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“How much ya bench?” I think anybody who has spent any time in a weight room has heard this question. I am not sure why this has become the benchmark of strength by which we gauge our lifting prowess, but it has. So, if you want to climb to the top of the gym totem pole you better work your bench and get some respectable numbers!
Being involved in the iron game for almost twenty years (I started young thanks to my brother and dad) and having a raw, drug-free bench of 501 pounds, I wanted to pass on a few pointers to the beginning bench presser.
This is the most critical part of the bench press, without a tight, solid base to press off of, big weights will never be lifted. This is a major mistake I see in most people new to benching. They will lay down on the bench, feet gingerly on the ground with their back as loose as a wizard’s sleeve. Just like the foolish man in the bible who built his house on the sand, a weak foundation will not last.
Instead of doing this, lay down on the bench with your feet solidly planted on the ground directly under your knees or even a little further back towards your head. Get a slight arch in your lower back with your butt still on the bench. Retract your scapulae together and flex your lats to get a tight upper back. Keep this tight position throughout the lift. And don’t move your feet, this isn’t a dance contest.
While staying tight, lower the bar to your chest thinking about keeping your elbows in. The elbows should be kept in at a 45 degree angle in relation to the bar. Don’t let your elbows flare out. This will not only save you from pec and shoulder injuries, but in my opinion it is also a more powerful position. Do a little test, pretend like you are going to push somebody, are you elbows close in to your body or are they flared out? If they are flared out, I’m guessing you are not going to push your opponent very hard.
Now, remember, I am talking to the guy or girl who wants to move some heavy-ass weight, not someone who is lifting purely for aesthetics. I have written about the benefits of CAT training, which is basically the idea that lifting submaximal weights with maximal speed can build strength. So, every time you bench (after you are warmed up) perform every rep as fast as possible. Obviously the bar is not always going to actually move fast, but always THINK speed. Training in a CAT style will help you gain strength faster. It teaches your CNS to fire and it can help prevent injuries (because of the lighter weight lifted.)
If you are just starting out, start on the right track and follow these simple guidelines.