Bench Press Technique
The bench press is an exercise which remains one of best upper body mass builders, as well as a powerlifting event to demonstrate upper body strength and power. Whether your goal is muscle hypertrophy (growth), strength, or fitness, the bench press is extremely effective at stimulating the chest, triceps, and deltoids. The form and technique used for the execution of the bench press will depend on the goal of the exercise, whether it be a form which is optimal for stressing the chest for growth in bodybuilding, or a full competition standard lift in powerlifting. We’ll take a look at each bench press technique.
Bench press technique for general fitness
We make a clear distinction between the technique and form executed on the bench press when the goal is to increase fitness levels, compared to that of causing muscle hypotrophy (growth). Those who are looking to increase fitness levels will seek improvements in strength, power and muscle endurance from the bench press, with the stimulus not limited to the chest muscles, but instead the major pushing muscles; chest, deltoids, and triceps.
When we wish to stimulate these three major muscle groups we must execute the exercise through a full range of motion, with the chest and shoulders mostly recruited during the lower portion of the bench press, and the triceps during the latter portion as the elbows lock out. This involves lowering the weight in a controlled manner (to gain maximum stimulus from the eccentric phrase) to a couple of inches short from the chest, and then a forceful concentric portion to full lock out.
Improving general fitness will require a full range of repetition ranges to improve; strength, power and endurance.
Bench press technique for muscle growth
The bench press is implemented in a bodybuilding routine as an exercise to stimulate the chest. A full range of motion during the execution of the bench press may therefore be suboptimal for stressing the chest to its maximum potential from the exercise. As previously mentioned above, there are several other muscle groups involved in the bench press, and therefore sharing the stress of the resistance.
Some may choose to shorten the range of motion during the bench press when attempting to target the chest, with the upper quarter of the range of motion less than optimal for chest recruitment. The eccentric phrase should be performed in a controlled manner, stopping a few inches short of the chest. The concentric phrase should be controlled, but stop shy of lockout to maintain maximum chest recruitment.
Muscle hypertrophy is best obtained with a repetition range of between 6 and 12 (although you will find varied opinions on this statement!).
Bench press technique for powerlifting
A powerlifting repetition is different than the above techniques, as it has to meet criteria to pass as a sound lift standard in a competition. A powerlifter would therefore train with a bench press technique which passes competition standard.
A powerlifting bench press event will commonly go as follows: A barbell is loaded with the desired weight, and is held on supporting racks on the bench. The powerlifter lies on the bench, grasps the barbell with a suitable width grip, and then lifts the barbell off the rack supports with the help of spotters who are located close by at all times. After the bar is fully un-racked, with the arms fully extended, the descend of the barbell begins. The eccentric phrase must be under total control, and the bar is lowered to the chest. Once the bar touches the chest the concentric phrase begins (with no pause, the judge will commonly shout “press”), with the lift complete once the arms are fully extended and locked out again. The competitor must not use other bodily motions to aid in the lift, and the ascend should be completed with no downward motion of the bar at any time. Guidelines differ from federation to federation, so for a full description it would be best to seek advice from the actual federation.