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I've been working on my technique for the barbell bench press. I used to do a pretty flat bench press but I've recently tried to use the technique taught by Scot Mendelson. Namely, the setting onto your traps and focusing on the leg drive throughout the whole exercise. I haven't gotten the hang of the whole body-drive aspect, yet.

The following video is 155 lb for 5; the GIF just loops. My 1 RM is 235 lb so this is fairly light for me. I really tried to focus on perfect technique in order to show what I am trying to achieve.

Bench Press GIF

Full video: 155 x 5 Bench Press Form Check [0:32]

I'm hoping that someone may be able to provide some tips or queues on my technique for me to watch out for. Maybe an exercises to fix a problem that they see. Maybe this isn't heavy enough? I can upload another video at a heavier weight.


Update February 24th, 2020:

At the communities request I recorded two heavier sets:
225 x 1, 230 x 1; Bench Press Form Check [1:13]

I had to use a different phone and angle but I think it works. My form definitely breaks down when I watch these single reps. The 225 flew up much faster than I was expecting and that lead me to try the 230 which I fumbled through. After watching it at home I realize that I didn't pause nearly enough on either.


Check out the form-check meta discussion.

  • 1
    I'm not a fan of the hyperarch in the lower back, but that's a personal thing. I wonder how much of that arch affects it as you're shifting towards a decline position, where you can naturally bench more than flat. – JohnP Feb 20 at 14:08
  • @JohnP Likewise, I'm not really a fan of arching, but then I do understand that it can give you an advantage in competition due to decreased range of motion, and as the question is tagged with "powerlifting", I would assume that's the reason – Dark Hippo Feb 20 at 16:14
  • @JohnP and Dark Hippo, I have my own pros and cons about it but I believe it has its time and place. It is indeed for powerlifting where the arch is intended to decrease the ROM. I've never thought about the translation to decline tbh. I've added a lot more dumbbell work for muscle growth after I asked this question. – C. Lange Feb 20 at 16:48
  • I'm neither a PT nor a competition judge, so I don't feel qualified to provide a proper answer. But since this has the powerlifting tag, I think that your last one or two reps are at risk of scoring you red lights: Your butt is moving quite a bit around and maybe even leaving the bench (hard to tell from the video)? Also, whether the bar is really motionless at the bottom before you press is debatable imo. I'd let it rest a couple of milliseconds more before pressing, just to be sure. – UnbescholtenerBuerger Feb 21 at 11:43
  • @UnbescholtenerBuerger -- both fair comments, I think it could be an answer personally. I don't think my butt left the bench (I'd also need a bench level side angle to tell) but it is definitely moving in the last reps. I'll keep an eye out for the motionless aspect. Maybe a need for more aggressive pauses? – C. Lange Feb 21 at 16:19
5
+50

First: Good work on your bench so far. The form is quite good and you've clearly worked hard. I'm also very happy to see you trying to do anything you can do to get better (for example making the effort to film yourself and ask here for advice).

For the most part, your bench form is perfect, so I am only pointing out minor things below. I did not have a problem with your hip area: in powerlifting the goal is to lift as much as you can without breaking the competition rules, and this means that your whole body should be doing everything it possibly can, to help you do the lift without allowing your head, shoulders, or bum to leave the bench or feet to leave the floor (since these will cause the lift not to count). As a competition judge, I would have counted each of your lifts because the bum was never visibly off the bench (though there was a vertical metal rod in the way of me seeing properly in the second video!). Your elbow position was no major red flag for me, in fact the angle was rather appropriate for someone whose goal is to lift as much as they can (more on this when I describe the feet position later in this answer).

So here are some minor pointers:

1) The pause at the bottom may not be sufficient in competition. There will be someone calling 3 commands "start", "lift", and "rack". If you don't train this way, you may not even be able to do 230 lbs in the competition despite you doing 230 lbs quite comfortably in the video you posted. You have to be able to hold the bar steady for long enough while waiting for them to call the "start" command, then keep the bar steady on your chest for long enough for them to call the "lift" command, and then you have to hold the bar steady at the end of your lift until they call "rack". Your spotter can call these commands for you in order to simulate the competition. People that do not do this, tend to be able to lift significantly less in competitions than in the gym. At the 1-rep max, it makes a huge difference.

2) There is no excuse not to use the side clips (in both videos I see them right there on the weight rack). As you do your reps, the weights can move slightly. Everyone has a slightly stronger side, so the weights will move asymmetrically and will not only change the moment of inertia (distribution of mass) but it will also change the location of the centre of mass, which is something you certainly do not want, when you get to your heaviest sets. In competitions you will have IWF standard 2.5kg collars as in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxgqzyIj2Dw. Some gyms will have these, and otherwise if you really want to simulate the conditions of the competition (think about how having these 2.5kg collars changes the moment of inertia) you can buy them for not much, but for most people the clips you have next to your bench are sufficient.

