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    Arrow Bench Pressing: Key Points and Frequently Asked Questions

    Bench Pressing: Key Points and Frequently Asked Questions


    This isn't a Step-By-Step on how to bench press, but more a discussion of key points and questions that are frequently asked about some of the common (or more contentious) points of the exercise. The points below should address some key factors asked by the average trainee, and isn't meant to be a dissertation or all-encompassing guide for advanced level trainees.




    1. Start with a Stable Base: Make sure your bench is rated for your body weight as well as the weight you're lifting (this should go without saying, but some FID benches aren't as strong as you might think). Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor. You don't necessarily need to be flat-footed, but forget about that "feet in the air" thing you may have seen. And don't DB press using a Bosu Ball as a bench in order to "train your core". That nonsense is all Mystical Muscle Building fun and games until you get hurt.


    2. Grip Width & Elbow Flare: You may have heard people say to "tuck the elbows" to be safe. Well, directionally that is true, but benching with flared elbows is not necessarily an issue. The greater the elbow flare, the greater the involvement of the pectorals. The less the elbow flare (closer to the body) the more the triceps are recruited. So if you're bench pressing with the goal of bodybuilding the pectorals, you should generally try to flare your elbows. The downside is that the greater the elbow flare, the more likely it is that it will lead to shoulder joint issues. This isn't caused by the flare per se, but by the amount of stretch the shoulder joint is subjected to. However, each individual has different tolerance/flexibility so finding the right degree of flare is an individual thing.

    A good way to find the "maximum" flare you can safely use is to use an unloaded bar (or broomstick, whatever). Adopt a "90" degree elbow flare (arms perpendicular to the body), and your normal bench press grip width. Now, bring the bar toward your chest. If your shoulders "bind" before the bar reaches your chest, then this is too much flare for you. Slowly bring your elbows in toward your body (and/or narrow your grip) until you are able to lower the bar to your chest. This is the maximum degree of elbow flare that should be safe to use. If you use more than this, you'll be allowing the weight to "force" your shoulder joint to stretch beyond its natural degree of flexibility, likely leading to issues.

    (Obviously, the above is true for "regular" bench pressing, and doesn't specifically apply to things like the close-grip-bench-press, which is a different exercise. Similarly, powerlifting brings a few other factors into play as well.)


    3. Barbell vs. Dumbbells: This is a matter of personal preference. With DB's, you have the freedom to adjust your hand angle, as well as move your hands closer together at the top of the movement and further apart at the bottom. These additional degrees of freedom often allow an individual to find a comfortable pressing form if they have trouble with barbell bench pressing. Personally, I like to use Barbells for my flat benching and DB's for my incline benching, but that's just me.

    And yes, it's perfectly normal for you to bench press less total weight using Dumbbells. This is neither a positive nor a negative thing, and will not inhibit your muscular development in and of itself. Part of the reason is because you must perform more stabilization with DB's, and one side cannot rely on the other for additional stability. But don't make too much out the whole "gotta work my stabilizers!" thing.


    4. Bench Incline Angle: Increasing the angle of the bench press will move the emphasis toward the upper pectorals and the shoulders...to the point that when you're perfectly upright it's basically a shoulder exercise. Speaking from my own experience, I have found that a 30-40 degree bench press angle is just about right for developing the upper pectorals. YMMV, so experiment to see what works best for you. Most trainees will want to do at least one form of "flat" press and one "incline" press.


    5. Tucking the Shoulder Blades: When laying on the bench, and after having assumed the proper grip width, pull your shoulder blades together and keep them together throughout the exercise. This provides two functions: 1) it improves your upper body tightness, giving you a more stable base from which to press, and 2) it generally helps keep your shoulders healthier by limiting their involvement in the exercise. (Along with arching the back/puffing out the chest, this also reduces the range of motion of the exercise, which is advantageous to lifting bigger numbers).


    6. Arching the Back: Arching the back is not strictly necessary (for bodybuilding), but most people find it helps. Again, it tightens up the body, providing a more stable base from which to press as well as enabling "leg drive" (yes, leg drive..but I'm not going to get into all that) which can help you lift more. How much arch are we talking? Well, for bodybuilding purposes your butt should remain in contact with the bench, as should your shoulder blades (see point #5). From there, just think about tightening your lower back as if trying to bring your butt and shoulder blades closer together. Maintain this back tightness throughout the lift.


    7. What About Bench Press Machines? Frankly, that's a can of worms, but I'll give you my take. Machines are a good tool for pectoral development, as long as they're designed and used properly. Since there are so many machines out there, it's impossible to say whether the one at your particular gym is any good or not. If it's made by Hammer Strength, Nautilus, or some reputable brand, and if you adjust it properly, I'm sure it's fine. If you feel it working your chest, and it doesn't cause you any pain or issues, then use it at your own discretion.

