Just like you can't have a Happy Meal without the burger, you can't have chest day without the bench press. It's one of the most important exercises for building massive pecs, although it's a lift that's easy to mess up. Bad technique not only compromises your results but also places you at risk for aches, pains, and serious injuries.
If you speak to any experienced lifter, chances are they have devoted a good amount of time to building up their bench press. Using the right muscles, hitting the right angles, positioning your body in the right manner - all of these seemingly minor elements can add up to major success or failure when it comes to hitting your goals. The more little mistakes you're making, the more you're falling behind.
Across the clients I've worked with, here are five of the top bench press snafus that I've diagnosed, along with how to course correct before it's too late:
1. Not Maximizing Your ROM
You've probably seen plenty of guys at the gym lowering the barbell down only an inch or two per rep, likely because they've got WAY too much weight piled onto the bar. In fact, forcing yourself through a larger range of motion (ROM) will promote muscle and strength gains much more than pushing yourself to lift ridiculously heavy loads.
When you perform your bench press, get the bar down as close to your chest as you can - ideally touching it - for every single rep. If you're concerned about your shoulders, try using board or floor presses to shorten the ROM naturally instead of artificially truncating the movement.
2. Being a Bouncer
Another common mistake particularly newer gym goers make is to bounce the bar on the downward portion of the rep. When you do this, you're actually cheating the movement by generating momentum that makes it easier to lift the bar. If you happen to drop the weight too sharply, you can also damage your ribcage.
If you find yourself having to bounce the barbell to get it back up, you're lifting too heavy. Lower the weight to the point that you can comfortably touch the barbell to your chest or, if you're really going for strength, pause the barbell before pushing it back to start.
3. Elbowing It Out
Splaying your elbows out to the sides when you bench press puts incredible stress on the shoulders and joints. You're also changing the pathway of the barbell such that you decrease the distance the weight has to travel. Try grasping the barbell with a narrower grip and maintaining a posture in which your elbows are kept close to your sides as the barbell drops. This will help avoid injury and make for a more effective exercise.
4. Failing to Use Your Legs Properly
There are so many different things that people do with their feet when they bench press. Some are tappers, some are flailers, and some put their feet up on the bench to "target their core." First of all, bench presses are NOT abs exercises - that's what you have pushups, farmer's carries, and hanging leg raises for. Second, if you want to get the most out of your bench press, dig your feet into the floor for a solid foundation. Tense your quads, squeeze those glutes, and really tighten up your body overall to increase your strength and stamina.
5. Losing Your Grip
Saving the best for last, let's talk about grip for a second. Many people tend to grasp the barbell high in their palm or even around their fingertips, which is a definite no-no. This is a great way to decrease your strength and damage your wrists, particularly as the amount of weight lifted gets heavier. Instead, be sure to grip the barbell deep in your palm, keeping your wrists bent slightly throughout the course of your set.