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This Week's Exercise :: Flat Barbell Bench Press

The flat barbell bench press is the most common exercises used in the gym. It is the staple exercise for building muscle mass and strength in the chest. Learn more!

By: Curtis Schultz

The flat barbell bench press is the most common exercises used in the gym. It is the staple exercise for building muscle mass and strength in the chest.

The primary muscles that are worked in a bench press are the triceps brachii and pectoralis major with the anterior (front) deltoids, traps & back as secondary muscles used in the flat barbell bench press.


The Groove & Important Rules

No this is not some sort of disco move... rather it's the optimum bench press set up and motion.

First, lie down on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor. I'll say this again, KEEP your feet FLAT on the ground. Stop wiggling your feet or moving them on each and every rep. Stay still. Take a medium to wide grip on the bar using the O rings as a guide.

Usually, the best grip is to place your pinky fingers on the O ring. Or you can do this, just experiment with grips widths until you feel comfortable then remember where that grip is that is comfortable for you.

Take a deep breath and take the weight from the rack... exhale when you've moved it over your chest. A bit higher is okay but don't go lower as this makes it difficult to keep your elbows under your wrists.

Take another deep breath and hold it before you lower the bar. Now lower the bar in control... if the bar is free falling, that isn't control. Lower it slowly to the nipple line then press up in a slight line. (NOT a backward arc). You do not want the bar to finishes over your face. It should go fairly straight up. Now exhale and get another deep breath and hold it before you descend again for another rep.

During the movement keep your elbows directly under the wrists that puts you in a 90-degree angle, which about 90% of you do when benching (see picture below) we call it the so-called bodybuilding benching style.


Not the correct movement but everyone does it and it aggravates the shoulders. Your arm should be at a 45-degree angle. Keep your wrists straight though. Don't cock them or allow them to twist during the exercise. This causes undue stress on the wrist but for extra security use wrist wraps.

Here's a good test to show yourself how to bench correctly. Have your partner put his hand up for you to hit and then throw a punch. Did your arm come from a 45 or 90 degree angle? (See punching picture below).

No one throws a punch at a adheree angle. Not even Bruce Lee did. When lowering the bar to your chest, look at your forearms. They should be vertical and directly under your wrists. That's where your power is dummies. Though when you do change your benching style the weights you were using will be less. Just lose the ego and you'll be benching more, trust me. Ok, back to technique.

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Drive your feet into the floor and drive your body, and head into the bench when pressing the bar off your chest. This is a part of the bench press few people understand and have a tough time doing as well as learning the right breathing technique. But by doing this on each and every rep gives you increased power out of the bottom of the movement.

Your feet should be on the floor. At the moment you begin to push the bar up, drive with your feet and squeeze your glutes. This drive will translate directly into added power out of the bottom of the bench press,

Grip the bar firmly so that it doesn't roll out of your hands and remember to always use collars to prevent the weights from sliding off unless you are lifting alone at home, then do not use collars.


Common Errors In Benching

Bouncing the weight off the chest - always lower the weight under complete control. Allow it to touch your chest then push off.

Only rest the bar on your chest if you are attempting competition benching. This can not only damage your rib cage but also reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.

Inhaling as you are lowering the bar and exhaling as you are pressing up - Now, this is "supposed" to be standard breathing procedure for benching or any lifting: But, we're going to teach you how to bench right, right?

Well, for more benching power, BEFORE lowering the bar hold your breath at the top of the bench, do not exhale on the descent, upon touching your chest exhale and explode the bar up to the top position or start position. Repeat. Hold breath. Lower bar. Touch chest. Explode bar upward and exhale.

Moving your feet - Do not move your feet at all during each repetition. Keep feet and body still. No wiggling. This does not get the weight up - in fact it hurts the movement.


Basic Bench Press Routine

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Any bench routine can take up to 6 weeks or longer sometimes 12 to 14 weeks. Very important, do not have your partner holding the bar on every rep you do screaming at you "It's all you dude!" Because if he takes his hands off that bar it's crashing onto your chest. It's not all you, got it. Do it on your own each and every rep.

Let's say you can only bench 250 on your own for a 1 rep max. Try this out. OK, when beginning any bench routine, No matter what your 1 RM, always do the bar first for 1 set of 20 reps. Warm up as follows: 135 for 10 reps; 185 for 5 reps, 205 for 5 reps; then do 225 for three sets of 6 reps.

    Calculate Your One Rep Max Here.

When you can do 225 for three sets of 6 ALL on our own then:

  • Use the same warm up but then do 225 for 3, and three sets of 235 for 6 reps.

  • Keep doing this routine until you've done your 250 1RM for 3 sets of 6 reps.


Bench Press Variations

This exercise has a few variations. You can use dumbbells, a cambered bar, do them reverse grip or use boards for board presses, chains and even rubber bands. OK, now how about board presses?

So, what do these variations have to do with bodybuilding? Training with bands, boards and chains has a lot to do with bodybuilding! Using these tools can spell success in creating strength gains that usually equate into bigger chest muscles.

Board presses are a special exercise designed to help strengthen the lockout part of the bench press. It is also very effective in increasing triceps strength. This exercise is performed exactly the same as the bench press except you explode the barbell off a board that is placed on your chest.

The board press is a great way to isolate the triceps in a bench specific motion. Do board presses medium to close grip bench. The reverse grip bench press lends itself to a good triceps workout, we all know that, but done on boards takes your triceps to a new level of size and strength.

