Along the road to building a bigger bench press, I have made a lot of technical changes to the way I move the weight and different cues to help have a successful press. Note, this is primarily a piece on benching for Powerlifting however, for physique or general strength purposes all the points can be applied.
Firstly: Set-Up, like all of the big three lifts I compete in (Squat, Bench and Deadlift) set-up is key.
Starting from the ground up, you want your feet in contact with the floor, and your glutes tight. This will insure that you are able to produce force and not let it dissipate through (if legs are relaxed).
On the upper body side of things, pulling your shoulder blades back is essential, not only for shoulder health but also the strength of your press. Think squeezing a penny at the inner bottom corner of both your shoulder blades together.
Once you are in a tight position, you are ready to find out where your “sweet spot” is. This was mentioned to me by Brandon Lily, and he told the group that he had heard about it and seen it from Jim Wendler, so credit goes there! Here is Jim explaining Good Bench press technique
The “Sweet spot”, this is the area over your chest with your arms locked in which the bar feels almost weightless, (From the bar being lifted out, think about doing a front raise with the bar, but lying down) once the bar is over that “Sweet spot” you should be able to bench down and your upper arm is no further than 90 degrees when the bar is at your chest.
The descent should be a slow and controlled movement, where you keep your elbows tucked (think rotate inwards) and you are able to remain in this tight position through the press.
From here, you should drive your feet into the ground, push your butt down into and up the bench (This is called leg drive) and push the bar directly up in a straight line (The shortest way from A to B is a straight line.)
With regards to grip there are lots of different opinions, thumbless, suicide grip (thumb resting on bar), and normal gripping with thumb around bar, now, I’ve tried all of these and most effective in terms of strength output has been normal grip.
The reason why is eloquently explained by James White of Ultimate Performance link here :
“Gripping the bar harder – This technique could be used in any lift but lets look at the bench press. If you squeeze the bar as hard as you can whilst performing the bench press then this has a knock on effect of increasing the neural drive to the rest of the upper body muscles allowing the weight to seem lighter.”
Lastly I should mention Grip Width, when I coach I typically say “whatever comes naturally” , in other words, where someone would feel typically most strong, this will then be tweaked if they are struggling with any other areas of technique (Too wide and unable to tuck elbows or is having shoulder issues should may come narrower, or too narrow that they are finding the press very awkward, the list is almost endless!)
Technique and width will vary depending on limb length, chest size, flexibility etc.
Bench pressing is a great upper body exercise for developing Strength and changing the shape of the upper body, I hope this article has helped dis-spell any myths you may have heard about benching in the past and will lead you through to a better, stronger press.