Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Bench Press Technique Edition
Written on May 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm, by Eric Cressey
It's time for another installment of Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective, and in this round, I'll be focusing specifically on bench press technique. Here are a few of the ones I find myself using most often with our athletes:
1. Push yourself away from the bar.
This is a cue that is especially important when doing sets with multiple reps, as everything after rep 1 can look worse and worse if you can’t repeat your starting position. You see, when you first unrack the weight to bench press, you want the shoulder blades packed underneath you to create a stable upper back “platform” from which you can press. You should aim to keep this platform consistent throughout the set.
Now, imagine two bench press technique scenarios: 1) you thinking about pushing the bar away from you and 2) you thinking about pushing yourself away from the bar. Which one is going to lead to your protracting your shoulder blades at the “finish” position? It’d be the former, for sure. So, think about driving your upper back into the bench by pushing yourself away from the bar. This is a great tag-along point to this previous video from Greg Robins, which discussed how important it is to just ease the bar out over the pins rather than jerking it out over them; you want the lifter to remain tight under the bar, not have to protract to go get it.
This platform discussion actually leads to my next cue…
2. Go up and get the bar.
It drives me bonkers when I see a lifter let the bar free-fall, only to bounce off the sternum and come halfway back up. It’s a toss-up of whether this is worse for the sternum or shoulders, but regardless, it’s a bad move.
Rather than getting dominated by gravity, I prefer to see lifters “go up and get the bar.” In other words, I don’t want them to wait for it to reach their rib cage; I want them to help the process along by actively using the muscles of the upper back to pull the bar down to them. Additionally, they can bring the rib cage up to the bar by getting air in to create some intra-abdominal pressure.
Beyond simply reducing the distance the bar has to travel, this bench press technique will also limit how much the humerus (upper arm) extends past the body. When it extends past the body too much (as with a dip), the head of the humerus glides forward and can irritate the anterior structures of the shoulder. So, this approach allows you to press heavier weights and stay healthier while doing so.
3. Get the feet out wider.
If there is something out there that would drive me bonkers me more than people who kick their feet around while bench pressing, I haven’t discovered it yet. There’s no place for antsy feet in good bench press technique, as it’s a sign that you aren’t putting any force into the ground and definitely don’t have sufficient core stability to press heavy weights.
While some folks would cue these individuals to pull the feet up under the body and create a big arch of the lower back, I don’t think that’s necessary in the general population (although many powerlifters utilize this approach with great success). Instead, I’ll just tell folks to get the feet out wider. It’s much more difficult to dance around with your feet when you’re in a more abducted position, as it’s likely closer to the end of the lifter’s range of motion in the frontal or transverse plane than the narrower stance width would be.
Just getting your feet a bit wider should help you to improve leg drive, transfer force up to the bar, and avoid looking like a tap-dancing schmuck under the bar.
Give these three tips a shot during your next bench press session and I'm sure you'll feel a lot stronger and safer under the bar.
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