Tip 5: Make Sure Your Arms are at the Right Angle
Wow, we’re already at Tip 5 and we haven’t even unracked the bar yet. Ideally, have a spotter help you unrack and set the bar into position. This will allow you to keep the good starting position you’ve established. The classic bodybuilding style of bench pressing has you lowering the bar with your elbows flared out to 90 degrees as that keeps the majority of the tension on your pecs and anterior (front) deltoids. This is great for isolating those muscles, but terrible for shoulder health. I recommend tucking your elbows so they are at 45 degrees, or half-way, between your shoulders and your ribs.
Tip 6: Find the Perfect Spot
It’s really important to find a groove when bench pressing. The bar should follow the same path on the eccentric (down) and concentric (up) portion of every rep. Lower the bar to mid-chest or nipple level and press up and slightly back (the bar should be above your collar bones at the top). And, yes, the bar should touch your chest if you are performing full range of motion presses.
Tip 7: Keep Driving
Most everyone has a sticking point in their bench press. Most often it is either an inch or two off the chest or around the midpoint when your elbows are at 90 degrees. You’ll hit this point either when you are fatigued from reps or when you are approaching your maximal load (or both). Many people tend to give up easily when they hit this point. Don’t be one of those people. Try driving through that sticking point. It may be a long, slow rep (and you should DEFINITELY have a spotter there to make sure you are safe), but you need to train your body to get past those sticking points or they will always limit your progress. As long as the bar isn’t heading in the wrong direction, keep pushing.
Tip 8: Stop Benching
There are many alternate or accessory exercises that will help improve your bench press. Utilize a variety of external rotation and rotator cuff work to make sure your shoulders stay healthy and structurally balanced. Both military presses and pull-ups have shown to have carry over to a bigger bench so make sure they are in your program. Dumbbell presses can also help establish better shoulder stability and a greater range of motion and triceps work will help with a stronger lockout. Finally, the bench press is a pretty demanding exercise on one of the most complicated and injury prone joints in your body, your shoulders. Don’t be afraid to take some time off of bench pressing for a phase to concentrate on some supplemental and injury-preventing movements.