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Bench Press: All it wants is a little understanding

The bench press is arguably the least understood and most mis-practiced exercise. And that's a shame.

If you've got much of a physique, someone has probably asked you, "How much can you bench?" One problem with this question, and any answer you give, is the bench press is not a true measure of strength or power.

Nor is it well-defined. Does this person mean how much can you bench correctly? Or how much you can push up if you cheat by recruiting your front delts, arching your back, and so forth?

For training purposes, the bench press is not something the typical bench presser does correctly. Not even close. Odds are that, in any typical gym, you will not see one person doing it right in a typical hour.

One reason why is people fixate on "how much can you bench" rather than using the exercise to progressively overload the pectorals. So what they accomplish is tendon-shortening that leads to an unstable shoulder joint. Yes, the pecs do come into play, but not through the full range of motion.

To get that full chest that the bench press can provide, you need to "open up" the chest rather than compact it. What this means is the typical bench-presser is doing the exercise backwards from how it should be done and forgoing the results it can produce.

One result is the prolonged elevation of testosterone the follows correct benching. When you're recruiting the pecs through the full range and not cheating, the load on the body is such that it responds with a huge hormonal adaptation. Only squats and deadlifts produce a higher testosterone spike.

Some tips to help you do this bench press correctly:

  1. Begin by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hard. This aligns your shoulders properly. Most bench-pressers can't even get into this position without considerable force exerted by another person. Get help until you can do it on your own.
  2. Think of moving your body away from the bar, rather than the bar away from your body. This will help you force your shoulders back, instead of forward.
  3. Limit your reps per set. Lift the heaviest you can, in correct form. If you have to cheat on any rep, you're using too much weight. Don't crank out reps in bad form just to do 3 sets of 8. If you do 2 or 3 good reps, that's a good set. Drop the weight a bit, before starting the next set. You get the most adaptive response from the last good rep you do, so more sets of high-quality, intense, correct-form reps will produce much better results than mindlessly cranking out 8 x 3 or whatever.
  4. Stabilize the bar. Have you noticed that many bench-pressers seem to be a bit unsteady on the way up? What they do is adjust the amount of deltoid in the exercise to stabilize the bar. But this is wrong. Instead, keep that "open" posture that builds your chest and exert a bit of pulling force on the bar. That is, pull your hands apart. You will be able to put a greater load on the pectorals and avoid that deltoid recruitment.

If you think of "opening the chest" when reviewing your bench press technique, you will begin to notice great improvement. Not only will your pectorals get bigger, but they will sit on a larger ribcage. Arnold achieved a 54 inch chest with a 30 inch waist by practicing this very principle.


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The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

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 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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