How to Bench Press Correctly
By: Louie Simmons
With six men breaking all-time world records, while training at Westside, we have developed a system that helps Dave Hoff bench press 1014 pounds in a full-power meet, by far the biggest of all time.
There are many things to consider to be a great bencher. Below I will cover the warm-up, choosing the right bar, your bench set-up, knowing how to bench, the hand-out, your training partners, the right percents for your work, what to do when you miss a lift, and sticking points.
At Westside, we start with the bar for two or three sets of high reps (eight to 12) until our main bench press muscles are ready to go. Westside believes if you are going to bench, just warm-up with the bench.
You can do a set or two with light dumbbells if you prefer. When using a bar, use close, medium, and wide grips to hit all muscles. It is essential to use the right bar at the right time.
Choosing the Right Bar
Westside has its signature bar—The Bulldog Bench BarTM that can handle 1000 pounds-plus benches. It is used in meets and in training, but Westside also will use a Football Bar where the palms are facing each other.
And, we use the Bow Bar with its one and one-half inch camber or a three- or five-inch cambered bar for a deep stretch. These bars all will develop the primary bench-pressing muscles at different angles. The Westside Freak Bar builds internal and external rotation that can put lots of muscle on anyone.
Last but not least is the Band Bar. I use it to vibrate all the muscles causing maximum contractions of not only the muscles but also the soft tissue. This creates a prehab effect, so Westside will eliminate rehab.
Once a month, Westside will do a large dumbbell workout or a push-up workout with no barbell pressing at all.
Note: After a dynamic or M-E (Maximum Effort) workout, you should do two to four sets of dumbbell presses at one of the four angles. Then do your triceps extensions, delt raises, and upper back work.
The Bench Set-Up
Benching has three set-ups that are the most common.
- Pulling the feet under the hamstrings and arching the low back as much as possible. (Note caution: This style can cause injuries to the lower back.)
- Westside uses two styles. The first is the knees held tight to the bench with the feet out to the sides. Remember, your feet cannot touch the bench. It is impossible to raise your butt off the bench bracing your upper back into the bench.
- The most popular style, and the other style Westside uses, is to have your legs out in front of you and drive with the heel, not the toes. You can drive with the feet while backing your shoulders into the bar. (Note: the first style mentioned shortened the distance to press, but can injure your low back.)
How to Bench
First, brace your upper back into the bench. Then, set your fee. Now take all weights out of the rack by yourself to learn how to start the bench.
Next, pull the bar over your chest close to a straight line and lower it to that point. It should land on top vertically of your elbows. (Note: Keep wrist straight and not bent backward.) The bar should be held above the forearm bone.
After the bar is on your chest, push it straight up. This is the shortest path and is the safest way to bench.
When you push the bar back toward the rack, you are rotating the elbows and can cause rotator injuries.
Always hold your breath while doing your benches. Take a breath before taking the bar out of the rack, and release it when the weight goes back in the rack.
When handing out the bench, the lifter should have their eyes just behind the bar. He or she should hold their breath and nod to you when ready to take the bar out of the rack. (Note: you as the lifter should take out as heavy as possible. It will teach you how to use your lats, and that is a must to handle big benches raw, or when using a bench shirt.
A Good Training Partner
A good training partner should spot all weights and check the lifter’s form on their pressing and squatting. For that matter, the partner should spot and then check form on any heavy lifting while in the gym, including the deadlift. When a lifter goes to a meet, his or her training partners must go all well at their own expense. They should know how strong the lifter is and what attempts he or she plans to take.
The training partners must know what the competitors are capable of lifting if winning is your goal. Also, know what the world records are in his or her weight class.
Choosing the Right Percents
For the three-week waves, use 80 percent for week one, 85 percent for week two, and 90 percent for week three. It can be a combination of bands and weights at the top of the lift. Westside will do 9x3 reps or 5x5 reps or 6x6 reps on Speed Day. On M-E Day, work up to a record by a small amount.
This could be five pounds for pressing or 10 pounds for the squat and pulling with snatch clean or deadlift. Remember, five pounds a month is the floor press is 60 pounds a year.
When You Miss A Lift
Your arms should be 75 percent of your bench. When you miss, your arms stop moving. This means you should do lots of triceps extensions with dumbbells—both rollbacks and elbows out to the sides as well as E-Z curls or straight bar with lots of weight.
Ted Arcidai would do sets of five reps with 350 pounds. Kenny Patterson would do rollbacks. One-hundred-twenty-five-pound dumbbells off the floor were Mike Wolf’s specialty. This is just a few examples, but I hope you get the idea that your triceps are essential. French press is also good.
Upper back work and lats are critical to a big bench as well. Your upper back is the foundation of your arch while benching. You should train it at least four times a week, along with your lats. Your lats are responsible for placing the bar on your chest and controlling it on the concentric phase.
Delts must be trained, but can be easily overtrained, especially the front delts. Side and rear delt raises are done with dumbbells or in a pec deck facing the deck. Front delts are worked with a barbell, weight plate, cable device, dumbbells, but remember, they can be easily overtrained as well.
You must learn to hold your breath for the time you take the weight out until you complete your lift up to five reps. The bench is like any lift, you must be tight and hold as much air in your body as possible.
- If you miss in the bottom, train your upper back.
- If you miss at lockout, train your triceps and do lockouts in a power rack.
- If your bar moves toward your head, your triceps are weak.
- If your bar falls toward your feet, your delts need to be stronger.
- Learn to use leg drive if your feet are out front.
Good luck, Louie