Tips for the Bench Press

The bench press is an exercise that always seems to get a great deal of attention; some good and some bad.  When performed properly, the bench press can be a safe and very effective way of increasing upper body strength.  Unfortunately, some individuals aren’t taught proper form and as a result limit the effectiveness of the exercise or get injured.

The biggest thing I have seen lately with this exercise is the amount of people that say it is dangerous, or that it causes injures (particularly to the shoulders).  This is particulatly true for athletes whose sports require intense overhead activity (i.e. baseball pitchers).  Now I firmly believe, as do many others, that the bench press is not going to significantly increase overhead activity in most sports for throwing and other overhead athletes.  However, I still believe that to increase overall upper body strength, this exercise can be useful for these purposes.

A baseball pitcher I worked with for two years performed flat bench pressing during certain parts of the off-season (during the in-season he didn’t do any conventional flat barbell bench pressing).  In those two years he never had a shoulder or an elbow injury. 

Here are some general tips for bench pressing to help maximize your strength and safety:

1.  Shoulder blades squeezed together and down.

You need to make sure that your upper back remains tight and stable.  In order to do this you need to make sure that the muscles around your scapula (shoulder blades) are strong. 

2.  Feet pressed into the ground. 

You should be driving your feet into the ground, which should place pressure on your upper back.  Now people like to do this differently; some people place their feet under them while others like to place them farther out in front.  Try both ways and see which works best for you.  No matter which way you choose, you should be able to drive your feet into the ground placing pressure on your upper back.

3. Tuck your elbows

Doing this will take pressure off your pecs and limit your chances of a pec tear.  This is not only a much safer way to bench, but will also increase your performance in the bench must faster than flaring your elbows out.  If you are a bodybuilder, you can still do this and utilize much safer methods to isolate your pecs.

4.  Be aware of your injury history

I am including this with athletes in mind, but it could be applied to anyone.  I mentioned the pitcher I worked with at the beginning of the post; one of the reasons why I included benching in some parts of his plan was because he had healthy shoulders and elbows.  If he didn’t, I would have done more remedial and corrective work to address issues before having him do this.  Plus, I was able to work on his form which prevented him from having issues.

If you tried using any of these concepts for your bench press, give them a shot.  If a future post I will include some exercises and warm-up routines you can utilize in order to keep your joints healthy and bring up some weak points.

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