Protected Bench Press: The Final Information to Right Type and Approach
Get comfortable with the bench press starting today!
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We're going to cover the following so you can start bench press:
This guide is part of our Strength Training 101 series. I would encourage you to read the rest of the articles when you are just starting out with your weight training.
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- Everything you need to know to get strong.
- Exercise routines for body weight AND strength training.
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How important is the bench press?
Over the past 30-40 years, the bench press has become the universal elevator for brothers everywhere to help determine how strong someone really is.
The questions are things like:
- How much do you bet on the bank?
- Do you even lift?
As popular as it is, the bench press in its current form is really less than 100 years old.
Until the 1930s, people made a move called a "floor press," which was similar to a bench press performed only from the floor.
In fact, many people first made a movement known as a "belly throw" – where the bar fell and ricocheted off the belly to help the lifter get it back up.
The three movements – bench press, abdominal throw, and floor press – were all popular until the 1940s and 50s when the bench press became increasingly popular as bodybuilders liked the way the bench worked their pecs (better than the other two movements).
As the bench press became more popular, powerlifting emerged in the 1970s and separated from weightlifting as its own sport.
Which muscles does the bench press use?
The bench press is a great move to have as part of your strength program and a move we consider part of the "Big 4" L basic lifts.
The other three lifts?
- The crouch
- The deadlift
- The overhead press
Some of the problems coaches have with the bench press (e.g. tight chest causing poor posture) are not caused by the bench itself, but are caused by the bench press as one of the ONLY movements in your program and can go away if they do be included as part of a well-rounded strength program.
In other words, don't ONLY bench press.
The bench press is commonly known as the "chest" exercise, but that's definitely not all. The bank strengthens your:
- Plus pretty much every muscle in your torso
However, the bench press does NOT ONLY use your torso.
When seated correctly, you are also using your lower back, hips, and legs. Just like our other main exercises (squats, deadlifts, and overhead press), the bench press is a full-body movement with an emphasis on specific muscle groups.
Think about it – while you are sitting on the bench, the rest of your body is not just lying there doing nothing.
Your whole body should be working – – Your shoulders are pinched together and your lats are locked into place while your back, hips, and legs are tight. This stabilizes your entire body to create a solid base and to help you generate drive from the round.
Bench press: the setup
There are many different ways you can bench press.
We'll start you with a standard and basic bench press that we believe is the best (and safest) method for general strength.
Remember: just because you see someone putting a ridiculous amount of weight on the bench in the gym doesn't mean they're using the correct or safe form.
You might be an advanced athlete who (knowingly or unknowingly) compromises form to get higher numbers.
What do you need to do the bench press?
- A weight bench with posts:
- Barbell – the standard weight is 45 pounds, but this can be too heavy to start with. No matter how strong you are, I recommend starting with a PVC pipe or broomstick to learn the correct shape.
- Spotter – once the weight gets heavy (we'll discuss the options later, just in case you don't have anyone to spot you)
- If you'd like to learn by video, please watch How To Bench Press Safely by Jim Bathurst, our Lead Coach on the Nerd Fitness Coaching Program:
How to set up a bench press
There are many different ways to prepare for a bench press – as you'll see if you watch a powerlifting competition or even just spend 20 minutes at your local gym.
Some people get on the bench and curl up under the bar, others step on the bench from behind and slide under the bar, others just lie down and then get stuck.
The key here is to set yourself up to get your body toned and ready for the lift.
Before you begin, it might be a good idea to roll the bar forward on the post as this is where you will lift it off.
Having the bar in the same place in the post allows you to achieve a default setting that is the same every time.
To position yourself on the bench press:
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together (as if trying to hold a pencil between you) press your lats into the bench and lift your chest slightly towards the bar.
- While doing this, pinch your bum and put your feet in the ground. Your entire foot (including your heels) should be on the floor on either side of the bench.
- Hold on to your whole body. When you raise your chest to the bar, squeeze your shoulders, squeeze your bum, and drive your heels into the ground, it creates a tight arch in your back. (more on that later).
