WSBB Blog: Bench Press Set Up 101

by WSBB Education on January 13, 2021

Tags: Benching, Dynamic Effort, Max Effort

Time to Read: 5min

The bench press is a lift that requires a great deal of skill and precision to execute. Whether you are a raw or geared powerlifter, your ability to get yourself in an advantageous position and move the barbell properly is as important as the amount of strength you have to execute the press. With the amount of involvement the shoulder joint has in the bench press, a slight movement out of the groove can cause the joint to lose stability resulting in a loss of your upper body brace, and a massive loss in pressing power. Here are a few tips and tricks we use at Westside Barbell to ensure our lifters are getting in the most advantageous starting positions in the bench press.

Contact the Bar First

When you lay down on the bench the first thing you need to do to begin your bench press set up is to grab the bar and get your hands set. It is important that this be the first step because you will use your grip on the bar to elevate your chest and properly retract your scapulas. You will want to set your hands at a position that allows you to get a maximum amount of tricep engagement while decreasing the range of motion during the bench press. This will be different for everybody, a good rule of thumb is you want to feel as much weight as possible in your triceps, with as little as possible in the pectoralis muscles or the muscles of the shoulder joint. Inevitably the pecs and shoulders will be involved in the press, but as stated previously the idea is to minimize the strain placed upon them as much as possible. This is why contacting the bar first is important, you are prioritizing the set up of the most important muscles and joints involved in the bench press.

Set Your Arch

Once the triceps are placed in the most advantageous position with the upper back and shoulders locked in, it is time to set your arch and get your hips/glutes placed onto the bench. When it comes to the bench press arch you will see many different styles depending on body weight and flexibility. We recommend getting into a position that allows for you to maximally elevate the chest and top of the stomach, while keeping proper balance and lumbar spine brace during the lift. The goal of a bench press arch should be to reduce the range of motion of the press as much as possible while still correctly bracing the stomach and torso to protect the shoulders and spine. Once you have established the proper arch you can set your hips and glutes onto the bench.

Foot Placement

Where you set your feet depends on the type of bench presser you are. If you have no issues with balance, or wobbling on the bench, you will be best served to keep your feet in tight to the bench. If your federation allows it, we recommend elevating the heel off of the ground and using the ball of your foot and toes as the main point of contact with the floor. This will allow for increased leg drive power that won’t force you to raise your hips, resulting in increased pressing power without loss of contact with the bench.

However, some lifters have stability issues and begin to wobble on the bench press during heavy attempts. For these lifters, we recommend a wider stance utilizing the feet to counteract any wobble or instability on the bench. There are also lifters who are extremely strong when it comes to upper body lifts, these lifters generally depend less on leg drive and more on shoulder, elbow/tricep, and upper back/scapula position.

Those are a few tips to help find the position on the bench press that is most advantageous to you. Keep in mind, your most effective form won’t be a direct mirror of anyone’s form, so there needs to be some intuition used when trying to find your optimal form. Optimal form can be defined as the form that allows you to move the most weight, while lifting the barbell safely and avoiding movement patterns that will result in overuse injuries. Be mindful of your training, pay attention to the feedback your lifting form gives you, and adjust accordingly.

bench press manual

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