If you want to move a lot of weight on the bench, then it is absolutely critical to develop solid bench press technique. In this article, I will break down the proper bench press technique piece by piece so you will be able to safely add more pounds to your bench press.
Bench Press Technique
When it comes to bench press technique, there are 6 key areas of interest: foot position, hip and butt position, scapula (shoulder blade) position, head position, and bar path. I will start with foot position and work my way through the list.
Moving the position of your feet can add a fast 10 to 15 pounds to your bench press. You will want to pull your feet back so that your feet are actually behind the bench rather than loosely placed to the side of the bench. Your knees should be flexed beyond 90 degrees and there should be some tension in your quadriceps.
You have two options from here. You can either pull your feet back far enough that just your toes are touching the ground or you can pull your feet back but still keep your shoes flat on the ground.
Walking the feet back so just the toes are on the ground provides the most stability and power, but many benching federations require your feet to be flat on the ground. If you are planning on competing in powerlifting you should practice according whatever your federations rules are.
If your federation requires you to keep your feet flat on the ground, you can wear a pair of olympic lifting shoes to lower the distance between your feet and the floor. Note that this is a minor improvement and should only be added after nailing down the perfect bench press technique.
If you are not interested in competing and simply want to bench a lot of weight, either option works.
No matter what position you opt for, be sure that your quads have some tension in them when you are set up on the bench so you can use some leg drive to help push more weight.
Hip and Butt Position
Most organizations require that your butt maintain contact with the bench during the entire lift. Lifting your hips off the bench can shorten the amount of distance the bar needs to travel by bringing your chest closer to the bar.
However, extending your lower back to that degree to create an arch creates significant compressive force in the facet joints and can lead to back pain. For that reason, I consider keeping the butt on the bench at all times to be proper bench press technique.
The position of your shoulder blades is a critical component of good bench press technique. You will want to pull your shoulder blades back and down in order to get set up tightly on the bench.
In other words, you should squeeze your shoulder blades together and then move them down the bench towards your hips. This helps create a small arch of the mid-back and gives you a really stable surface to press from.
If you do this correctly, only your upper back and butt will be in contact with the bench. Additionally, there should be some tension in your upper back throughout the lift. Finally, both of your shoulder blades should be entirely on the bench.
If you change one thing about your bench press technique, this is the change to make.
Ideally, you should keep your head against the bench at all times. Many powerlifting federations require this. However, many benchers feel more comfortable flexing their neck and bringing their head off the bench while benching.
If you must flex your neck, I recommend only lifting your head off the bench while lowering the bar. On the way up, you will want to drive your head into the bench as this creates more stability and can boost your bench by a few pounds.
Good bench press technique starts with the grip position. Ideally, use a closed grip (thumb around the bar) when max benching. You can use the thumbless grip when pressing with the safety pins set up or when you have several skilled spotters around. Note that many people have seriously injured themselves by benching with a thumbless grip.
Additionally, make sure your wrist is not bent backwards but rather directly under the bar. If you looked at your arm from the side, the line connecting your elbow to the bar should be completely vertical. The bar should not be behind your elbow and you should not have a fully extended wrist.
Grip width is important enough that I dedicated an entire article to selecting the best width. See the bench press grip article to figure out the best hand placement when benching.
The final piece of having good bench press technique is to have a good bar path. On the way down, you should be able to keep your elbows tucked in so that the angle between your elbows and your torso is about 45 degrees.
The bar should descend so that you are able to maintain that angle between the arm and torso. For most lifters, you will touch the torso just below the nipple line. This is a bit lower on the chest than many lifters are accustomed to. However, when you get used to this bench press technique, your weights will significantly improve and your shoulders will take much less of a beating.
By applying the described bench press technique, you can add a significant amount of weight to your bench press and simultaneously reduce shoulder pain while benching.