“Whaddya bench, bro?”
If you spend any amount of time in the gym, you’ve probably been asked that question more than a couple of times…
Hell, if people even suspect that you work out, they’ve probably asked you – be it friends, coworkers, or family members.
Like it or not, how much you can bench press has become syonomous with how strong you are in the gym.
For this reason, many guys focus on it to the exclusion of other important lifts, but that is a topic for another post.
The fact is that you want an impressive bench press – but you’re not gonna have one if your form sucks.
Instead, you’ll probably end up getting injured, or at the very least won’t be lifting to your potential.
Here are some of the worst bench press mistakes that guys tend to make, and how not to make them.
Read on, and let’s get your bench up to par.
1) You’re flaring out your elbows.
I would say that about 80% of guys that bench make this mistake, so listen up cause you probably are too!
When you’re doing a barbell bench press, you want to keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.
There are several reasons that this is important.
First of all, when you flare them out to the sides, you are putting a lot more strain on your shoulders.
Frankly, if you’ve ever hurt your shoulder bench pressing, it is probably because you were doing this.
And if you haven’t experienced that searing shoulder pain from a bench press set gone wrong, you will eventually if you continue doing this.
Secondly, when you flare out your elbows, like the guy in the picture above, you are making the lift more difficult, my unnessarily increasing the range of motion.
You want to lift more weight, right?
Ok, so stop doing this!
The fix is actually fairly straight forward. When you initially lie on the bench, deliberately tuck your shoulder blades under your body. This may feel unnatural at first, but it will create a more stable foundation for your lift, and will make it much easier to keep your elbows tight and close to your body.
2) You’re not planting your feet on the floor.
When you bench press, you want to make sure that your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
This helps to provide a stable structure for the lift, allowing you to bench press more weight.
What you should never, EVER do is put your feet up on the bench.
For some reason, the ‘gotta-work-the-core’ zealots convinced guys that they should put their feet on the bench itself, to activate their core during the lift.
This is a complete load of crap!
When you are benching, your are trying to strengthen your chest, and secondarily your triceps and shoulders.
You are not trying to work your core. There are loads of other exercises that do that, so stop trying to make the bench press something it isn’t.
Trust me on this one, you are completely neutering your progress with this nonsense.
You won’t lift nearly as much weight if you do this, and it makes the whole exercise pretty damn awkward.
3) You’re not touching the bar to your chest.
Now I know that there will be the dissenters who claim that you don’t need to touch your chest with every bench press rep.
They’ll claim that it is damaging to your shoulder, and that it isn’t necessary to build strength.
And they’re right…but only if you’re fundamentally screwing up your bench to begin with!
If you are tucking your shoulder blades under your body during the lift, and keeping your elbows close to your body throughout the motion, you shouldn’t be putting excess pressure on your shoulders, and should therefore be able to touch your chest with every rep without issue.
I confess that for years I had a pretty shitty range of motion on my bench. I was concerned with my bench number, had terrible form, and did these ridiculous 3 inch reps that people smirked at behind by back.
It was only after I corrected by form and improved by range of motion that I started seeing consistent strength and size increases.
4) You’re bouncing the bar off your chest.
I know what you’re thinking. “Chris, I lift more weight with a little bounce, can I please just do it?”
The answer is an unequivocal no.
Your bench press should be a controlled movement throughout the exercise, which means no bounce, ever!
By incorporating a bounce at the bottom of the rep, you are simply cheating yourself, and potentially setting yourself up for a rib cage injury.
Face it, if you need to bounce to complete the rep, you are lifting too much weight. End of story.
Get your ego in check and drop the weight down to a level where you can complete each rep properly.
You’ll make more progress, and your rib cage will thank you for no longer smashing it every week.
5) You’re not arching your back.
Want to increase the amount you can bench?
Well, then you need to start arching your back throughout the lift.
Yup, you read that right – you want to maintain an arch in your back while you’re benching.
No, this isn’t an example of bad form; quite the opposite in fact. If you maintain a slight arch in your back, with your hips and shoulders firmly planted on the bench, you will be able to lift more. Period.
Ideally, you want an arch big enough that you can fit your fist inside.
Just don’t go too crazy with this – you don’t want to look like this guy.
6) You’re lifting your head off the bench.
Look, I get it, you want to make sure that you see what’s going on.
That’s great…but do it with your eyes, not your whole head!
Lifting your neck up can create a lot of strain during the lift, and it is completely unnecessary.
Further, it uses up energy that you should be putting into each rep, instead of having to hold your knock in this awkward, dangerous position.
Keep your head flat on the bench where it belongs for the entire movement.
7) You’re bending your wrists.
Whenever you’re benching, you want to keep your wrists completely straight.
A lot of guys grip the bar too high in their hands – holding it up near their fingers instead of down in the center of their hands.
If you do this, it can easily force your wrists back during the movement, putting tremendous strain on your wrist joints.
So if you find yourself looking up at the backs of your hands while they cradle the bar, you need to fix this asap!
8) You’re gripping the bar too wide (or too narrow).
Your grip width will greatly impact how much weight you can lift.
If your grip it too wide, you won’t be recruiting your triceps very much during the movement, which prevents you from lifting nearly as much weight.
If you grip it too narrow, you will start primarily using your triceps, instead of your chest, to lift the weight.
Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for both of these variations (known as wide-grip bench press and close grip bench press) – but if your goal is to increase the amount of weight you can bench, focus on keeping your grip slightly wider than shoulder width.
Ready to bring your bench press to the next level?
I love the bench press – and I know you do too, or you wouldn’t have read this entire article!
It is a core component of any sensible strength building routine, and there is nothing like hitting a new max.
So go back to the gym, implement some of these suggestions, and you’ll be breaking through those plateaus in no time!