Master the Movement: Bench Press Basics

“Master the Movement” is a five-part series which briefly covers the proper form and mechanics of various exercises. Please consult your physician before attempting any new exercise regimen and consider meeting with a certified, professional trainer who can assess your form to prevent injury as you work toward your goals.

Have you noticed the massive influx of new exercise machines, group fitness classes, and gadgets promising quick weight loss? Despite the high turnover of fads and products, there’s one piece of equipment that hasn’t gone out of style: the barbell.

While barbells are commonplace in nearly every gym, many people perform barbell exercises without practicing or understanding proper form. There are those who are afraid to do squats because they think it will hurt their knees, while others fear the damage a dead lift could do to their backs. The reality is that both injuries are possible, but not if the movement is done correctly.

Now regarded by many people as a standard benchmark for strength, the bench press is usually seen as a chest or pectoral exercise. While the pecs play a role in the movement (when done properly and safely), it’s the triceps which work for the majority of the rep. This exercise is about body movement awareness and control.

Many thanks to my lovely wife for being our bench pressing model.

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#1 Set up:
Lay down on the bench with the bar at eye level.
Feet on the floor and a comfortable width apart.
Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Arch your back as much as is comfortable (think putting a fist under your back).
Arms slightly wider than shoulder width.

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#2 Lift Off:
Get your whole body tight (legs, abs, back, etc.).
Take a deep breath in your belly. Exhale as you lift off.
Bring the bar out so your arms are vertical.
Avoid locking your elbows, otherwise you risk hyperextension in that joint.


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#3 Descent:
While keeping everything tight, bring the bar straight down.
Do NOT flare out elbows, keep them tucked comfortably near your body.
Let the bar descend until it touches your sternum, avoiding bouncing at all costs.
if you can picture your arms making a 90-degree triangle you can avoid unnecessary strain on your muscles.
The objective is to work not injure.

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#4 Ascent:
Still keeping your body as tight as you can, explode the bar off of your chest straight up (not backwards towards the rack) After maintaining this position for a short count, re-rack the bar.




























Be sure you know what your goals are before you attempt any kind of lifting exercises. Not to mention, get your doctor’s approval too. Your goals will dictate what proper form looks like. That is, your grip, reps, speed, stance, weight, and the like affects your workout outcomes.

The New Rules of Lifting series can help you examine your current lifting form and provide a deeper explanation of what’s happening between your movements and your muscle groups, as well as get you started with new exercises suited to your goals (allowing for modifications when necessary).

The fact is, proper form equals an efficient workout.
Share your experiences with bench pressing in the comments below.

Matthew Hall is a Customer Service Specialist at HCLS. He spends the majority of his free time with his wife and kids. His interests include religious studies, psychology, and fitness.