by Kyle Hibler
The bench press is the ultimate measuring stick every lifter uses to test just how badass he is. (And I'm willing to bet that as you read this, there are a few thousand guys performing god-awful reps who think they're badass.)
But here's the kicker: even if you think you have great form, it could probably use some work. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and humble yourself. It's not easy, but it's what I'm asking you to do right now. So forget everything you know about the bench press; this is a reconstruction.
The Proper Set-Up
Most people don't realize that the bench is a full body exercise. Once you know how to use your entire body, your numbers will jump. To set up properly, lie on the bench, squeeze the heck out of your upper back and pull your feet far underneath you. You want to create an arch in your low-back. All of your weight should be on your upper back and your ass. This position will enable you to use "leg-drive" to press more weight.
Hand and Wrist Placement
Put your hands on the bar at whatever width feels "right." I prefer a narrow-grip because it keeps my triceps engaged and elbows tucked into my sides. If you use a wider grip you still need to focus on keeping your elbows tucked.
Also, you need to keep your wrists straight so the bar travels down your entire arm. This will make you stronger instantly. Now that you have hold of the bar, squeeze it as tight as you can to engage all the muscles in your hands and wrist. You're finally ready to press.
Now that we have the basic set up put together it's time to start moving the weight. Once you have the weight off the rack you want to lower the weight in a controlled manner. It shouldn't be super slow. However, you also don't want it to bounce off your chest. Once the bar hits your chest, you need to drive your feet into the ground activating the lower body. Keep in mind that you want your butt to stay on the bench throughout the press.
Staying as tight as possible throughout your back will activate your lats (the antagonist in the bench press) as well as your glutes. With all that in mind, you want to explode from the bottom position of the movement. Keep those elbows tucked in tight. Picture pressing yourself away from the weight and into the bench opposed to simply pressing the weight off your body. This will help you engage your traps and upper back.
How will I know if I'm performing this lift correctly?
A simple test would be to set the bar up with 50-60% of your 1RM. Perform three reps. If any part of you comes off the bench than you're not tight enough. If you let your traps and upper back slide out of position or if you lose your low-back arch, you need to lower the weight and focus on staying as tight as possible.
If you perform all three reps without any of those things happening, then you are pressing properly and can start busting through PR's at will.
Kyle Hibler is a powerlifter and bodybuilder who holds several national bench-press records.
This exclusive article (and others) can be found in the latest Wannabebig Serious About Muscle Newsletter - June 24th, 2010
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