Bench Pressing Do’s and Dont’s


On Saturday I taught another Weight Room Orientation Class. There were only three in attendance at this particular class which gave me an opportunity to talk with each individual more than I usually get to. As I took them around the weight room and showed them each machine, how it should be set up and and the proper way to do each exercise the comment I heard most was “Oh! Well, that’s not how I see people doing it!” Uhhhmmmmm yeah,  I know. That’s the whole problem! Most people who are new to the weight room  walk in, watch the  people using the machines and then repeat what they’ve seen. PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!!!! Out of all the people in a weight room at any given point, 94-99% of them are doing it WRONG! And yes, I’m dead serious.

When you are working with weights, form is absolutely CRITICAL. If your form is off you’ve got one of two things that are gonna happen. Either you are wasting your time or you are going to hurt yourself. Neither option is all that awesome if you think about it.

Let’s look at bench pressing. This particular exercise is excellent for building pectoral strength that is functional as well. The bench press is one exercise that most women shy away from,  yet it  has long been, and will likely remain, a favorite among male lifters as men are generally much stronger in their upper body than women are. Being in the weight room on a daily basis I see four major mistakes being made  over and over when this lift is performed.

  • The  most common  mistake is the clips. For those of you who do not know what I’m talking about let me explain. The bar  that is used when the bench press is being performed is called an olympic bar. The plates (the big round weights with the hole in the middle) are slid onto each end of the Olympic bar so that the weight to be lifted is evenly distributed between the two sides. Most people then slide on the clips to hold the weight plates in place so that if the bar tipped to one side or  the other the plates won’t slide off the bar. Seems like a good idea in theory doesn’t it? Let me paint another picture for you. Let’s say it’s you laying there on the bench with the bar in your hands. You’ve done your first and second set and are  half way through your  third. You were tired before you started and can feel that the muscle is getting weaker with each repetition but you think you can squeak out the last  few reps. You’ve made it through all but one rep. You know how tired you are, but you’re pretty sure you’ve got this last one. You bring the bar down to your chest and start back up with it. Your muscles  are  screaming  at you and you notice that the bar isn’t moving. You realize right there,  half way up on the last repetition, that you are giving it everything you have and the damn bar isn’t budging an inch, not even a centimeter. What now? You know that if you quit giving it your all  the bar will crush your chest, but on the other hand, the muscle is fatiguing fast and the bar is slowly making it’s way closer to your chest anyway.   Well, if you were smart enough NOT to use clips, you could tip the bar to one side and some of, if not all, of the  plates will slide off. This creates an  uneven distribution of the weight and the bar will automatically fall to the floor on the side with the weights still on it and NOT onto your chest.  I’m sure you can imagine how the scene would play out if you HAD used clips. Not  pretty, huh?
  • The second most common mistake  is the use of a thumb-less grip. A thumb-less grip is when you have your thumb on the same side of the bar as your fingers rather than wrapped around the bar. I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous this one is. The  bar is much more likely to slip out of your hands and (since gravity does indeed work) fall onto your  chest. Ouch! I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that it would be hard to breathe with a  45 pound  bar and the added weight of the plates sitting on top of your chest.
  • The third most common mistake I see is the  arching of the back while pressing the bar back into the starting position.    This one is  more commonly committed by the guys, though I have seen a few of the gals do it too.   Arching  the back while performing the bench press  puts severe strain on the lower back. Now for those of you who have just read that sentence  and are ready to get up in arms,  keep reading. Arching of the back is indeed  considered within regulations  as long as the butt  and the shoulders stay in contact with the bench. If both criteria are not met, someone is likely to get hurt.
  • The last of the most common mistakes I notice is  placing the  feet on the end of the bench. The majority of the offenders are women or teenage girls for the mere fact that most of us do not have as long of legs as most men do. For some reason, we think if we bend our knees and bring our feet up onto the bench it’s okay. It’s not okay! The problem with doing this is that you instantly lose stability as well as power when the feet are up.   You’re more likely to lose your balance (Yes, there is balance involved with laying on a bench with your feet up, if you don’t believe me,  try it!). So it is important to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground to get the full benefits of this exercise. If your legs are not long enough to reach the ground and have both your feet planted flat,  grab a couple of steps (the ones used in aerobics classes) and place on each side of the bench press to help you be able to do so.

So now that we’ve gone over what NOT to do, let’s cover how to properly perform a bench press. Start by laying on the bench, planting your feet flat on the ground, one on each side of the bench, and making certain your butt and shoulders are in contact with the bench and remain in contact with the bench throughout the lift.

Your hands should be spaced on the   bar so that your  elbows  form a 90 degree angle.   If your hands are too close to each other, you’ll  be taking some of your chest out of it and putting the focus on your triceps and front deltoids.    If you’re   hands go too wide,  you won’t have good range of motion, meaning the  bar won’t travel far enough to get the full benefit of the lift. Once your hands are properly spaced, lift   the bar out of it’s holds and then, slow and controlled,  bring   it down to your chest. Return the bar to  its topmost position in a steady fashion, being careful NOT to bounce the bar off your sternum (not only is that dangerous and can easily cause injury but it also releases some of the  tension you have built up in your pectorals (which minimizes the effectiveness of the lift). By minimizing your effective rate, you’re in essence, shooting yourself in the foot. Kinda stupid.

If you’re like me and going down all the way to your chest hurts your shoulders, then just go as far down as you can without pain. Always remember to listen to your body, it is only looking out for your best interest and listening to it will keep you in the best position to avoid injury.


Just for fun I had to throw in this image I found! How cute is she?! Happy Benching! 🙂

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