- Imagine yourself being a superhero and pretending to suck and absorb all the energy from the room. As you lower the bar you will absorb that energy and get ready to explode with the bar facing up.
- Your shins should be perpendicular to the floor and just below your knees. If they are in front of you, your feet are too far forward and you cannot generate proper propulsion.
When you look up, your eyes should be north of the bottom of the bar – you should see the bar just above your eyes. Your head, upper back, and butt should never leave the bench.
Note: Some people (including myself) find it easier to get firm in the upper back if they put their feet on the bench, grab the bar, firm in the upper back, and then place their feet on either side of the bench one by one other.
This is just another method and something to try after you get the hang of it!
Next, take your arms, place them straight up, and grab the bar. Your grip should be around the bar with your thumbs.
A thumbless grip should not be used when benching as it is unsafe and is often referred to as a "suicide grip" because it is far too easy for the bar to fall off your hands and land on your body (warning: difficult to see).
When you hold the bar, it should be in the heel of your palm (The same place in your hands as the overhead press.) Your wrists are not stretched, and your forearms are below your wrists in a solid line of support.
If you hold the bar in the top half of your hand or fingertips, not only are you not in a strong position, but you can also injure your wrists.
Bench press grip
Bring the bar (or preferably PVC as we're just learning) to your chest. At your chest, the width of your handle should bring your forearms straight up and down (as perpendicular to the floor as possible).
Get a friend to help you (as you cannot see yourself) or tape yourself up so you can see. Don't worry too much about your forearms being 100% perfectly vertical.
Once you are comfortable with the movement, you can change the width of your handle as there is room for personal preference, but this is a great place to start.
Also, keep in mind that depending on the width of your shoulders, your grip will appear much wider or narrower than your friends. That is normal!
Why should people change their bench press grip?
- A wider grip is more focused on the chest
- A tighter grip is more focused on the triceps
You will see powerlifters use a super wide handle as this reduces freedom of movement and allows them to lift more weight in competition.
However, more weight doesn't always mean stronger, and our goal for today is safety and strength!
For this reason, we recommend a grip with your forearms in a vertical position. This is the most rounded and safest version for overall strength.
If you are concerned about whether You have the right grip, record yourself and compare it to the videos in this guide. When it's close, you're fine.
Our new app also contains lots of videos and gifs that you can use to compare your workout as well. You can try it out now (for free) if you want:
The most important bench press tip (hold tight)
When set up properly, your whole body should be toned.
When doing the bench press, focus on the following
- Think of your body as a unit, not as individual muscle groups.
- Drive your feet into the ground, pulling your entire lower body and core tight, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and squeezing the bar. You should feel like a solid unit.
- When toning your body, your neck, upper back, and buttocks should be on the bench (and your feet and heels on the floor).
- As you drive your heels through the floor, squeeze your shoulder blades, and lift your chest towards the bar, a little arch will form in your back – that's natural and what we aim for.
- You don't want to press your lower back into the bench to create a "flat back" or try not to create an arch. If you've heard people bench press talking about not using an arch, they are most likely referring to the extreme arch used by many lifters:
- That's not what we're aiming for here – this is a way to help you lift more weight by decreasing your range of motion, and it's only safe if you've been on the bench for a long time and really know what Do you . For overall strength, we recommend sitting on the bench with full range of motion rather than trying to reduce it.
Do you feel how tight your body is now? It is very important that you maintain this tightness throughout the movement.
Proper bench press
Now that we are set up and have our hands around the bar, we want to think about keeping our elbows in and not letting them flicker out.
One way to do this is by grabbing the bar and trying to bend it up in half, toward the sky.
That clue up will also help you get your lats engaged. While this won't help you with the press, it will help you keep your body firmer.
This video (from NF Prime) shows you how to bench press with the right form:
To do the bench press:
# 1) Loosen the bar and position the bar just above your shoulders (Without losing the tightness – keep pressing your shoulder blades together!).
# 2) Keep looking up at the ceiling, unlock your elbows, and lower the bar onto your chest. Don't just drop the bar on your chest – you want to pull it down in a controlled manner.
