arch. That being said, I prefer a large arch and that is what I will discuss. To create the largest arch possible, stack on your traps when getting into position, bring your feet on the bench, and once secured, lower your feet and walk back as far as possible (pending your preferred flat foot/toes up position). This position can and should be uncomfortable, you are pushing your body into an optimal position. To obtain your maximal arch, you will likely need to work at it. Most people do not have the mobility to go from a relatively flat bench to a maximal arch in just one form session. The positioning will come in time but can be helped by increasing thoracic mobility. Practicing your arch with a foam roller between your back and the bench pad is another way to increase your arch. 

The torso also creates stability through bracing. Before you unrack the bar, take a deep breath through the mouth and top it off with a breath or two through the nose. Brace all around, and push your belly out in all directions. When you lower the bar, reach with your chest. These cues create stability and help reduce ROM. The last area that your torso will have to be addressed is the touchpoint, Your touch point is going to be yours, and yours alone. A good powerlifting touchpoint for the bench press will be somewhere below the nipple to slightly below the sternum. You should find this naturally, but if not, think of the spot where your shoulders line up within your arch. You want to bring the bar straight down here.


Back

Alright, now we are getting into a controversial area, the back. Your back is important on bench and anyone who says it isn’t probably doesn’t bench that much. Your traps help to keep your body stacked and arch higher, your lats when engaged, are stabilizers at the top and springs at the bottom. These are areas that cannot be ignored. Your back helps to pull and hold your shoulders in position as are in your press. Let's be real, find any good bench presser, whether it be online or in the gym, and not only will they have large chest, arms, and shoulders but their backs will be thick and wide too.

To engage the traps you will start with your stacking when laying on the bench, but you will also work those while squeezing your scapulas down and back. You want to squeeze those scapulas together as hard as possible during the entirety of the press. This creates stability, and again, if you have instability, you are leaking power. The lats are also a stabilizer. By trying to bend the bar in half or pull the bar apart, you are getting those lats involved and helping stabilize the descent of the bar. The lats also work together with the biceps to be the breaks of the bench and assist in the eccentric speed of the bar.

Hands

Hands are the area that everyone starts with. While they are the initial contact of the press as well as where we feel all our effort through, without the rest of the body in sync, they won’t matter. Your hands should be at a comfortable width for you. While max grip with the index finger on the rings is “optimal” that does not mean that it is optimal for you. Find a grip that you can train day in and day out without having binding injuries. A normal measurement is 1.3 to 1.5 times your shoulder width. 

From here, the grip is important. You will want the bar seated in your hand to the point of it being secured without you even having to squeeze it. However, you should squeeze the bar like your life depends on it. To get this grip correct, create a diamond with both your hands in the center of the bar, slide your hands out to your optimal width (while keeping the diamond angle), then grab the bar, and act like you're trying to bend the bar in half. Another part of the grip you can try with this is an open thumb. Instead of tucking your thumb like a fist like usual, put it out to the side (but still under the bar), this mimics the benefits of a suicide grip, while still keeping the triceps as engaged as a standard grip. With this grip, keep your knuckles toward the ceiling and the bar over the top of your radius and ulna, and you’ve got the basis of a solid bench press grip. From here, when you unrack the bar, you’ll want to act like you're not only bending but pulling the bar apart as well, and combine with constant tension and your bench should be good to go!