The bench press is a fundamental exercise for developing real upper body strength. However, it’s also the most dangerous exercise in the gym and hundreds of people get seriously hurt every year by bench pressing with improper form, while a few dozen get killed by dropping the bar on their face, throat or chest.
While there are plenty of creative ways to get killed when lifting, the bench press remains the king of deadly exercises, not because it’s a dangerous exercise by itself, but because many people don’t care about form. Yet when it comes to the bench press, there are no excuses for bad form and ego lifting. If you want to ensure good progress and maintain your health (read stay alive), read this article to learn the deadliest bench press mistakes and how to avoid them.
#1. Using The Thumbless Grip to Bench Press
The thumbless grip means holding the bar with the thumbs on the same side as the fingers. As cool as it sounds, there is a good reason why this grip is also called ‘the suicide grip’. Just think about it – why on earth would anybody want to hold a heavy barbell over their face without wrapping their thumbs around the bar, when that makes it way too easy for the bar to slip out and fall on their chest, throat or face?
Because Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman did it and got away with it. We understand that every bodybuilder feels the urge to mimic the styles and techniques of his bodybuilding heroes, but keep in mind that not everything the pros do can be applied to your training, and some of it is just plain wrong, like not using your thumbs to hold the bar on the bench press. And the only benefit of the thumbless grip is that it feels more comfortable and causes less strain on the wrists. If the bar rolls mid-set, you won’t have thumbs to stop it from falling out of your hands and the consequences can be life-threatening.
The best case scenario is that you’ll end up breaking a few ribs, while the worst case scenario is that you’ll die from a crushed skull, throat or massive internal bleeding. Keep your bench press safe by using a full grip by wrapping your thumbs around the bar and squeezing it hard so that it can’t move. If your wrists hurt, just put the bar lower in your hands and closer to the wrists.
#2. Bench pressing without a spotter/power rack
This is perhaps the stupidest thing you can do in the gym. Many guys do their bench press without a power rack or a spotter for years without a problem. But it only takes once, and you can be sure that that day will come.
If you fail to lift the weight, there are two options – you will either get pinned by a heavy barbell on the bench without enough strength to push it back up, or the bar will drop on your face, throat or ribcage and you’ll die. While most people bench press safely, every gym has a few foolish or ignorant lifters without any regard for their safety. Some of them think that if they fail, they can save their ass by rolling the bar to their stomach or tilting it to one side. Well here are the bad news: rolling a super heavy bar to your stomach will crush your abs and cause internal bleeding that can kill you before the help arrives. And the tilting only works if you didn’t put collars on the bar. If you’re dealing with a heavy, collared bar, your only help is that someone will react and help you before your clock runs out.
Therefore, the safest option is to always bench press inside the power rack where you should set the horizontal safety pins slightly below your chest so that you don’t hit them on good reps but they will catch the bar if you fail, or ask someone to spot you. Finally, only bench what you know you can bench and know when you’re truly capable of attempting that final rep or adding extra weight on the bar.
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