The conflict plaguing most folks’ bench press technique is balancing strength with longevity. Is it possible to lift the way you want today as well as when you’re older? Strength and longevity aren’t necessarily foes. In fact, quite the opposite.
Consider this: what if your body was meant to work near-perfectly your whole life? What if shoulders weren’t meant to be blown? There’s no way to prove it, but some think our bodies don’t break because of age, but because of misuse.
Not only that but what are all the delicious results you’re forfeiting today because of your sloppy benching technique?
Here’s every mistake you’re making with your bench right now and what you can do to hack it back into shape.
Mistake #1 – Frequency
- Too Frequent – You know that to get good at something you need to do it every day, so you bench nearly every day of the week. Not only that, but you lift as heavy as you can. The damage to your CNS as well as your joints, if you’re still in your twenties, may not be something you feel yet, but you will.
- Too Infrequent – You really want to get your bench up, so you’ve been crushing it once a week… except last week, when you missed your workout. Oh yeah, the week before was that vacation so you didn’t go then either. In fact, it’s been three weeks since you benched.
Hack: Ideally, you are getting your hands on that Olympic bar as much as possible, like every day if you really want to get stronger, but don’t get under the bench press every day. Plan to hit the bench one to three times per week. Vary your approach, but spend at least one day working on strength; I.e. 80% of your max or more for at least one set.
Mistake #2 – Grip Width
- Too Wide – You need that wide grip to really get full muscle fiber activation because that’s good right? Not if it compromises your shoulder integrity. Think of it this way: wide bench grip is for bodybuilders, but Olympic lifters generally keep a closer grip. In fact, they keep everything closer, grip, elbows, the bar. Ask a few bodybuilders over age 30 how much their shoulders ache. Take notes.
- Too tight – Is anybody really doing this? You’re still working your chest, but you’re losing a mechanical advantage. Do this as ancillary work later.
Hack: There’s nothing necessarily wrong with following the bodybuilding manual for exercise, even if you aren’t planning to compete or get huge. That said, if you’re not planning to body build, if your goals are more performance-based, then you have to ask yourself why you’re lifting like a mirror athlete?
Even if you are planning to move to muscle beach, you can still bench with a close grip to develop your chest. If you really want to volumize, you can do things like superset with pushups, dips or just about any other ancillary exercise for volume. You don’t have to wear down that shoulder capsule.
Mistake #3 – Load
- Too Heavy – Anything you can’t lift with control, with proper technique is too heavy. You can choose to go to the Arnold school of “cheating is good,” but if you’re constantly pressing the heaviest weight you can lift, then you will eventually peak out. You won’t be getting stronger.
- Too Light – If your goal is simply to volume your pecs, then press away at lighter weights with higher reps. Don’t be surprised when your buddy wants to lift heavy but you can’t keep up. Your body responds to the way you stress it. You’ve been teaching it to have endurance.
Hack: Bench for your goals; you have to lift heavy to get stronger. If muscle volume is your goal, you can still lift heavy to keep your strength up, but lift the heaviest weight you can put up twenty times. Whatever you do, don’t max out your weight every time.
Mistake #4 – Tension
- Too Strained – While it’s great to engage your whole body in your bench, what you want to avoid is straining your neck or face. Over time you will contribute that neck pain you’ve been feeling, but in the short run you may simply pull a neck muscle.
- Too Lazy – If you’re warming up, that’s great. If that bench press looks like you’re multitasking your grocery list, stop. The point of your warm-up is to prep your body, the whole body, for the lift.
Hack: A proper benching technique will involve a balance of creating tension throughout your body, but not moving parts of your body that aren’t doing any work. There is no reason to move your facial muscles, your neck muscles when they aren’t contributing anything more than part of your base platform.
Mistake #5 – Focus
- Too Isolated – No man is an island. Neither are the parts of your body. It’s possible for you to bench using mostly your chest and arms. With a little balance, you can press your upper back into the bench, pressing with a nearly limp lower body. You’re not doing your lower body any favors, true, but you’re also short-changing you upper body strength.
- Too Unfocused – Forget about your lower body, your head is not in the game. It’s been three sets of bench, but you just tuned in. If you’re wondering who put all these weights on the bar, then you are not there.
Hack: Focus on the right things. Treat your lower body like it’s in a squat when you bench. Plant your feet on the ground, squeeze your glutes, arch your back (don’t hyperextend) then bend that bar. Put tension on it like you’re going to bend it in half. If your whole body isn’t bracing for the bench, you’re lifting without a proper platform.
If you’re zoned out, go home. Whether you’re unrested, stressed at home or work, whatever the reason, you take a huge risk lifting anything with your mind elsewhere. Weight training is never a part time activity. Every single lift, bench or otherwise, should start with you getting your head on right If you can’t, then leave. It’s not worth it.
Take back your bench press. Fix your technique today to not only get stronger tomorrow but so your body will function properly next week. Apply these hacks to your bench and your body will work way beyond when everybody else is ready to give up.