Everyone wants a big bench press. It's the ultimate sign of machismo and a true test for wannabe NFL players at the Combine. But it seems the more often you bench, the worse you feel. You get discouraged and either stop benching altogether or just try to bench more, which eventually leads to an injury. Not good.
But many common problems with the bench press can be fixed with just a few simple changes in your workout. In fact, to get better at benching, sometimes it is better not to bench at all, at least for a short time. Give yourself a break and start over. Take a few steps back and work on the basics. If you know some of the major myths about how you approach your bench press training workouts, you'll be stronger, healthier and remain injury-free for a long time.
Myth: The bench press is just a chest exercise
Most lifters don't realize the bench press is a full body lift: You need a tight grip on the bar, a braced core and hips that drive the feet downward. Also, the strength of your triceps, lats and shoulders plays a big role in your ability to press more weights. Another big technique flaw lies in the elbows. If someone looked straight down on you while you're bench pressing and sees your elbows flared out, you are putting too much stress on your shoulders. This can cause some serious shoulder issues. The elbows should track about 45 degrees out from your torso during the lift.
Myth: The bench press is built on the bench
Once people start bench pressing in the gym, they forget about doing push-ups. Unlike bench pressing with a rigid barbell and your back fixed on the bench, push-ups are a more natural movement. Push-ups also promote strength and mobility of the upper back and the shoulder blades. They also are an amazing core exercise, as when you are doing push-ups, you are in a plank position. If you do push-ups properly, you'll be amazed at how your posture changes and how your bench press increases. Don't forget push-ups can be overloaded with a partner providing manual resistance or holding an Olympic plate on your upper back.
Myth: Bench press starts when you grab the bar
When most lifters come into the gym after a long day at the office, their idea of a warm-up is a few sets benching an empty bar. Sorry. A thorough warm-up is essential, and your entire upper-body should be used in the process. I know what you’re saying: "I don't have enough time!" But warming up isn't an option; it's mandatory. And a good warm-up can take as little as 10-15 minutes, if you move progressively through each exercise.
The best part about busting these myths is that you can watch your buddies struggle to lift the bar, show them how it's done, and then shrug as you grin and say, "That's weird. I never do bench press."
-- Jim Smith is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has written for publications such as "Men's Health," "Muscle & Fitness" and "Oxygen." Visit his website at DieselSC.com.