Some of you may have been told by other fitness enthusiasts, "benching is great! That is, until you get injured and then it becomes not so great". Some people who have injured themselves benching may experience shoulder pain, which immediately indicates that mechanically improper benching technique was applied. You may recall a while back, we used to have two mechanical figure drawings on the white board (seen below). We referred to him as Michelle.
Michelle shows the leverage arms used when benching and dead lifting. It is a physical breakdown of the physics the body undergoes when creating leverage forces during these two lifts. It would be much easier to convince people of proper lifting technique if there was a sport created to exacerbate form to maximize range of motion (ROM) work capacity. Meaning, ROM standards were not implemented in order to create a competition of strength (aka Powerlifting). Functional is functional, not limited. Limiting ROM to create “equality” in lifting competitions leads to manipulation of function, which can and will result in inefficiencies/injuries.
We typically use the reference, “pushing a car”, when trying to help you relate to bench pressing. This analogy usually works because pushing a car is not typically a competitive sport; is a systematically autonomic movement. This means you don’t have to think about doing it, thus the body can derive force effectively and functionally. This thought of autonomy is the final reflection of our monthly position series. If you cannot move the basic lifts and more so, difficult lifts astronomically, you should practice them more and more with lighter loads until your body is ready to exert force safely.
Hips and Feet
Focusing back to the proper bench technique, the muscles involved in the bench press should be the triceps (back of the upper arm) and pectoral (chest) muscles. These are the major movers. Hand position should be equivalent to the placement of pushing a car. The rule of thumb for measurement is that of the front rack. Measure your hands with a thumbs-length distance from the knurling (see right photo). When looking at the majority of the “good” benchers in class and Michelle, you see that their hips are up high, sometimes even off the bench. In the world of Powerlifting (competitive), that would be illegal because it doesn’t allow for a level playing field. The higher the hips, the easier the press is by way of more leverage torque and less ROM. However, it is also the safest for the shoulder.
It’s very hard to explain how to pinch back your scapula (shoulder blades) and externally rotate your humeral heads on the bench. It’s easier to show by demonstration and feel, but the best way we have found is by having the lifter lay on the floor. Using your feet, push your hips straight up and back (by pushing the ground away from you) with your feet. You should feel your upper back slide towards your head and the weight seemingly off your traps/neck region. You have now successfully locked/blocked your shoulder blades into a retracted position and your deltoids (shoulder muscles that get improperly used in push-ups and bench) are now safely out of commission!
When standing to the profile (side view) of the lifter, the bar path should travel vertical, straight down to the lifter's breast plate and straight up vertical. The bar should not move horizontally forward or backwards. The elbows should stay neutral, 45 degrees, from the torso during the entire lift.
Even after reading this, whether you can visualize the lift with proper form or not, always ask a coach to demonstrate a proper bench press; always have a spotter there to watch, cue, and spot you!