The Bench Press. We all do it, we all know what it is, but the average trainer can barely just lift their body weight. Which is about as embarrassing as having a massive upper body but chicken legs. Now we’ve all had to start somewhere, but if you’re not pressing your body weight by 1-2 years of training, you’re not training right. As one of the key foundation exercises of any program, it does take time to perfect your bench press technique and I’ve seen plenty of more experienced trainers make some common mistakes. Here are 5 of the biggest bench press mistakes, why you’re making them and how to correct it so you can start benching more in no time.
1. Bouncing the Bar Off Your Chest
While not everybody does this, as it can be quite uncomfortable biomechanically speaking, enough trainers perform it to warrant this being included in the list. You’ll see a lot of competitive power lifters and strength athletes do this move, but it’s often during a 1RM, which is understandable, as it does help provide a certain momentum to lift it back up. But in order to grow your pecs and lift more in general, you need more reps and more time under tension.
Bouncing the bar off the chest during a multi rep set is dangerous as it places quite a bit of pressure on your sternum. In addition, bouncing will not allow you to brace your body and keep it tight, which can also potentially lead to injury. Bouncing the bar off your chest is akin to using momentum during a bicep curl. Yes, you can lift more, but you’re not fully activating the muscle in question and it looks stupid. Stop bouncing, tighten your body and perform slow and controlled reps and your bench press will grow.
2. Breathing & Bracing
It’s surprising how many people don’t know how to breathe and brace their body properly. A lot of trainers go through the motions and try to perform the set as fast as possible, which is fine at lower weights, but once you start adding more plates, you’ll probably find yourself struggling. Focusing on breathing and bracing the body before each rep will make a world of difference and will help you to lift more and activate more muscle fibres.
As with any exercise, it’s important that you exhale on the push phase and breathe in on the down phase. Once the barbell is back in its original position, really focus on bracing your core and your arms and begin breathing in as you lower the bar down. This might make the set last a little bit longer, but it’s a small price to pay to achieve better gains.
3. Flared Elbows
The only thing that should be flaring during a bench press is your nostrils. Flaring out your elbows will not activate more of the chest. Rather, it’s a good stepping stone to tearing your pecs and believe me, that is not fun. Keep the elbows closer towards the body, but not so close that you start working the triceps. If you’re having a hard time picturing this, try not to have your elbows in line with your shoulders and instead lower them slightly towards your legs and have them in line with your mid to lower pec. If you find your elbows flaring out too much, you might need to adjust your grip. Generally the wider your grip, the harder it is to keep them slightly tucked in. Another cause of flared elbows may be the fact that you’re shrugging your shoulders, so bring them down if you notice you start shrugging during your bench. Maintaining a close elbow position will also help you make the most out of your lat recruitment, which is actually very important in the bench press.
4. Feet on the Bench
While not the worse thing you can do, putting your feet on the bench isn’t helpful and could place you at increased risk of injury later on. Those who put their feet up on the bench aim to get leverage by making it easy to flatten their back to the bench. However, in this position, your back actually isn’t in a natural arch. Lifting your feet up mid way through the set is even worse as it makes you less stable during the set. I order to increase your bench press, you want a wider stable base. Bring the heels back slightly till they’re just about to lift off the ground, however maintain the heels on the floor at all times throughout the lift. When raising the barbell, push down with your heel to help support the lift and provide you with greater drive and power.
5. Too Many Warm up Reps
A lot of trainers get overzealous when it comes to warm ups before a heavy session. They’re extremely worried about injuries and not being warmed up enough that they perform way too many reps. By the time they’ve reached their working set, they’ve tired themselves out and can’t actually perform their desired number of reps. The result? Less lifted and less growth.
It’s still important to warm up, however aim to do it smartly. Start with a set of push ups and then work with 2 sets of weighted warms ups at reduced reps; roughly half of what you would do for your working set. For example if you’re aiming to lift 80kg, perform at most 2 sets of 40kg. A lighter warm up will ensure more energy left for the lifts that count.
Blast Your Bench Press
While you can build a solid chest without the bench press, you can build a great one with it. The bench press is a fantastic compound exercise that can help put mass around a variety of muscles and is a sure fire way to help you fill out your shirt. Just as with all the main compound lifts, improving your bench press isn’t easy, but it can be done. One of the best and simplest ways to improve your bench press is to simply notice any rookie mistakes you might be making. Whether it’s flaring your elbows, bouncing the bar off your chest, not bracing, performing too many reps or having an unstable base; rectifying these mistakes is quick and easy. And when you do correct these, you’ll see your bench press improve significantly and you’ll be impressing not only yourself, but all the other trainers in the gym. Now go and bench!