By adding the boards to benching also takes the shoulders out of the motion making it possible to use more weight and is healthier in the long term as our shoulders are put through allot as body builders and lifters.

How do you do board presses? First, lower the weight until it touches the boards, explode the bar then press the weight back up, and repeat. Make a series of boards for different ranges of training like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and even 6 boards.

Try some of these bench press variations:

There are many barbell exercises to choose from. Here are some of what have become my favorites.

Floor Press with Chains & Floor Presses with Mini-bands.

Drape a 5/8" chain over the bar. The chain should be about 5 feet long. Go to www.elitFTS.com for a set of chains (Bands too) and they're real inexpensive. Work up to a max single.

    NOTE: The Westside technique says to not be afraid to miss. Well, I don't know about you but I hate to miss a lift.

It pisses me off and sometimes the rest of the workout sucks. Point in case, was doing 2-board presses the other day, missed 405, jumped off the bench and stamped my feet like a little kid being told "No, you can't have any candy!"

But, I understand the concept of missing. You must go for MAX weights, pushing your body and its faculties to their limits. That's how you get better - mentally and physically.

The big boys do records using three, four, or five sets of chains. I use two sets of chains (because that's all I have) or you can max out with mini-bands on the bar.

Board presses (Can use Bands or Chains too.)

Wow! This is a hard one. When doing board presses, it's almost like doing a plyometric exercise. You rest on the boards for a split second and then explode.

Exploding with bands and chains attached to the bar with weight, isn't as easy as it sounds. I always try to get a record with two, three, four, and six boards. This adds up to three PR's on boards, three more with bands, three more with chains, and three with bands and chains combined. This combination is one hell of a workout. And when you combine chains and bands together, you better be ready or it will slam you through the floor and right into the basement. Good luck they're tuff.

Cambered bar bench. Do not have the bar touch your chest. Come to about an inch off your chest (see picture above). Do a 1 to 3-rep max. One rep is preferred.


Bench Shirt

Very few serious Powerlifters compete today without using a bench shirt. Now, don't ALL you "raw" people start e-mailing me and complaining, I do not want to hear your arrogance about bench shirts. OK. Now, learning to work in a bench shirt is imperative to getting your lifts legal.

Benching in a shirt is a very different grove than a raw bench. Go to my friends at www.metalmilitia.net for all your bench shirt technique stuff. Ask for Bill or Sebastian.


Try This Bench Routine For Power & Strength

This routine has increased several individuals bench maxes dramatically and this routine will enhance chest thickness tremendously. So, if your trying to bust that rut and get out of those bench press blues then give this routine a try.

Try Pausing

Unlike the "touch and go" way of benching that individuals perform, in every gym across America, try pausing the bar for a two-second count. Yes, you heard me. What am I talking about? Well, I am talking about stopping the bar on your chest, waiting for a two-second count and then pressing the bar off of you and repeat.

When your performing bench press routines with the old fashion percentages and pyramid style and gains are minimal to none-existent then it's time to take a leap of faith and make a change for the better.

This is what I mean: If you are doing 2 sets of 6 with lets say 275 then you would now execute 2 sets of 3 reps, pausing each rep for a two second count with the same 275. The best way to perform this is to have a partner or an individual who you can trust count the two-second pause out loud.

When you lower the weight down, stop it as soon as the bar touches your chest. Do not relax or exhale. When there is no movement from the bar and it has come to a complete stop upon your chest your partner (or spotter) should immediately start counting; One thousand one. One thousand two. PRESS!

As soon as you hear the letter "P" explode with all you have, exhaling out, and then at the top take a deep breath and repeat.

This will take at least three weeks to get used to and then watch your bench blast!

Add Weighted Dips

Also, accent this routine by performing weighted dips for pauses as one of your auxiliary exercises. Perform your normal warm up sets and then do 2 - 3 working sets for 3, 5, or 8 reps per set, pausing each rep for a one second pause. Start out moderately heavy and then increase the poundage each set, each week. Start with a 25-pound plate, and work your way up.

The objective of the routine is to work up into the weight that you would normally perform 2 sets of 6, and then do a full two second PAUSE with that weight for 2 sets of 3 reps. You may think this routine is easy. Wrong!

We are so used to repping out with a weight and the thought of holding that weight for a couple of seconds while also holding your breath for more power seems like no big deal. Just try from having yourself relax.

Staying tight, and do not exhale until the rep is finished at the top. It is very difficult. But, the rewards are fantastic! And watch your pecs & triceps explode!

Good luck on your bench press and maybe you should enter a bench competition because everyone can boast a gym bench press but not an official bench press - go RAW or use a shirt, if you got the guts.

Pause at the bottom for a second and then give the bar a ride! If you have any questions and I'm sure many people do because I probably have made this sound more complex then it really is. But, I'm ready to try and help the gym rookies.

About The Author

Curtis Schultz is a contributor for Ironman magazine, MuscleMag International, Martial Arts Illustrated, Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness, and many other publications. He has been a Head or an Assistant Strength Coordinator as well as a football coach for 13 years with several colleges and high schools.

Some of the places he has worked are the Univ. of Colorado, Univ. of the Pacific, St. Peter's College, and Quincy Univ.

Curtis is also an accomplished powerlifter and bench only competitor. He is also an IFPA certified Specialist in Sports Conditioning and IFPA certified Fitness Trainer, a USWF level 1 Olympic "Club" Coach, NESTA certified SAQ Specialist, and has a B.Sc. in Sports Management.

Exercise Of The Week: Flat Barbell Bench Press.
behind_the_iron@yahoo.com

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