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How to Maximise Your Bench

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Bench press is one of the big 3’s people often talk about at the gym, along with the squat and deadlift. These heavy compound exercises for most people are a must-do at the gym to gain strength and hypertrophy. Today, we will talk about one of the holy trinity that is the bench press.

Whether you are doing 12 by 3 for hypertrophy or 5 by 5 for strength building, you should know the correct technique to carry out the bench press safely and avoid potential injuries. This blog talks about the positioning and anatomy involved in the bench press but not so much about the training volume and dosage. So, let’s dive into bench press 101.

What is bench press?

Bench press is a compound exercise involving you lying face up on a horizontal bench, with buttocks on the bench and feet flat on the ground whilst pushing the barbell to and from the chest.

The steps for the bench press are:

  1. Grasp the barbell tightly with an overhand grip wider than shoulder width apart.

  2. Tuck your shoulders down to your back-pocket and keep it there.

  3. Keeping the shoulders and hands where they are and slide yourself down onto the bench, sinking your upper-body into it.

  4. Inhale and lower the bar to the chest with a controlled movement.

  5. Extend the arms and exhale at the end of the effort.

This exercise engages the complete pectoralis major/ minor, anterior deltoid, serratus anterior and coracobrachialis muscle.

Bench press position variations

The position you adopt for bench press will depend on individual circumstances. There are three main types of bench press:

  • Classic

  • Arched-back / power bench variation

  • Raised-leg variation

The arched-back or power bench variation adopts the powerlifter style where the goal is to limit the range of motion and allow you to lift significantly heavier weights. This style not only reduces the distance from the bar to chest but also angles your chest and favors the lower part of the pectorals. With your feet and heels fixed to the ground, you can have a wider base of support and stronger leg drive during the execution compared to the classic and raised-leg variation. However, what about the people with lower back pain and who is unable to get into this position?

The raised-leg variation is used to help prevent excessive arching, often causing back pain and cramps. In this variation, it favours the middle and superior fibres of your pectorals more. This style can prove to be difficult for people with weak core stability as you have reduced base of support and no leg drive as compared to the power bench press variation.

Once you have decided on what position you want to adopt, there are a few exercises that can help you activate the muscle groups to further increase the stability of your shoulder girdles and trunk to have a stronger bench press. This is like the analogy of “You can balance better standing on one leg on a firm surface than an uneven, soft surface like the trampoline”.

Shoulder external/ internal rotation with cable/ dumbbell / resistance bands at neutral and 90 degrees elevated position

  • Purpose: activate and engage rotator cuff muscle groups in order to stabilize the glenohumeral joint (shoulder) complex.

  • Who: Benefits anyone performing upper body exercises involving the shoulder joint, especially people who have suffered rotator cuff injuries i.e tears, tendinopathy, bursitis

  • Bench Variation: Benefits can apply to classic, power bench and raised-leg variation

Single arm cable lat pull down

  • Purpose: activate and engage the upper and central fibers of the latissimus dorsi, mid and lower portions of the trapezius, the rhomboids and the bicep brachii and the brachialis.

  • Who: benefits people who struggles to keep the shoulder blades in the depressed/retracted position during the bench press

  • Bench Variation: Benefits can apply to classic, power bench and raised-leg variation

Rear-delt or reverse-pec Fly with cable/ resistance band in standing position or dumbbell in the bent over position

  • Purpose: engages the posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor and at the end of the movement when the shoulder blade retracts together, the trapezius and rhomboids. This warm-up exercise further reinforce the action of the shoulder ligaments by actively reinforcing the attachment of the arm to the chest.

  • Who: benefits similar to the lat pull down, to assist people with getting into shoulder blade retraction forming a stronger base of support for the pectoral contraction

  • Bench Variation: Benefits can apply to classic, power bench and raised-leg variation

Dead bug exercise lying on the floor with dumbbells in hands and legs in table-top position, executing by lower one leg down to the floor then return to starting position

  • Purpose: activates / engages the transversus abdominus and hip flexors to some extent to control the lumbar spine in a more neutral position

  • Who: As the abdominals are the antagonist to the posterior chain muscle group, it helps to lessen the strain and cramps in your lower back and control the spine position

  • Bench Variation: applies to raised-leg position

Let us know if you have any questions about the bench press, or how best to engage in any other forms of strength training.

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