# 3) At the end of the movement, you want the bar to touch a few inches below your collarbones. If it's on your neck or on your stomach, it's in the wrong position.
# 4) Once the bar touches your chest, push up to bring the bar back to its starting position.
Note that unlike the Deadlift and Squatthe bench press won't go straight up and down.
Because of our anatomy, the bar follows a slightly diagonal path down and then the same path back up.
# 5) As you press, make sure to hold your elbows tight and not let them flicker out.
Remember to push so that your biceps are touching the side of your chest (even though you habit Be close enough to get there or try to get your elbows under the bar.
You don't want to be too hidden, however – the goal is a 45 degree angle:
# 6) As you press, the same parts of your body that previously touched the bench should still be touching the bench and your feet should still be on the floor. Don't let any part of you (the most common one is your bum) get off the bench.
To keep your bum from coming off the bench instead of pushing up with your heels while driving, you should push up and back toward the front of the bench (where your head is).
# 7) To reinsert the bar, move the bar backwards towards the posts and touch it with the bar. Then let go of the rod. Don't look at the racks, you know they are there! For beginners, having a friend help guide the bar back into position in the rack is great.
What is a beginner bench press? (Determining your takeoff weight)
Okay, okay, you are wondering how much you should put on the bar as a beginner starting out on the bench press.
This is a very important question, and for someone trying to level up as quickly as possible, you will be tempted to put a lot more weight on the bar than you can probably handle.
In other words, your ego is writing checks that your body cannot cash.
So here is what you are going to do.
Check your ego and start with:
The bar. And ONLY the bar.
Your ego will survive. I promise.
As we cover in our in-depth guide, "How Much Weight Should I Lift?", You should ALWAYS start every session with the bar only.
Hell, even seasoned powerlifters who can bench press more than 500 pounds will only start with the bar bench press.
You can also. Nobody in the gym cares. I promise you.
NOTE: The bar STILL weighs 45 pounds which may be too heavy for you. That's okay! You don't go to show people how strong you are in the gym, you go to the gym to get stronger.
First, make sure 45 pounds isn't too heavy for you.
If you're even a bit worried, consider using dumbbells or finding a smaller / lighter barbell at the gym and using that to increase strength with the bar.
HOW TO BANK PRESS MORE:
Well, if you can bench press the bar safely, great.
Do 3 sets of 10 on your first day at the gym.
When it's time to push the bench again, add 1.2kg on each side of the bar and repeat the process.
You will then lift a total of 50 pounds.
Add a total of 5 pounds (2.5 per side) to the bar every week. This will be "slow" at first. Even at just 5 pounds a week, you will quickly reach a point in the next 6 to 12 months where you are nearing a weight that you can no longer lift.
"BUT STACI, I can do a lot more than lift the bar, why start there?"
Because you need to exercise your body properly and we are trying to build momentum. When you practice perfect shape with light weight, your body begins to learn the correct path for the bar. Your muscles, tendons, and joints all learn how to carry the load of a weighted bar.
And every week you get a little stronger.
Repeat this week after week, combine it with diet to get stronger and you'll build muscle like a superhero!
The entire strategy of our new app, Nerd Fitness Journey, is based on this strategy: slow progress over time. And because we're nerds, you'll actually build a superhero along the way (because why not!).
5 common bench press mistakes
- Do not hold the body taut – Once you lose the tightness, chances are you will miss the replay. Also, when warming up and when you are light, make sure you keep your entire body toned.
- Butt comes up – Make sure your butt always stays on the bench! It's easy to drop it off the bench once the weight gets heavy and you really start to ride through your heels. Instead of thinking about going up through your heels, think about going up and back. If you're having problems with your butt, try either putting plates under your feet or reevaluating your foot position (or dropping the weight).
- Bounce off your chest – When you get to the lower part of the lift, don't jump! Lower the bar to lightly strip your shirt, then press.
- Half repetitions – One of the most common mistakes I've seen in the gym! Make sure you have full range of motion (up to your chest!) On each rep.
