Besides being the top ego-boosting lift of all time, the bench press is also a core fundamental exercise for developing upper body strength that’s mandatory for all lifters, as it allows you to train your pecs, anterior delts, triceps brachii and latissmus dorsi all at the same time and thus acquire a fully rounded powerful chest and strong arms, shoulders and back.
The only problem here is that the bench press is also the cause of numerous injuries in people who take it too lightly. If you fail to respect this potent move and perform it with correct form, it’s guaranteed to give you a hard time! That’s why top lifters invest a lot of time into perfecting their bench press form and technique, which ensures that they stay injury-free and make better gains.
Here are 10 bench press mistakes that no serious lifter can afford to make!
#1. Setting Up With the Wrong Grip
The way you grip the barbell plays an incredibly important role in your bench press performance. It’s the thing that will make or break your lift, and if you really mess it up, it might break your wrists, too. Ensure that you don’t grip the barbell too high in your palm, as this will cause your wrists to bend backwards and result in injury, and it will also make you lose strength because the line of force from your forearms won’t go directly through the barbell. Always grip the barbell deep into your palm and keep your wrists slightly bent.
#2. No Liftoff
Without a liftoff, the chances of altering your posture and starting position in an unwanted way are huge. And without a correct starting position, your overall stability throughout the lift will suffer. So for example, to lift the weight up and out of the pins, your shoulders have to round forward and reduce your upper-back tension, and then it will be very hard to pull your shoulder blades together again as you hold the weight over your body.
To prevent this, simply get a training partner to give you a liftoff or simply ask someone at the gym to assist. If you can’t find a spotter, adjust the pins to a height which allows you to lift out the barbell without messing up your posture.
#3. Elbows Too High
Driving your elbows directly out to the sides places enormous stress on your shoulder capsules and elbow joints. What’s worse, it also increases the distance the bar has to travel and reduces the tension on your pecs. You can avoid this by using a slightly narrower grip and keeping your elbows closer to your ribcage on the descent.
#4. Bouncing the Bar
More often than not, lifters will lower the bar quickly and let it bounce from the chest. As well as increasing the risk of injury, this also cheats the movement by creating momentum that makes the lifting portion easier, and cheating means less gains. If this happens to you all the time, chances are the weight you’re using is too heavy. Let your ego take a hit and reduce your poundage and focus on lowering the barbell to your chest with control, then pause it for a second or two while staying tight before pushing it back up.
#5. Not Squeezing Your Shoulder Blades Together
If you think that the bench press demands only laying on a bench and pushing weight up, you’re terribly wrong, because there are plenty of small yet important details that can determine whether your workout is effective or just a waste of time. One of them is squeezing the shoulder blades together – if you don’t do this, you reduce chest activation and give the shoulders more work. Not to mention, this also increases the distance the bar has to travel, thus increasing the difficulty of the movement.
#6. Not Pausing at the Top
We get that it’s hard to resist the urge to go immediately into your bench press, but there’s plenty to gain from pausing at the top of the lift. Once you hold the bar at the top, squeeze your muscles hard and pause for two counts to normalize your breath, increase the tension and create more stability for the whole body. Isometric contraction, which happens when the muscles tense and contract but do not change length is able to activate a higher number of motor units than any other type of training, so make the most out of it.
#7. Lifting the Heels Off the Ground
Although the bench press works out the upper body, it requires a high degree of coordination of the entire body to be effective. What are your feet doing while you bench? If you tap your feet or flail your legs, you’re losing potential power that could go into your press. Keeping your feet screwed into the floor will help you generate more power and maintain a firm foundation.
Also, tense your quads and glutes to ensure maximum total-body tightness. Oh, and if you’re putting your feet on the bench in order to better target your core, remind yourself that the bench press is not a core exercise! There are much better ways to engage your core while training your chest, such as doing Spiderman push-ups. By placing your feet anywhere else but the floor on a bench press, you’re missing out on an opportunity to lift more weight.
#8. Lifting the Hips Off the Bench
This is perhaps the most common mistake in the bench press routine of newbies and seasoned lifters alike. Most of the time, lifters thrust their hips off the bench in order to raise their chest and reduce the distance the bar has to travel.
However, this logic is greatly flawed: when you lift your hips off the bench, your body adopts an arched position from your feet to your shoulders and that exaggerates the strain on your spine. Keep your glutes glued on the bench all throughout the lift and maintain the natural arch of your back.
#9. Lifting the Head Off the Bench
Here’s one of the most basic rules of bench pressing: always keep your head, upper back and butt in contact with the bench. If you lift your head up, you risk straining your neck, losing your natural arch and reducing tension in the chest. When you look up, you should see the bar directly above your eyes. If you have trouble keeping your head down, this could be caused by postural problems and upper back imbalances that you need to sort out before taking your bench press to the next level.
#10. Short Range of Motion
Remember, if you want to use the bench press to make immense size and strength gains, you have to leave your ego at the door. Otherwise, you will only end up stagnating or hurting yourself. Many lifters shorten their range of motion in order to be able to press more weight, which makes them miss out on their true muscle growth potential. Moving through a larger range of motion, i.e. going from full stretch to peak contraction, will always lead to better gains.
Ideally, you should make sure that the barbell touches your chest on every repetition. The only exception to this are guys who have long arms and a small rib cage, because for them bringing the bar all the way down to the chest can be too stressful on the shoulders.