    However, don't expect that the weight you use on a machine has any correlation whatsoever to "real" bench pressing. Not only is the stabilization factor removed, but machines will typically have some sort of mechanical advantage, such that the weight listed on the machine is not what you're actually pressing.


    8. How about Benching on the Smith Machine? Smith Machine?! How dare you?! Prepare to be banned from the gym.

    Okay, it's not that bad. The problem with the Smith Machine is that the path of motion of the bar is "fixed". This is not the case for a barbell/dumbbell bench press, or for a properly designed machine. So you're more likely to find yourself having issues on the Smith Machine. It's a good machine for certain exercises, and an experienced lifter can use it effectively even for bench press work. If you're a beginner and unsure of what could or could not be an issue, then it's probably best to stick with free weights or the Hammer Strength type chest press.

    A common reason beginners have for using the Smith Machine is not needing a spotter. This is true, but the best option IMO is to just use a power rack / safety cage. But if you don't have access to one, then you're still better off just asking for a spot in most cases.


    9. Is Bench Pressing more difficult for Tall People? In 95% of cases, this is just whining and excuse making. Yes, taller people have to move the weight a longer distance. But taller people also have bigger frames and more ability to add total mass. There's a reason all the bench press records are held by people over 6' tall. Shut up and lift. (and eat).


    10. Final Thoughts: No exercise is necessary, including the almighty bench press. If you just can't do it pain free, or if it causes you issues, then find alternative exercises. It would be worth considering the form points above, however, as well as leaving your ego at the door of the gym. Take some weight off the bar and learn how to do it properly, and you'll likely find that most of your bench pressing problems disappear.




    Other Bench Press Threads:

    The bench form thread - davisj3537
    A good guide to bench pressing, complete with pictures and videos.

    Guide to Novice Barbell Training - kethnaab
    A Step-By-Step guide to bench pressing, along with links to more information. Very Complete!
















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    Last edited by VoxExMachina; 10-01-2013 at 06:29 AM.
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  2. #2
    Registered User skel1977's Avatar
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    Not bad.. Would rep you but i cant see the rep button at work for some reason
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    Thanks for posting this--repped. My chest development is pathetic, and I'm pretty sure that my flat bench form sucks. This gives me some things to review point by point.
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    In, great info very useful

    Will follow advice to a tee and hopefully not have anymore shoulder problems. Thanks!!
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    Excellent point by point on the basics of the bench press. Hopefully people read it before posting questions about bench. Repped, although I doubt you will notice with all that rep power.

    Should be a sticky
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    might be a good side note to point that the upper chest angles for a lot of people tend to be fairly vertical similar to the front delt, this people tend to get better upper chest develpoment from high incline angles, while others that have more horizontal running upper chest tend to do fine with a lower incline with fairly flared elbows.
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    Originally Posted by Xuaxace View Post
    might be a good side note to point that the upper chest angles for a lot of people tend to be fairly vertical similar to the front delt, this people tend to get better upper chest develpoment from high incline angles, while others that have more horizontal running upper chest tend to do fine with a lower incline with fairly flared elbows.
    Fair point. Added a "YMMV" & comment about experimenting to see what's right for you.

    For me, though, anything above about 45 degrees is just too much shoulder involvement.
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    Solid post.
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    Originally Posted by VoxExMachina View Post
    Fair point. Added a "YMMV" & comment about experimenting to see what's right for you.

    For me, though, anything above about 45 degrees is just too much shoulder involvement.
    I am the same. Usually 20 degrees incline or mostly guilotine bench does the trick.





    Here is an illustration of what I maen (so others can picture it). Not something that I had been awared on until recently but it certainly shows why a lot of people tend to have a hard time with the upper chest, doing the wrong movement etc.

    This insertions favour high incline because the clavicular head runs downward in a similar angle than the front delt, (works better with shoulder flexion)



    This insertions favour low incline/guilotine. clavicular head fibers run fairly horizontally so it gets hit best on transverse shoulder flexion movements.
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    Hi, nice sum up

    One question - about the decline bench press. I was always wondering about Dips vs Decline Press for that lower chest. Which in your opinion is more effective?
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    Should be sticky for sure. Thanks Vox.

    I hope this will cut down on the endless bench press threads.
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    Originally Posted by Violander View Post
    Hi, nice sum up

    One question - about the decline bench press. I was always wondering about Dips vs Decline Press for that lower chest. Which in your opinion is more effective?

    I don't have a strong opinion either way. Just a matter of personal preference, IMO. Some people can't get a good chest MMC with dips, others love them. Dips have the advantage of not dropping a bar on your face.




    Originally Posted by adamdavidson47 View Post
    Should be sticky for sure. Thanks Vox.

