Why The Bench Press Is Important
There are some staples that will never get old, like baseball in the spring, the first cup of coffee in the morning and old Seinfeld episodes still being funny no matter how many times you’ve seen them.
The bench press falls into this category as well. It has become an unofficial measure of how strong a person is. Just think how many times you’ve heard the question “How much can you bench?”
There is a reason it has lasted the test of time and that’s because a well-developed chest helps develop of parts of your body.
1. It helps increase how much weight you can push
I know this is common sense but as you increase your push strength it will help increase the amount you can lift on other exercises such as the shoulder press, push-ups and chest dips just to name a few.
2. Increased strength, definition of Pec Major and Pec Minor
Again this is isn’t a surprise but what you need to understand is a more developed chest will also help you increase strength and further develop your back and shoulders.
The pec minor is often overlooked but when you isolate the lower chest muscle you will develop a well-rounded chest improving your strength and aesthetic look.
3. Larger Delts
Bench pressing will develop and strengthen your anterior and medial deltoids, your delts are the one of the main muscles used when you perform the bench press and their growth will support stronger shoulders and help give you that sought after capped shoulder look
4. Triceps fit for a god
When you perform a bench press you trigger all three heads of the tricep, 2/3 of the arm is made up of your tricep, even though the bicep is the vanity muscle that gets all the attention, the tricep plays a large role in giving you the huge arm look every guy is looking to achieve.
5. Healthy bones and great posture
Any compound joint exercise you perform puts a greater amount of stress on your bones making your body respond by strengthening your bone density. Another benefit of overall strength, bone and joint health is good posture. Poor posture can be the reason for many health problems.
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How To Properly Execute A Bench Press
- Lie on the bench and under the bar in a location that you find it easy to unrack the weight, people will try to tell you to line yourself up in one particular way but in the end you need to be comfortable especially when you’re pushing heavier weights.
- Set your feet so that they are back closer to your butt while keeping them flat on the ground.
- Grab the bar using a medium grip and when you push up make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together, this will help limit the amount of stress that you put on them.
- Arch your back. I know, here comes the controversy but a minimal arch in your back as you lift will keep your spine aligned and will help take pressure off your shoulders.
- Your grip needs to be tight, Make sure not to hold the bar to high in your hand this could result in you hurting your wrist. Keep it as low on your palm as possible and make sure to grip the hell out of it.
- The width of your grip will again be decided by how built you are and how long your arms are, do what is comfortable to you while maintaining proper form.
- Take a deep breath in then unrack the weight and let the breath out, hopefully you have a spotter so that you don’t have to waste your energy while unracking.
- Take another breath in as you lower the bar down as you do this allow to tuck your elbows in to isolate your lats more, this will protect your shoulders
- Do not bounce the bar off your chest, if this is happening it’s most likely because you have too much weight on the bar. You should be in control of the weight at all times. You want to bring the bar down in a controlled manner, touch your chest and push it back up.
- Keep repeating this until you reach your pre determined reps
Understanding Strength Curves
Every exercise you perform has what is known as a strength curve.
All exercise are done by moving your joints at a certain angle, the strength curve is simply how much strength you can apply to different degrees of the angle.
Think about doing a dumbbell curl, you’re starting position is with your hands down at your sides then you will start to raise them up bringing the weights directly in front of you then finishing with them raised near your shoulders.
The amount of strength needed throughout this move varies depending on where you are during the joint angle, you would need little strength when the weights are down by your side at the beginning or at the top near your shoulders at the end of the movement, but when you’re in the middle of your curl this is when you have to apply the most effort.
We can break all exercises down into one of three categories…
- Ascending – Is when you near full extension and the tension decreases at this point of the motion, this is noticeable in bench presses and squats.
- Descending – This is when you near full flexion and the tension increases at this point of the movement and makes the movement harder. Leg curls and rows have descending strength curves.
- Parabolic or bell shaped – This strength curve feels easier at the ends and harder in the middle the above example of a dumbbell curl would be recognized as a parabolic strength curve.
The bench press has an ascending strength curve, this means that the movement is easiest when the range of motion is at the top. Simply put you can move more weight at the top 1/3 than you can at the middle and bottom of the exercise.
An example of this would be, if you could bench 180 pounds when you bring the bar all the way down to your chest, you could probably bench 200 pounds if you only went down 2/3 of the way then back up again.
