Analysing The Bench Press

I have been carrying out some research of late on the bench press and recently came across the article titled “an in depth analysis of the bench press” that was published in the strength and conditioning journal way back in 1982.  Whilst this is a very old article, there are some great key messages delivered.

The bench press is probably one of the most commonly prescribed strength and conditioning exercises for developing strength in the horizontal pushing plane.  It is also probably one of the most common exercises that I see clients having issues with regards to both technique and and pain in the shoulder girdle.

Key Messages In The Article

  • The bench press is a great exercise for developing and strengthening the upper body muscles.
  • Muscles trained include the pectoralis major and minor, shoulders (anterior and middle deltoid) and the tricep brachii.
  • The exercise can be performed using a variety of tools, with the barbell being the most commonly used.
  • Proper technique should focus on every second under the bar should be focused on producing maximal results.
  • When preparing for the lift, always ensure the bar is balanced and the weight is evenly distributed.
  • When getting ready to lift the bar, position yourself so that your eyes are under the bar.  The back and buttocks should firmly on the bench and the feet flat.
  • When gripping the bar, ensure you have equal distance either side from the centre of the bar.  One should determine their grip position by experimenting with what feels most comfortable.  Typically the most commonly used grip is approximately just wider than ones shoulders.
  • Individuals with longer arms may take a wider grip compared to the individual with shorter arms who may select a more narrow grip.
  • A spotter should be used where possible to assist if required.
  • The downward phase of the movement should be controlled and the bar should touch ones chest at the bottom of the descent.
  • The ascent phase should be controlled and the bar is pushed away from ones chest until the elbows are locked straight.
  • Bar travel should follow a natural arch from the chest to the starting position.
  • Bouncing the bar off the chest means ones rib cage will absorb the impact.  Preferably the bar is moved in a controlled manner and bouncing is avoided if you are looking to avoid injury and develop strength as the bounce will add momentum to the lift and take away from the work of the upper body.
  • One should avoid lifting the buttocks off the bench when pressing.

From a clinical perspective, the other key issue I see often is flaring of the elbows out too wide.   Elbows too close to the side of the body requires more tricep work, whereas elbows flared opens up ones anterior shoulder.  Aim somewhere around 45 degrees.

Failing to create a closed packed shoulder position and keeping the scapular down and back with an engaged lat and shoulders can also open someone up to aggravating their shoulder.

For those who are currently suffering from shoulder issues and are finding benching painful, I would suggest consulting with an appropriately trained osteopath or physiotherapist who understands the bench press.

This blog post was written by osteopath Heath Williams of Principle Four Osteopathy.