Anatomy of a Bench Press

July 16, 2012

The bench press has always been heralded as the tester of strength in the gym world. I can’t remember how many times I have been asked over the years how much I bench pressed (225 at body weight of 125). As if it is the only exercise you do in the gym.

But it is the one exercises that is familiar to almost everyone, even if they don’t lift weights. It just seems to be the determining factor of strength.

The bench press is definitely an exercise that develops strength in the upper body. In powerlifting competitions it is one of the three lifts along with squats and Russian deadlifts that makes up the sport of Powerlifting. But, there is a lot more to bench pressing that just pushing up a bar with weight. It is actually quite a technical lift when done correctly and if ever seen in a powerlifting venue is quite different than what is normally seen in the gym in a general fitness workout.

There are many muscles that are involved with the bench press. Most people think that it is primarily a chest exercise and they are not wrong in that thinking. But, there is a lot more involved that just the pectoral muscles. Let’s take a look at the anatomy of the bench press. This exercises focuses on the development of the pectoralis major muscles as well as supporting muscles including anterior deltoids (shoulders), coracobrachialis (upper arm) and triceps (back upper arm). But, the lat muscles of the back, the scapular muscles as well as the glutes all play a role in developing a strong bench press.

Positioning on the bench is very important. Position yourself on the bench with just eyes under the bar. Generally you want about shoulder width grip. Too narrow and you will involve more tricep and two wide you put your shoulders at risk. The elbows should be slightly in toward your sides; not at a 90 degree angle. Shoulder blades should be pinched together. You should think about shoulder blades being tucked down and back. You want to maintain a stiffness throughout the upper body.

But, success in the bench press doesn’t come from just the upper body. The lower body positioning is just an important. You want a solid and stable platform to work with. Keep you feet flat on the floor at all times. Position your feet a little wide and flat on the floor. Do not move your feet at all during the lift. Even when you start to struggle with the weight, you must think about pushing your feet into the floor. Moving, shuffling or lifting your feet off the floor during your bench presses will rob you of strength. You want to take advantage of the force transfer from the legs. Make sure to engage the glutes (squeeze your butt).

Breathing is important when bench pressing. You want to take a big breath in as you lower the bar. Slowly exhale thru pursed lips as you push the weight up. This slow release of air will maintain a stable torso. It is much like breathing out at the bottom of a squat. Once you breathe out, you lose all your tension and along with that, strength.

As you can see, there is a lot more to bench pressing that meets the eye. Along with mastering just the technique of the lift, there is a host of accessory exercises that go along with developing awesome strength in the bench.

Some of these exercises are: dumbbell presses, shoulder presses, tricep extensions or dips, chins for back strength. Also, it is important to train for explosive strength as well. Bench press is not an exercise that you will want to move slowly through. You always will want to lower the bar under control, but explode out of the bottom. Explosive strength can be trained using a lighter weight and learning to move the bar quickly off the chest.

The bench press is not an exercise that everyone needs to be doing. It is a fun exercise and is definitely one of those benchmarks in the gym world.

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