Written by Lisa Allen, MD
The flat bench press is one of the most popular weight training exercises. Therefore, it is essential that you learn the correct barbell bench press technique in order to get the best results and to ensure you minimise the risk of injury.
In covering the barbell bench press, we will start with the positions for specific body parts at the beginning of the proper bench press technique. Then we will examine how to bench press correctly followed by how to include the bench press exercise in your workouts in order to obtain maximum results.
Your feet should be placed on the floor on either side of the bench about shoulder width apart. Oftentimes you see people performing the bench press technique with their feet off the floor and knees in the air.
Their reasoning for doing so is that they can then have their back flat on the bench which they suggest gives the back more support during the performance of the movement. However, this reasoning is incorrect. By having the back ’rounded’, the erector spinae muscle are relaxed.
The erector spinae muscles are the muscles that run longitudinally up the spine on either side. When they are contracted they provide an enormous amount of support to the spine, keeping it stable and secure.
This is far more beneficial than simply having the pad on a bench pushing up against the back! As a result, keep your feet flat on the floor at all times during the performance of the correct flat bench press technique.
Since your feet are on the floor it is likely that there will be an arch in your back. This is good! In fact, it is even better to emphasise the arch and make it as pronounced as possible. This means that more of the erector spinae muscle will be contracted and therefore, more of the spinae will be supported.
Elite-level powerlifters who can bench press enormous weights tend to only have their upper back and their butt on the bench when they perform the flat bench press technique so as it ensure that their back is as secure as possible when they lift. This creates an emphasised arch in their back.
Even though it is not necessary to duplicate this technique exactly, using a similar flat bench press technique with a slight arch in the back is definitely beneficial if you want to be secure when you perform a proper bench press.
When learning how to bench press correctly, ensure that your scapula (shoulder blades) are fully retracted (pulled back) during the performance of the movement. This will add to the safety of your back as well as put your shoulder joints in a favourable position for the movement.
Shoulder and arm position
As mentioned previously, your shoulders should remain pulled back during the performance of the flat bench press technique.
Your hands should be spaced approximately 1.5 times shoulder width on the bar. The exact hand spacing can be measured by lowering the bar to your chest and then determining the position where your forearms are perpendicular to the floor (when viewed from behind the bench).
By having your forearms perpendicular to the floor at the bottom position means you will be able to push directly against the force of gravity. If your hand spacing is narrower or wider than this then some of the forces generated will be lost laterally.
The same principle applies when determining where to position the bar on your chest. When viewed from the side, the arms should again be perpendicular to the floor at the bottom position. Most people find that this position is when the bar is somewhere on the lower portion of the chest.
Performance of exercise
It is important that some assistance is received when lifting the bar from the rack to the starting position above the chest. This minimises any potential stress that may be placed on the shoulder joints.
When lowering the bar to the chest it is important to ensure that the movement is slow and controlled. Once the bar touches the chest immediately press it back up to the starting position. However, during the set it is important to stop the movement just before ‘lock out’. This is where the elbow is fully extended.
Continue performing repetitions until you reach a point of momentary muscular failure (MMF) if you have someone spotting you. Otherwise stop the exercise just before reaching this point.
The barbell bench press involves the chest (pec major), front of the shoulders (anterior delts) and the triceps (triceps brachii) muscles.
Overall, it is important to know how to bench press correctly so you can incorporate the exercise into your workouts and therefore obtain all the benefits this exercise offers.