- Wrong start, middle and end positions (see picture below) – We have learned in the past that a vertical line is the most efficient way to move a pole. However, when doing the bench press, it is safest to move the bar in a slight curve. The bar starts and ends above your shoulders, but the center of the bar is under your collarbones. If your middle position is in a vertical line above your shoulders, your middle position is too high.
How to ask for a spotter on the bench press
Recognition is a very important part of the bench press – not only to see someone, but also to see other people. Bench pressing alone can be extremely dangerous.
The purpose of a spotter is to keep the lift safe – Not helping the lifter with repetitions.
The spotter always watches each repetition while keeping out of the way.
The only thing they can help with is to take you off, but after that, you are everything!
* Lifting occurs when you help the lifter to remove the bar from the frame and then release it when it is in the correct starting position.
You don't need a spotter for your warm-up kits, but everyone should have one for their work kits.
How do you ask someone to discover you? "Hey, will you recognize me very quickly?" normally works (it's that simple!) I've never had someone turn me down.
If you're always at the gym at the same time as someone else, make friends and see each other.
That way, when you happen to ask someone to discover you, you won't always be nervous.
Whenever someone asks you to discover them, always ask:
- How many repetitions do you do?
- Do you want to take off?
- How would you like to be discovered?
Some people don't want you to touch the bar unless they tell you to. Others want you to help them lead them up the bar when they fail and others want you to take the bar right away when they fail the repetition.
Some want to take off, others don't.
If you ask someone to discover you, they will likely ask you the same questions!
What if I don't have a spotter? Can I bench press without a spotter?
If you don't have a spotter, you can use the power rack as a bank.
ONE Power rack would look like this:
NF Coach Jim shows how you can bench press with a power rack:
Just set the pegs at a height just below your chest. So if you miss a replay, you can get out.
Unless you have a power rack and absolutely no spotter, you can either not attach clips to the bar and then let the weight slide off either side or do the "roll of shame". Where to roll the bar over your body, sit up and pick up the bar.
However, both methods are dangerous and you risk injury if you perform them. Please don't bench press alone – especially if you're just starting out. Even if the weight seems small, there is a very good chance of injury.
The best you can do is ask someone at the gym to discover you.
There is nothing strange about anything – in fact, it is normal and expected!
If that's not an option, consider doing barbell presses or another chest exercise until you find a spotter.
Frequently asked questions about the bench press (plus tips to get you started)
1) "I see people with their feet on the bench – what's going on?"
This is technically incorrect – but it really is a completely different move than your standard bench press. It eliminates the use of the lower body in movement and can be good for people with injuries or as an auxiliary exercise.
I've seen it most of all in bodybuilding routines. We encourage you to stick to it the bench press we introduced until you master the movement.
2) "If the bank is one of the Big Four, why aren't some people pushing the bank?"
The bench press is a great way to build strength. But of the big 4, the elevator has most of the alternatives available.
While it is difficult to replace a heavy deadlift, you can easily replace the bench press with push-up and dip variations and get steadily stronger with just your own body weight for a very long time.
Here are the 42 best bodyweight exercises if you want to get started this way first!
Personally, I keep the bank in my program because I enjoy it, but also because it's a competitive hitch.
However, Steve has chosen not to bench press and has replaced it with body weight variations of pushups and lots of ring work.
3) “Okay, I understand! What do I do now?"
I'm glad you asked! I have three great options for you:
Option 1) If you want a step-by-step guide, a customized strength training program that increases as you gain strength, and a trainer who will hold you accountable, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:
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Option 2) work out at home and need a plan to follow? Check out Nerd Fitness Journey!
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Option 3) join the rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
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- Everything you need to know to get strong.
- Exercise routines for body weight AND strength training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
So that's all! Next time you're in the gym, try the bench press!
Just start with the bar and add weight every time you hit your weights. Don't forget to have a spotter!
So what kind of banking questions do you have for us?
PS: Don't forget to check out our other articles in the Strength 101 series!
Photo source: leg0fenris: legos, Alexander Danling: Bänke, Christian Hernandez: Superman, Bench press arch, LEGO bench press, Beam me up, please.