    I hope this will cut down on the endless bench press threads.
    I doubt it. But Point #2, especially, is something that I get tired of re-typing over and over. Easier to just put the most common stuff in here so I can just link the thread instead of repeating myself.
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  13. #13
    I need about tree fiddy davisj3537's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by VoxExMachina View Post
    Easier to just put the most common stuff in here so I can just link the thread instead of repeating myself.
    I completely agree. Good post Vox.
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    Originally Posted by davisj3537 View Post
    I completely agree. Good post Vox.
    I saw that you put together a good thread on bench pressing.

    I added a link to it in the first post, as well as a link to another excellent guide by kethnaab.
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    Just pointing out an observation... the 2nd picture with that huge upper division you see, not all of that is the clavicular head, a good chunk of that is attached to the STERNUM. You can visually see on HIS right pecs, where the clavicular begins to attach and the sternal head attaches. There is an additional separation on that upper division if you look.

    Its physiologically impossible to have the clavicular head run horizontally or anywhere close to it either because the clavicle runs horizontally at the TOP of the shoulders and straight across. The lateral head of the delt ends a good portion down from the top of the shoulder. The pec major (clavicular and sternal included) are attached at an approximate location of where the lateral delts attach. You have to have some really messed up bone structure of muscle attachments to have them the clav pecs run horizontally.

    My apologies for the technicality... but your advice is pretty spot on nonetheless (:
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    In on thread of the Vox.

    Will add to moi blog.
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    Originally Posted by VoxExMachina View Post
    I saw that you put together a good thread on bench pressing.

    I added a link to it in the first post, as well as a link to another excellent guide by kethnaab.
    Thanks for the exposure dude. Now if noobs would just read. Lol
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    shoulder joint issues. This isn't caused by the flare per se, but by the amount of stretch the shoulder joint is subjected to.
    9. Is Bench Pressing more difficult for Tall People? In 95% of cases, this is just whining and excuse making. Yes, taller people have to move the weight a longer distance.
    Does this mean people with long arms are more likely to have issues with shoulder damage? In order to reach my chest, my elbows are literally a good foot below my chest. Meaning I have significantly more shoulder stretching than shorter armed folk. I bench with a 45 degree angle, and have a thin frame so puffing out my chest barely helps. I haven't really experienced any issues with my shoulders to date, but I've only been doing this for 2 years which is a flash in the plan considering I plan on doing it for the rest of my life. Just curious on what your thoughts are on this.
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    Originally Posted by jolanar1 View Post
    Does this mean people with long arms are more likely to have issues with shoulder damage? In order to reach my chest, my elbows are literally a good foot below my chest. Meaning I have significantly more shoulder stretching than shorter armed folk. I bench with a 45 degree angle, and have a thin frame so puffing out my chest barely helps. I haven't really experienced any issues with my shoulders to date, but I've only been doing this for 2 years which is a flash in the plan considering I plan on doing it for the rest of my life. Just curious on what your thoughts are on this.
    Proportions do matter to some degree (overall height doesn't). If you have exceptionally long forearms then all things considered your upper arms would be further retracted for a given grip width/elbow flare, and the shoulder would be subject to more stretch. However, this doesn't automatically assume you'd have more of an issue with your shoulders. A lot of that comes down to personal flexibility.

    But really, nobody should worry about their proportions as it's something you cannot change. Short people can complain that they don't have the frame to add as much muscle. Those with skinny chests complain that the barrel-torso'd powerlifters don't have to use as much ROM, etc, etc. But to worry or complain or make excuses about it isn't going to change anything.

    What you should worry about is simply finding the form that works best for you. Even with longer arms, it's usually just a matter of tweaking your form per the pointers I gave above and you'll be good to go. And if none of that works, then maybe the exercise just isn't for you. There is no doubt that some % of people just don't get along with the bench press. Luckily, there are other options to develop your physique.
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    Another great form thread. Subbed for reference.
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    Great thread... I typically will use the smith at the end of a bench session to just wear out the muscle..
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    Das it mane, I always try brushing up on technique even though I've been doing this a while now

    Been correcting my buddy's form and trying to teach him the way

    One thing I didn't see mentioned was wrist position, as in the angle of your wrist when holding the bar.



    I've been catching my partner doing this, but he says it feels more comfortable for him, thoughts?
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    Originally Posted by jacobcmurphy View Post

    I've been catching my partner doing this, but he says it feels more comfortable for him, thoughts?
    My concern there is if he starts lifting significant weight he will strain his wrists or could lose the bar if his grip fails. Just my two cents, could be off...
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    Originally Posted by jacobcmurphy View Post
    I've been catching my partner doing this, but he says it feels more comfortable for him, thoughts?
    He's either using light weights or has Superman's wrists. There's no way what he's doing feels more comfortable. The bar should be placed on the edges of your palms, if you want to lift the most possible weight whilst sparing your wrists a great deal of grief.
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