Posted on September 24, 2021 by Kate Halsall

Ahhhh the humble Bench Press – an often overlooked and under-used lift. When the Personal Training team listed their favourite lifts, this was not one of them! Why? Because of it’s complexity – do you arch your back, how do you breathe, where should your hands be….and so on. And it’s for this reason, it became the focus of our recent staff training session. Despite it not being one of our favourites; this compound lift works chest, shoulders and triceps, so we definitely have a lot to say on technique and accessory moves to improve your Bench Press. Read on.

To arch or not to arch.

One of the most common questions we are asked about performing a Bench Press is how should you have your back? The American College of Sports Medicine states that one of the most common mistakes is arching or hyper-extending the low back. To answer this question, we need to look at the starting position for our gym users and clients, as this is fundamental to a good Bench Press.

  • The head, shoulders, and hips should maintain contact with the bench, and both feet should be placed shoulder-width apart and rest firmly flat on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, use plates to rest the feet on or change to a floor press.
  • The bar in the rack is positioned above the eyes. The hands grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder distance apart and the wrists are rigid.
  • Then we push the upper back into the bench – think squeezing your shoulder blades together.

When you get into this set position, your back will “fall into” a natural arch. But the key here is that it should be comfortable. You then brace those abs and perform the move.

How should I breathe?

This comes down to the weight you are lifting and what you find works. You can inhale as you bring the bar down to your chest and then exhale as you push the be back to the starting position. However, many bodybuilding and strength websites advise holding the breath on the downward phase and exhaling on the upward one OR holding the breath through the entire move.

How to beast the bench.

If you’ve already got the Bench Press down pat, then we’ve got some accessory moves to help you get stronger and improve your technique:

  • DB Bench Press – changing the rotation of hands, dumbbell positions, elbow positions
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Incline and Decline Bench Press
  • Pressups – and all of the variations you could think of (weighted, banded, elevated and so on)
  • DB Chest Flyes
  • Cable/DAP Chest Press/Flyes
  • Floor Press
  • Shoulder Stability Work – side & forward raises
  • Tricep work – think skull crushers, kick backs, extensions
  • Narrow Grip Bench Press
  • Walk-up plank – (walking the hands on and off a step or bench) great for core and wrist strength

And there’s more! This old blog from Jenny shares some other top tips on building a bigger chest, and here’s a great chest and tricep workout.

Whilst there is plenty here for you if you are looking to start or improve your Bench Press, we need to ensure that you don’t neglect back work. Make sure that rows, face pulls and lat pull downs also form part of your routine.