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Abstract Qualities of the Bench Press

Special Thanks to Jake Hassinger for editing and Chris Aviado for providing video examples.

I don’t think there is a greater unifying ailment amongst powerlifters than the curse of the so called poverty bench. Not a day goes by where you can search the #USAPL tag on instagram and see a struggling 74 kilo lifter floundering to push up 125kg for their third meet in a row. It’s very frustrating to see soo many people disheartened over a lift that I love and have coached dozens of others to love as well. Over the course of this article I will break down the more qualitative aspects of bench press that I feel too many people overlook.

We will not be talking about more frequently detailed bench aspects such as bar path and grip width as these are extremely individual and have been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere. Instead we will be looking at the more qualitative processes during the bench. These are the portions of technique that we gauge by feel and observable positioning. We will be talking about 3 individual aspects of developing and maintaining tension: during the setup, through leg drive, and as the bar pauses..

How to get tight and stay tight

Easily my biggest observation between amazing and average or below bench presser’s is full body tightness. It’s very irritating to see lifters go purple in the face while white knuckle gripping the bar on squats, taking huge, deep breaths, and then see that same lifter flop down on the bench, tap dance their feet around for 30 seconds and complain about how their bench won’t grow.

I think there are a couple reasons for this lack of tightness that so many lifters exhibit on the bench press. Firstly, you have four points of contact while benching: head, shoulders, buttocks, feet and, if you’re a real go get'er, your legs/hamstrings.

I have two theories behind why I bring this up. Either the multiple contact points create a high degree of external awareness which creates a false sense of tightness in certain individuals. What I mean by this is that some lifters will go half way in their set up; kind of getting up on their shoulders, sort of pulling their feet back to get quad tension and think that this is good enough as far as tightness goes. Or the multiple contact points create too many points for an athlete to think about in relation to positioning and tightness. Regardless, way too many athletes are way too wobbly at almost all points during the bench press.

A. I don’t know what to do with my hands

So am I just going to sit here and complain about how everyone sucks except for the IG celebs that we can’t criticize? I’d love to but allegedly that isn’t as endearing to the public as I would like. Instead we will be discussing how to actually get set up tighter on the bench. We’ll start with something easy, SQUEEZE THE BAR. If you can un-rack the bar and still wiggle your fingers you aren’t squeezing hard enough. To do this we choose between two cues.

The first is the simplest, Squeeze the pinky side of each hand. As you read this mimic the motion of the bench press, do one rep while squeezing your index finger and the other while squeezing the pinky. Which one has more triceps flex?

The second option is to bend the bar, twist your hands with thumbs going towards the face, pinkys towards your feet. Since your hands are on the bar and wont actually twist, you are forced to flex and engage. Which ever cue works better for you, engage this right after you have un-racked the b