Sunday, March 23, 2008

How to Bench Press with Proper Technique & Avoid Shoulder Injuries

The Bench Press is the most popular lift in the gym. It’s the upper-body exercise that lets you lift the most weight. The Bench Press builds upper-body strength like no other exercise & that’s why it’s part of StrongLifts 5×5 program.

Unfortunately the Bench Press causes most injuries. Shoulder pain from doing the Bench Press is common. Proper Bench Press technique not only minimizes risks of injury, it’s also key to lifting more weight. This article will help you with the Bench Press technique.

What’s The Bench Press? Lie on an upright support bench or a bench inside a Power Rack. Unrack the weight & lower it to your chest. Press it back up until your arms are locked. You’ve done a Bench Press.

You have several ways to Bench Press by varying grip, grip width, bench angle, etc. Some Bench Press variations are:

* Close Grip Bench Press. Shoulder width grip. Emphasis triceps.
* Reverse Grip Bench Press. Palms facing you. Also emphasis triceps.
* Incline Bench Press. From an incline bench. Emphasis shoulders.
* Decline Bench Press. From a decline bench. Allows more weight.
* Floor Press. Bench Press while lying on the floor. More triceps.

This article deals with the Bench Press without extreme arching of the back like in Powerlifting.

Benefits of The Bench Press. Why should you Bench Press? Here are two reasons to do the exercise.

* Builds Muscle. Bench Press if you want a big chest, as popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 70s. Front Shoulders & triceps work too.
* Builds Strength. The Bench Press is the strength training exercise that lets you lift the most weight using your upper-body muscles.

Bench Press Safety. Most injuries in the gym happen when doing The Bench Press. One reason is of course because it’s the exercise done the most. Other reasons are not using the following tips.

* No Thumbless Grip. Use your thumbs when doing the Bench Press. You don’t want the bar to slip out of your hands.
* Start Light. Add weight gradually. You’ll get a feeling of what you can & can’t handle while learning proper Bench Press technique.
* Ask Someone to Spot. Spotters will help you if you get stuck with the bar on your chest. If you don’t have a spotter, read the guide on how to Bench Press safely when you’re alone.

Bench Press & Shoulders Pain. Shoulder pain from doing the Bench Press is common. Switching to dumbbells or quiting the Bench Press avoids pain, but doesn’t solve your shoulder problem. What you should do:

* Improve Technique. If you don’t Bench Press with proper technique you’ll injure yourself sooner or later. Read on.
* Fix Posture. You can’t Bench Press with proper technique if you have slouching shoulders. Start doing shoulder dislocations. Focus on bringing your chest forward & squeezing your shoulder-blades.
* Avoid Muscle Imbalances. The Bench Press works your front shoulders more than the back ones. If you don’t strengthen these by doing the Barbell Row & Overhead Press, you’ll get a muscle imbalance. Causing bad posture & thus bad Bench Press technique. Get on StrongLifts 5×5, it’s a balanced program.

Bench Press Setup. You need a strong base to press the weight from. Tighten your upper-back. Grip the bar hard: try to break it apart like breaking spaghetti.

* Grip Width. Too narrow & you’ll lose strength. Too wide & the distance the bar travels shortens. Grip width should be about 55-71cm/22-28″ depending on your build. Forearms perpendicular to the floor when the bar touches your chest.
* Gripping the Bar. Secure the bar with your thumbs by rotating your hands in. Put the bar in the palm of your hand, close to your wrist. If you put the bar close to your fingers, you’ll get wrist pain.
* Tight Upper-back. Squeeze your shoulder-blades before getting on the bench. Keep your shoulder-blades back & down at all times like on the picture below. This gives your body a solid base to press the bar from.
* Chest Up. Don’t allow your chest to go flat or shoulders to roll forward. You’ll lose upper-back tightness, losing power & increasing risk of shoulder injury. Keep your chest up at all time.
* Feet. Use a wide foot stance to increase stability on the bench. Feet flat on the floor, weight on the heels, lower leg perpendicular to the floor. This prevents extreme arching of your lower back.

Zhang Guozheng's Back
Tight upper-back, squeezing the shoulder-blades. Image credit: dehwang.

The Bench Press. Remember to keep the tight position during the Bench Press from start to finish. Squeeze the bar, keep your upper-back tight & your chest up. Unrack the weight with straight arms. Bench.

* Bar to Chest. Touch your chest where your forearms are perpendicular to the floor when looking from the side.
* Press in a Straight Line. Don’t look at the bar. Fix a point at the ceiling. Press the bar in a straight line above your chest, not towards your face. Keep the bar above your elbows during the whole lift.

Common Errors. The following Bench Press errors are either inefficient or potentially dangerous. Avoid them at all costs.

* Unracking with Bent Arms. Don’t risk the bar falling on your face. Your arms are strongest when your elbows are locked. Unrack & bring the bar above your chest with locked elbows.
* Pressing to Your Face. The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. Press in a straight line. Fix a point at the ceiling where you want the bar to go. Don’t look at the bar.
* Bending Your Wrists. This will get you wrist pain. Put the bar in the palm of your hand. Close to your wrists, not close to your fingers. Squeeze the bar so it doesn’t move.
* Elbows. Too high is bad for your shoulders. Too low is inefficient. Put your elbows between perpendicular to & parallel with your torso.
* Shoulders Forward. Don’t let your shoulders roll forward. It’s bad posture, bad technique & a guaranteed way to get shoulder injuries. Keep your chest up, shoulder-blades back & down and upper-back tight.
* Glutes off the Bench. This makes the distance the bar travels shorter & thus the Bench Press easier. However it puts pressure on your back, especially when the weight gets heavy. You’re more stable when your glutes are on the bench. Keep them there.
* Pushing Your Head into The Bench. You’ll injure your neck. Tighten your neck muscles, without pushing your head into the bench.


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DoesP90XWork said...

Thanks for posting this.
It is reassuring to read a blog about correct bench press execution.

The trouble with the seemingly simple compound exercises like the bench press, is that they might appear very easy to perform, that newbies just dive into it without giving a thought to the proper form.

For me, the most important muscle group to warm up has to be the deltoids, as this is the area that I am most likely to injure.