When Should You Start Using Bands On Your Bench Press
The biggest reason people start to add bands to the bench press is when they hit a plateau.
I mentioned earlier how the bench press is the hardest once you hit the middle and the bottom of the movement, this can make it hard to progress your weight if you can’t strengthen this part of the exercise, in other words you’re stuck at a plateau.
How the bands will help you get out of a sticking point or plateau.
- If your bench progression is being compromised because of the sticking point you’re encountering at the bottom of the movement then setting up resistance bands would lessen the resistance at the lowest point making it easier to get through it and continue to strengthen the muscles needed to make you more proficient at this lower part of the movement.
- The bands will also make parts of your exercise faster so that if you notice that their is a point during your range of motion that you become slow or sluggish the bands will give you that jolt so that you can get through that sticking point as well and continue to train.
- If you’re a serious lifter and want to train 7 days a week, bands can help you lighten the tension o days that you’re still recovering from a heavy workload the day before.
- Change is the spice of life, you can use the bands just for the sake of changing things up and trying new moves.
Different Types Of Bands To Use
There are many types of bands to use for different types of exercises the ones most popular for bench presses would be rubberbanditz.
- Medium Resistance – 1/2 inch wide x 41 inches long – 15 to 35 pounds of resistance
- Heavy resistance – 7/8 inch wide x 41 inches long – 30 to 50 pounds of resistance
- Robust Resistance – 1 1/8 inches wide x 41 inches long – 50 to 80 pounds of resistance
- Power resistance band – 1.75 inches wide x 41 inches long – 70 to 100 pounds of resistance
- Strong Resistance – 2.5 inches wide x 41 inches long – 100 to 140 pounds of resistance.
Using Chains On The Bench Press
The main reason to use chains is to increase your speed and learn how to push the weight right before the top of the move where you lockout, as you bring the weight down the chains pile up on the floor decreasing the weight they provide and also decreasing the tension they put on the bar.
As, you push up you pull the chains off the floor which obviously increases the tension on the move.
Let’s say you’re benching 200 pounds and you put 2 chains on your bar each one weighing 45 pounds, at the top of the bench press you will be pushing 290 pounds but at the bottom it will be the natural 200 pounds you have on the bar.
How To Use The Sling Shot
The sling shot is a product you wear on your upper body, the benefit you receive from this is it lets you increase the amount of weight you can bench without putting a harmful amount of stress on your body. You can generally handle about a 10% increase on your bench press.
The sling shot acts like your natural muscle movement by lengthening and shortening with your muscles, this means that it will actually help support you on the eccentric and concentric portions of your lifts.
Reducing the negative effects on your shoulders, neck and elbows.
How To Avoid Shoulder Pain From Bench Pressing
Coming from personal experience improper form on the bench press or pushing yourself beyond what you can handle can cause serious shoulder injuries and even worse will hinder your training and your results.
I can’t stress enough the importance of practicing patience, making sure you are always in control of the weight and to check your ego at the door and not to pay attention to the person next to you.
Some of these points were covered in the article above but I felt it was important to put them all in one section just to make it clear to anyone interested in learning about this or who has unfortunately already experienced it and wants to correct their form.
1. Use your legs
some people don’t realize this but the bench press is a whole body exercise, you want to bring your legs back close to your butt while still being flat on the ground and keep them spread wide.
You want to start each rep by pushing through your feet in order to help get the bar off your chest, the more of your lower body you use the less strain you will endure on your shoulders.
2. Push your shoulders together
When you go to unrack the bar and during the actual exercise you want to try to touch your shoulder blades together, this will make sure that you keep a stable base to push with and keep your shoulders in line.
3. Use a grip that is most comfortable for you
Lots of people will tell you to grip or hold the bar a certain way but this will vary depending on the length of your arms and your build.
In the end you want to do what is comfortable for you while maintaining proper form, a wider grip will lessen your range of motion and put more strain on your shoulders, so try to use a narrower grip that still feels natural to you.
4. Arch your back
Arch your back a little to take strain off of your shoulders and to keep your spine aligned properly.
Power lifters will utilize a very dramatic arch because it shortens how far they have to move the bar.
If you’re not training to be a powerlifter try using a slight arch so that you can still get the same range of motion but still receive the benefits from the change of form.
Resistance bands can be used to avoid or get out of a strength plateau and will also help with muscle endurance, as with any exercise you need to understand how to properly perform the movement and to always listen to your body.