The Bench Press is my favourite topic for many reasons. Firstly, we all know the very first question someone asks when you tell them you lift weights is “How much do you bench bro?” Secondly, at the expense of sounding like an absolute tosser, I’m pretty damn good at it!
There are many amazing opinions and critics on this lift that will poo poo my technique. In most cases, I have a much bigger bench press than these people and so do the athletes I train who follow this technique. If I asked anyone who likes lifting, if they would like to try a technique that could instantly add kilos to their bench press from the very first time they attempted them, 9 times out of 10, the answer would be YES and that one person who answered no, is someone that just didn’t quite hear the question correctly.
So, moving forward…
The technique that I am proposing is a powerlifting technique that is slightly modified. I have adjusted it in a way that is not as aggressive as my exact Powerlifting technique, because in some instances, my technique can be a little painful on the back. It’s absolutely not worth risking injury for the sake of looking like a cool dude (or dudette) on the street, unless you are a competitive lifter and the benefit outweighs the risk, so for the general population, we will err on the side of safety.
The technique involves a slight arch of the back and puts the body into a rather unnatural position. Before attempting this position, I qualify the lifter for any back pain, and if some exists, I definitely don’t progress that person to my exact powerlifting technique, but the one that I will explain, is pretty safe and as a matter of fact, protects the shoulders more than the more conventional bench pressing techniques which in my opinion leads to greater recruitment of the pecs leading to not only increased hypertrophy of that area but strength as well!
Step 1: Lay on the bench with the eyes in line with the barbell while it is on the rack. If you are too far back, you will bump the bar on the rack on each rep and if you are too far down the bench, the position is slightly more difficult to get into.
Step 2: Every Olympic barbell has a smooth part of the bar in the middle and the knurling lines begin 14 inches apart from each other. Spread your fingers out as stretched out as they go and place the end of your thumb on the start of that line with perfect symmetry and then grab the bar with the thumb wrapped around, holding on tight. This should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
Step 3: Whilst laying flat on the bench with your hands in position, bring your feet back as far as they go so that the balls of the feet are on the ground and your heels are up in the air as if you were standing on your tippy toes. Point your knees straight and your toes in the same direction and push the heels towards the ground. The heels wont touch the ground, but you will find that this engages the muscles of your butt and puts a slight arch in your lower back.
Step 4: This foot and lower back position now makes it easier to arch your upper back and squeeze your shoulder blades together so they are resting on the bench. The aim is to maintain this slightly arched position with your shoulder blades squeezing together throughout the entire set.
Step 5: The rack height should be one where the elbows are slightly bent when holding onto the bar. If the arms are fully stretched out whilst the bar is racked, the shoulder blades WILL be pulled out of position when the bar is unracked and while there is a heavy weight on the bar, it is extremely difficult to put the shoulder blades back into position again.
Step 6: When unracking, have a spotter unrack the bar just enough to clear the racks. If the bar is pulled up too high, it will take the shoulder blades out of position and if the lifter unracks the weight by him or herself, the shoulder blades will probably move out of position. The shoulder position is probably the most important part of the lift.
Step 7: The strongest way to breathe whilst lifting heavy weights is to not breathe at all. That’s right, hold your breath. This keeps the body tight, keeps the chest high and also keeps the shoulder blades squeezed together. If I have a set of 10 reps, I will attempt to hold my breath for the entire 10 reps. If this is impossible, it is important to take your breath while the arms are fully extended and under no circumstances should there be any breathing while the bar is moving.
Step 8: Remember all of these techniques and perform them simultaneously whilst pressing:
- Squeeze the s*#t out of the bar
- Drive your heels down towards the ground
- Squeeze your shoulders back as hard as possible
- Push your chest up as high as possible
- Hold your breath
- And last but not least, push as hard as you freaking can!!!
Me Bench pressing 190kg paused for 2 reps at Clean Health at 92kg bodyweight
Try these 8 tips and I guarantee you that you will see your numbers with this lift improve instantly along with greater recruitment of your actual chest leading to increased size and development.
Happy (and heavy) benching guys and gals!
Founder | Australian Strength Coach and Base Gym, North Sydney
Follow Sebastian on Instagram: @australianstrengthcoach for daily tips and videos on how to get incredibly strong!
Having known Sebastian for many years I can provide testament that when it comes to getting clients insanely strong he is one of the best in Australia and worldwide that I have met over the years at doing so. As one of the top raw power lifters in Australia he definitely practices what he preaches and has a vast array of champion boxers and power lifters to his credit. He is someone whom I converse with frequently on training ideas and methods when it comes to training for strength sports.