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Top 5 mistakes in the bench press

These are the top 5 mistakes I see in the bench press.

For the video verison of this blog post, go here.

I refer to these from both the bodybuilder, and powerlifter’s standpoint. However, I would also like to point out that I think the majority of people don’t understand, and/or very much underutilise leg drive. I didn’t include that in my top 5 in this video as that is very powerlifting specific, whereas these other points are much more for the general gym goer.

1. Not arching the back a little bit, for shoulder blade positioning. A flat back doesn’t give space for shoulder blades. Without space for the shoulder blades to retract and depress, they leave the shoulder joints vulnerable. It will also leave you with a less stable descent of the bar. The less stable the descent, the harder the ascent of the bar.

2. Not placing the bar correctly to the chest for the individual’s arch height (small/big). Depending on the arch will depend on where the bar needs to be placed on the chest. Aim for the highest point of the body. For most people (most people tend to achieve a small arch in their back), right on the sternum is the best bet for optimal pressing efficiency. With someone who has an enormous arch, they may find that actually a bit beneath that is the highest point, so they should aim for there then.

3. Not locking out over the shoulders, thus creating the J curve bar path we would be looking for. Because of the placement on the chest (refer to point 2) which tends to keep the shoulders in a good position (refer to point 1- see how these all interlink?), you'll want to push back a little to end up over your shoulders, this draws what could be described as a capital J. The J will be more exaggerated with a lifter who has more of an arch. The J will be much less obvious with someone hitting higher up on their chest, than someone going lower on their chest.

4. Flaring elbows too much. This ties into all the previous points. When elbows tend to flare a bit much, this can be indicitive of not positioning shoulder blades correctly (point 1), and/or placing the bar too high on the chest (point 2). When performing points 1 and 2 correctly, you should see your elbows tuck slightly. What is usually suggested is roughly a 45 degree angle at the elbow, in relation to the body.

5. Not having upper back tightness. Keeping the shoulders happier by staying tighter in the upper back. This brings it all together. Very similar to point 1, but not just arching so that the shoulder blades have space, but create tightness in that region by pulling the shoulder blades together (retraction), and pull them down (depression). Again, this will keep the bar steady on it's descent. Too often I see gym-goers almost drop the bar on their chest, forgetting that the eccentric portion of the movement is as important as the concentric.

Thanks for reading!



P.S. Don’t forget to check out the other videos on the top 5 mistakes in the squat, and the deadlift:

To better understand shoulder blade blade depression and retraction, go here.


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