Bench Pressing – BTB 1.3
In this video, we go back to basics with Bench Pressing! Bench Pressing is an upper body movement that utilizes your chest, shoulder, and triceps. It requires your upper body to fire in a concerted effort to press the weight up and over your chest.
We start off this video by looking at the mechanics of the push-up and how to work your way up to barbell bench pressing.
Hope you enjoy!
We will look at the set-up of both the push-up and the bench press. While both of these movements utilize the same muscles there are some distinct differences that are worth noting.
Push-Up – The Set-Up
First, let’s look more in depth on how to properly perform a push-up.
- Foot Placement – Place your feet together with your toes tucked
- NOTE – If you struggle to balance in the push-up position spread your feet wider apart as it will help with stabilization
- Hip Position – Your hips should be neutral and should not sag or pike up (aka don’t drop your butt or lift your butt to the stars)
- Torso Position – Your torso should remain neutral and in line with the rest of your body. Ideally, you want your entire body from head to toe to be as flat as a board
- Head Position – Keep your head neutral. Don’t strain your neck by looking drastically in front of you
A final note on breathing, when you are going through the concentric phase of the push-up (aka pressing up) exhale and when you are bringing your body back down to the ground, inhale.
Working Up to the Push-Up
We start off push-up progressions with an Incline Barbell Push-Up.
Incline Barbell Push-Up
The benefit of this push-up variation is that you can modify it entirely to your strength levels. Raising the barbell height will decrease the difficulty and the load you are distributing to your upper body, whereas decreasing the barbell height will increase the difficulty and load you are distributing to your upper body.
If you are unable to perform a barbell push-up due to lack of equipment or other reasons another good modification is the knee push-up. This will be another great exercise to use if you do not have the upper body strength to perform a strict push-up.
The mechanics of the push-up are the exact same as the incline barbell push-up and the knee push-up. The only difference is that it requires more upper body strength and that you will have your hands and feet firmly placed on the floor.
NOTE – If you have to snake your body or flare your elbows out to perform a “push-up”; first, stop. Snaking and flaring defeats the purpose of performing a push-up. Second, it’s in your best interested to take a step back and use the incline barbell or knee push-up variations till you have the coordination and strength to perform a strict push-up.
PS – If you have the upper body strength to perform a barbell bench press but not a strict push-up then do what is best for your current strength (aka if you can bench press but cannot do a strict push-up… bench press). Additionally, if your gym has 15 or 35 lb. bars, utilize them to your advantage!
Bench Pressing – The Set-Up
Finally, we will look more in-depth on proper set-up for the barbell bench press.
- Foot Placement – Place your feet on either side of the bench with your feet (or if you prefer toes) firmly pressed into the floor.
- PS – If you happen to be vertically challenged (aka short), put plates under your feet so that your feet can be firmly pressed into the floor.
- Hip Position – Both of your glutes should keep in contact with the bench throughout the entirety of the movement.
- NOTE – If you have to keep lifting your hips off the bench while pressing either decrease the weight or actively fight the urge to lift your hips off the bench.
- Torso Position – Your upper back should keep in contact with the bench throughout the entirety of your press. Just make sure your shoulder blades are retracted and you “open” up your chest
- A natural curvature in your spine will help you maintain the scapular (shoulder) retraction throughout each set
- While there are a few back rounding techniques powerlifters commonly use to help with bench pressing we will not touch on that today (another topic for another day)
- Head Position – Your head should maintain contact with the bench throughout your lift and you should avoid any unnecessary movement or rotation in your head while pressing.
A final note on breathing, when you are going through the concentric phase of bench pressing (pushing the barbell upwards), exhale and when you are bringing the bar down to your chest, inhale.
Bench Pressing – Variations
I specifically use the word “variations” because the difference between a barbell bench press and a dumbbell is much more a variation than progression.
Barbell Bench Press
First, according to Francis, the bench press is the “the king of all upper body exercises”; while I clearly had an opinion on the matter (8:44) it is important to touch on this. The bench press is one of the best movements for recruiting your chest, shoulders, and triceps. The benefit of a bench press over a push-up is you can vary the resistance by increasing the weight and it is also a lot easier to find a specific intensity for your goals.
NOTE – It is important when pressing to get comfortable with the bar path as it will help improve your performance with the bench and also help avoid any unnecessary load on your shoulders. Additionally, by improving your bar path you are able to improve your chest recruitment for the bench press.
Dumbbell Bench Press
This largest difference between the DB bench press and the BB bench press is an increase in stabilization through the shoulders. While this typically translates to you being unable to press as much weight, it does mean you are actively recruiting the smaller muscle responsible for shoulder stabilization. Not only that, but you are not limited by the physical presence of your chest (i.e. you can bring the dumbbells lower than just in line with your chest/shoulder and get a really good eccentric stretch in your chest).
NOTE – To improve chest utilization, angle your pinkies down (slightly supinate your hands). As it will help you with your dumbbell path and also prevent your shoulders from flaring.
BONUS – Close Grip Bench Pressing
We wrapped up this video by talking about Close Grip Bench Pressing and how you can utilize this movement as another variation to bench pressing. By decreasing shoulder utilization this movement is great for those with any slight shoulder discomfort and active shoulder impingements.
However, it is important to note since shoulder recruitment decreases you will not be able to press as much compared to a regular bench press. The bar path is similar to a regular bench press however you will bring the bar slightly lower on your chest and you will also try to keep your elbows tucked in to your sides.
NOTE – When setting up for the CG bench press make sure you set up your hands so they are almost exactly shoulder-width apart.
I hope this post has given you some great insight on how to work your way up to, and perform, a bench press. While the bench press is physically taxing on your upper body, it is a movement you can get strong at with time, patience, and hard work.
Finally, I want to thank you for taking the time to learn how to bench press with us. I wish you all the best of luck bench pressing and I hope you hit some new PRs following this post.
PS If you have any questions please feel free to comment below or reach out via email.
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