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How to Fix Common Bench Press Problems

Posted on December 12 2018

Shredded Sports Scienceby James Linker (BSc, PGCertEd) 
of Shredded Sports Science 

 

 

The bench press is a multi-joint, compound movement that primarily builds and strengthens the chest, triceps, and shoulders.1 It is also an extremely popular lift that is frequently botched. If you bench incorrectly, then you will not only struggle to improve at it, but you will compromise your joint health. The following tips will help you push more weight by your next training session, even if you learned how to bench from a potato named "Vince."

  This is Vince; don't be like Vince.
his tattoos are almost as bad as his arm position, so avoid those as well

 

1. Setting Up for Failure

Protracting your scapula, or assuming a hunched forward position, when you unrack the barbell is a common benching mistake that destabilizes your torso. Instead, your scapula should be retracted during the entirety of the bench press.

 protraction and retraction

Fixes

  1. Squeeze your shoulder blades together by pretending like you're bending the barbell with your hands.2
  2. Stick your chest out, which reduces the range of motion in a way that doesn't land you in a "Gym Idiots" video.

 

 

2. Getting Pinned

All lifts have points at which you feel the most tension, known as “sticking points.” For the raw (i.e., no bench shirt) bench press, the sticking point is usually at or right above your chest, just when you start pressing the bar.

over-encumbered
failing a 275 bench at ~240 is a bigger disaster than Fallout 76

 

Fixes

  1. Use less weight. You weren’t going to get a lot of likes on your bench press video, anyway.
  2. Imagine that you are winding up a spring on your chest on the way down and letting the bar fly on the way up (with your hands still attached to it, please).

 

 

3. Following the Wrong Path

The bar path during the bench press is not completely straight and vertical due to the mechanics of the pectoral muscles and shoulder girdle. Trying to force a straight vertical line may lead to a grinding or failed rep, which can compromise your joint health.

 

Fixes

  1. Tuck your elbows in towards the side of your body so that they are stacked in line with the wrists and the barbell. This will prevent shoulder discomfort.
  2. Bring the barbell just below your nipple line on every rep. If you don't mind messing up your handsome Infinite Elgintensity shirt, then perform at least one warmup set with chalk on the middle of the barbell; your shirt should only have one chalk line on it after your set.
  3. Press in a straight diagonal path from your chest back to an area above your face.

 

 

4. Not Watching Your Back

A lot of lifters prefer to train muscles that they can easily see in the mirror and ignore everything else. Rotator cuffs, for example, are often left untrained, which can cause shoulder issues and instability during the bench press.


Fixes

  1. Perform face pulls with a resistance band or cable to activate the rear deltoid muscles. Three sets of 8-10 reps is sufficient, with small weight jumps over time.3
    face pull

  2. Perform pull aparts with a light mini band at home when you’re watching TV or in between sips of morning coffee. Just 4 sets of 12 reps every day or so will do the trick; add set and/or reps to increase difficulty.

 

 

Final Thoughts 

Somatotypes are bullshit, but limb lengths and other ergonomic factors influence the setup and performance of any exercise. Consider filming your bench press reps occasionally to determine whether the adjustments you make benefit your specific lifting form. Once you start benching big boy weights, more nuanced issues will arise, in which case generalized tips will have limited value and hiring a coach will become practical.

 

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SOURCES

  1. https://exrx.net/WeightExercises/PectoralSternal/BBBenchPress
  2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protraction_retraction.png
  3. https://weighttraining.guide/exercises/cable-face-pull/