A deeper look at the bench press

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, whilst this is probably true, please don’t tarnish the bench press for the company it keeps, its not the exercise’s fault. And upper body strength is something that everyone should spend time developing and this also goes for women too.

When it comes to the bench press there are a lot of things to consider in terms of shoulder health. Mindless lifting, with no focus on technique, 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 exercise to keep your shoulders healthy and pain free, whilst enabling you to get stronger.

The most common mistake I see is mindless lifting and by this I mean people only concentrating on the pressing part of the lift.

An analogy I like is “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”, which in essence means that in order to produce maximal force you must create a stable and solid base. This is where the upper back comes in. When lowering the bar down to your chest you must try to create tension in your upper back and your lats. Think of squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling the bar down to your chest.

All too often people relax the upper back which leads to the shoulders rolling forward at the bottom of the lift placing them in a poor position to press. In time, time this can, and likely will, lead to pain and discomfort – both of which we absolutely must avoid when we train.

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 and we want these working when we bench press, as stable shoulders are strong shoulders.

Check your ego.

Once you have put the above points into practice it’s now time to check your ego.

Far too often I see people – men really – put far too much weight on the bar and start to press. 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 more specific things like board presses to overload 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 specifics like your lock out when you need to.

I’ve spoken so far spoken about pressing with a bar, but lets not forget the dumbells. Using dumbells has a lot of benefits, the main one being the ability to press with a neutral grip, which is much kinder on the shoulders as there is a lot less external rotation occurring at the shoulder and a lot less load going through the rotator cuff.

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

A video for this exercise can be seen on our youtube channel>> The Bench Press

By Rob @W10