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6 Mistakes Beginners Make With the Bench Press

These are my personal observations of the biggest mistakes being made when bench pressing for strength.

This is just a short article on common mistakes beginners (and sometimes more experienced lifters) make with the bench press. The bench press probably the most popular chest exercise and for a good reason, but you should make sure you get it right. Avoid these mistakes and you will see your strength get a nice boost.

1. Not keeping the feet planted on the ground 

 Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor. Flat. Not just lightly planted but driven into the ground like they’re drill bits. Push your feet into the ground hard, especially when lifting the bar up.

2. Grip not tight enough

A second thing to observe is that the barbell often has too much leeway in the palm which leads to instabilities during the lift. The tighter the grip the more control you will have over the bar path and force development throughout the upwards motion.

Ideally, the barbell rests on your palm while your wrists are straight to provide the most stability. A good technique to ensure a tight grip is white knuckling. After you have wrapped your fingers and thumbs around the weight as described in the chapter before, squeeze the bar until your knuckles turn white. You are aiming to make the iron submit not to you not you submit to the iron. Beginners focus too much on moving the bar at all rather than paying attention to the setup before the bar even leaves the racking position. So get in position, press until knuckles are white and unrack the bar for further proceedings.

3. Not building an arch

Arching when doing a bench press is highly debated in terms of health. Some say it has no impact in your vertebrae, some say do. This is a different discussion to be had, but if you want to build a big bench press, you have to know how to build a stable arch to make the most out of the lift.

Most beginners lay flat out on the bench with their lower back fully touching the bench while performing the bench press. This is also OK and will lead to losing out about 10kg – 15kg on the bar from my personal experience.

As long as your tiny ass and shoulders are still touching the bench while pressing, you are within allowed territory for most powerlifting competitions in the world. Therefore building an arch with your back to create maximum force is desirable when you optimise the bench press for strength.

You achieve this by walking your legs in as close as possible to your head while still touching the bench. Most beginners have their feet far out front the power rack. You want your feet to be as closely in as you can possibly manage without snapping your spine. If you want to see some examples for setup Check out my YouTube channel Marathon-Crossfit. 

Thinking of the exercise as lifting the bar up – Yeah, I know you’re supposed to be lifting the bar but you should think of it as you trying to push yourself away from the bar rather than thinking of it as you lifting the bar up. This visualisation technique is a much better way and you’ll be surprised how much of a difference this makes.

4. Using too much momentum

That is a pretty obvious one and relates to how the bench press is performed. If the movement is all over the place with one arm extended quicker than the other, the bar not touching the chest or the upward push being initiated at different points of the lift, you usually do not get the best results in terms of strength.

You should strive to build a full range of motion for the bench press. This means locking the elbows out at full extension of the arms as starting position. Lowering the bar in parallel to the chest from the starting position. Letting the bar rest on the chest for 1 – 2 seconds (also called paused bench press) to kill momentum. Initiating the upward push from the chest up to full lock out and repeating.

If you do touch and go presses you are only selling yourself short in the gym. When there is no attention being paid to keep the bar parallel to the chest you will ingrain imbalances in your body making one or the other hemisphere stronger. This leads to inefficiencies in the movement patterns that will make you lose pounds when you progress to higher weights. In addition, some spotters are not the brightest people on the planet and will grab the higher part of the bar to help. For elite lifters, this easily results and torn or ripped off chest muscles on the weaker side.

Have a clear, controlled, repeatable movement patterns which are efficient and effective. Learn these, automate them and then start to load them with more weight. Otherwise, the sticking points will show later and will be hard to train out as ambitions grow.

5. Not Allowing The Bar To Settle

Pressing the bar straight away is a great way to undo all the progress you’ve made in your technical approach. With extremely heavy weights, immediately pressing the weight can be dangerous as you may not have control over the bar. A better approach is to allow the bar to settle in your hands for approximately 2 seconds.

During this wait, your elbows and traps will compress, pushing you deeper into the bench thus giving your body greater stability. You may also find that the bar will move an inch or two closer to your chest without your arms bending.

6. No Breathing Pattern

This certainly seems to be a strange addition to bench press mistakes doesn’t it? When benching for more than three reps, you still need to take a deep breath on the bar descent and exhale each time you push the bar off your chest. For sets under 3 reps, take a large belly breath as opposed to the normal ‘chest’ breath.

In other words, your shoulders shouldn’t rise when you take a belly breath. This helps keep your body stable under the strain of a maximum effort attempt. Breathing out during the attempt will destabilize your body and may cause you to miss the lift.