The biggest misconception around the bench press is that it’s just a chest move.
The next time someone says that to you, you have my permission to call them a jackass.
Any lift is a full-body lift, but the emphasis here is that it’s done correctly. In this case, that starts with your feet. Drive your heels into the ground, keeping your glutes on the bench – your entire lower body should be locked and loaded. To lift big, the power needs to come from your feet and travel all the way up through your legs.
You’re not exercising your quads here, but by tensing your glutes and planting your feet, you’re switching on your abs and obliques, and getting a core workout more effective than any number of sit-ups. And therein lies the beauty of this lift, which far from being a vanity exercise is actually a compound move crucial for athletes building functional strength, whatever your sport.
The bench press engages your deltoids, triceps and even your biceps, which act as stabilisers, countering the force of the movement. And yes, as the jackasses can – and do – attest, your chest will see massive growth, bringing the full range of pectoral muscles into play. Far more effectively than a push-up or a chest-press machine, too. Give the latter a wide berth: its fixed plane of motion isolates your pecs, while totally neglecting the equally important stabiliser and fixator muscles.
It’s not the most fun activity you can perform lying down, but it is certainly the most biomechanically virtuous.
STEP BY STEP
Lift your bench PB to new heights with these tips. . .
01 Take a pew
You need to attend upper-body mass at least twice a week for progress. Rack up your weights, then start by sitting upright at the end of the bench. Clench your glutes. Prepare for what is to come.
02 Hold position
Lie back, bar above your eyes, and set your arms roughly a fist’s width outside shoulder-width apart. You can adjust the grip for different benefits – closer hits the triceps, wider works outer pecs and deltoids – but this is the best for all-over growth.
03 Arch nemesis
You need to borrow from the yogis and “listen to your body”. With your hands on the bar, shuffle your bum up a little to arch your back slightly. Note: slightly. Hyperextension is best left to the powerlifters who do this for a living.
04 Shoulder the burden
Poorly set shoulders open you up to injury and shut down true strength gains. Retract your shoulders into the bench so they pinch together. Keep your traps down, not touching the sides of your head like two muscley earrings, so your pecs do the work.
05 Stay sure-footed
Your heels should be directly under your knees to form a 90° angle. Driving your feet into the floor allows you to push more, providing rigidity through your whole body. Don’t drive one foot harder or you’ll launch the bar at the chest-day queue.
06 Pump and grind
With your body set, tense your abs and glutes and pump yourself up to grind out your reps. Imagine you are pulling the bar apart as you push through your triceps and squeeze your pecs hard at the top of the movement.
07 Lay down your arms
Breathe in as you lower, under control, toward your chest. Not your neck or belly, your chest. Your elbows should stay vertical beneath your wrists – as you get bigger and stronger, your hand placement can widen.
08 Push through it
Exhale sharply as you push your heels into the ground, shoulders into the bench, as you power the bar back up to the top. Be mindful not to over-extend your arms at the top or your shoulders will soon need resurrecting.