The bench press is the core movement for the chest. Unlike the overhead press, the bench press is a truer test of pushing ability as it requires less support from the lower body. There are many variations of the bench press and the technique you apply to your lifts will vary between a press designed to produce mass and a press designed to produce strength.
What follows is a brief summary of some fundamental techniques and ideas that can be applied to your current bench-pressing routine.
1. You can’t shoot a cannonball out of a canoe.
In order to be able to produce as much force as possible; create a solid base on the bench by placing your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep pressure on the floor using the whole foot rather than the toes. This provides a wide platform that will absorb any lateral deviation during the press itself. If the bar moves from side to side then the leverage against the shoulder will increase dramatically thus making the job much harder. If you are too small to make solid contact put some 20kg plates under your feet.
Exceptions to this technique are when you are either deliberately trying to create instability when using lighter loads or when you are trying to maximise isolation on the chest. This “maximised” isolation is a trade-off between load and technique.
2. Get to grips
Grip the bench with your shoulder-blades. This has the dual benefit or tightening up the back which creates a more solid upper-body platform from which you can press. It also serves to tuck in the elbows an lifts the chest up from the bench. This means that you don’t have to lower the weight as much.
Again the trade-off here is between overall load and range of motion.
3. Pull the bar off the rack
Once you have the above two steps locked-down you can then un-rack the bar.
To do this, try not to just press the bar off the rack. Your elbows will be tucked in and the bar will be slightly further down the chest so you may need to start off further up the bench than usual. This means that you can (with the shoulder still locked back and down) almost pull the bar off the rack into the start position.
I have seen many people create the perfect set-up position only to lose it as soon as they pick up the bar.
4. Make your mark and pull
Once the bar is in position note a spot on the ceiling that lines up with the bar in your eye line. This is where you finish.
From this position, slowly and with control, imagine you are actually pulling the bar down to the chest. This produces more activation from the lats while the chest works eccentrically and steadies the lifts. Once again you are creating a steady and solid base through the whole body to lift from.
5. Bend it
Another useful tip which makes even a regular lift challenging is to actively try and snap the bar like you would a small branch. I challenge you to do it. Use a weight you would normally push out a tough 8 reps with and try snapping the bar as hard as you can while you lift the bar up and down. It will be significantly harder.
This “snapping” action helps to ensure the elbows are tucked in for the entire movement.
6. Vary your lifts
Try switching up your pressing positions. I’m not talking about incline decline etc. I mean hand positions. Varying the width of your hands on the bar will give you different training responses.
There are lots of different options depending on the equipment you have around you. Super-wide, wide, narrow, reverse, hammer (on a special bar, but I have done presses with a hex bar before). And there are obviously dumbbell variations that can take the chest through various ranges of movement all in one set.