3) The person giving your lift off is actually lifting the bar vertically a bit, which at 1-rep max level, can actually destabilize after you spent so much time getting your shoulder blades and hands into perfect set-up position. In the competition video I just sent you, not everyone chooses to get a lift-off, but a good example is at 37:48 when the lift-off is not vertical at all (only horizontal). It shouldn't really be called a "lift-off" but maybe a "push-off". This might be hard for your spotter to do, but it should be easy for him to do it like the person doing the lift-off here (it's a much smaller guy, with a much smaller 1-rep max, but most of what you see here also applies to anyone's 1-rep max): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJjTs89UOj0. This is also a better example of how you want the spotter to spot you. Not with their hands around the bar on the way up like your spotter did. When you get to the heaviest you can lift, the brain and mind become even more important than your muscles (how else can someone like Lamar Gant at 56kg be deadlifting over 300kg?). You need to train without the mental reassurance that there's a hand right there (without being able to see the hand, you may have some anxiety about whether or not the spotter is really 100% there, and anxiety can hurt your lift, so you should practice with this anxiety of not being able to see the spotter's hands .. if you're worried about safety, see my paragraph 4 below). Also having hands in your line of vision, can be mentally distracting, which also hurts your lift.

4) Notice in the competition video the bench has two things on the side to help catch the bar if you can't lift it. Your bench is in a lifting cage with holes where you can put metal bars, which is especially important since you only have a back spotter rather than 3 spotters (1 at the back and 2 at the side).

5) You said the heaviest you've done for 1-rep max was 235 lbs, so it's a surprise that you're not using calk on your 230 lbs lift which is only 5 lbs less than your personal record! My guess is that with proper training and chalk, your 1-rep max really could be 250 lbs, and that when doing 5 lbs less than that (245 lbs) you'd definitely be using chalk (see the people in the videos I sent).

6) Breathing: Before lift-off you want to take a huge breath. To simulate this, hold your breath completely for 2 minutes and then take the biggest breath you can possibly take. Practice this (it's also what musicians of wind instruments do). You want to have enough air in your body to last for a long time, since in competition you have to hold the bar at various positions for lengths of time while waiting for commands to be called. The bench press (in powerlifting) is a long exercise, for which you'll need oxygen for a long time. I also take a huge breath right before my heavy deadlifts and squats, I find I can lift the heaviest amounts with greater success when I do this.

7) Your whole body should be tight. Shoulder blades as if they were holding a penny between them, all muscles ready to go to war with the bar. I am a big fan of your lifting, but you look more relaxed even for the 230 lbs lift, whereas the person doing the 80kg 1-rep I showed you looked very tight (still far from professional level but this looks more like what 5 lbs less than 1-rep max should look like). Your real 1-rep max is probably 250 lbs, but you think it's 235 lbs because you haven't practiced the full-body tightness enough.

8) Shoes. I know that some of the lifters in the competition video I sent, are wearing their squat shoes, but I wouldn't recommend that, especially in 2020 when better alternatives are available. Squat shoes are only for squat (and even optional at that!), and not for deadlift or bench. For me and most people, lifting is done best with just socks, which helps with proprioception (same reason why you can bench more with bare hands than with gloves). In a competition you will need to have more than just socks, so I recommend something like vibrims (which have only become widely available relatively recently, which is why you don't see them in that competition video).

9) Angle of your legs: I will have to add more about this later (with diagrams) but I have now spent a lot more time on this answer than anticipated and am now very late for the meeting I had planned today! I think you (or someone else) already mentioned knowledge of the need to dig in with your heels. The effect of this is not optimal unless the angle of your legs is optimal, meaning that the force obtained from digging in with your heels, is used nearly 100%, rather than only (100% x cos(A)) where A is the angle and cos(A) is the cosine of it. It is for this reason though, that I say your elbows are in good position (roughly 90 degree angle). cosine(90) = 1, so your elbow angle allows less of your force to be wasted.

10) Perhaps try to work a bit more on your ability to keep the bar in control. You had complete control over the bar on the way down on your 225 lbs lift, but at 230 lbs, it was good at first but towards the end of reaching your chest, it began to look like the weight of the bar had more control over the situation than you did! It started dropping faster and you can see that you lost a bit of stability (one side started falling more than the other side, for example).

Overall your lifting form is almost perfect as it is, so everything above is not meant to attack you in any way, they are just minor tips (along with the videos where you can see what professionals look like, or in the second case, an amateur that looks almost ready to do his first competition).

It would be nice if you could find a group of other people that plan to enter the same competition as you. You should have 2 side spotters and one back spotter for the squat and bench, and one person calling commands. Your "team" of 5 people will rotate your sets, such that the two people loading each side of the bar, are not doing their lifts until 2 sets later. This way you're not wasting energy loading the bar right before your set. I can try to find people I know in Winnipeg if possible. But for now, kudos to your spotter for helping you get stronger.

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  • After a while I realized I was taking way to long to type this and I became late for my meeting: therefore had zero time to proofread for any typos or anything, but I'll try to maybe do that tomorrow. – user1271772 Feb 29 at 20:58
  • 3
    From just reading it over really quick, this looks like a really good answer. It points out more than I have the expertise to (and I say that as someone who wrote a "competing" answer). Particularly the part about breathing hit close to home. I've never felt natural taking one "last" breath before the entire lift, and then spending a handful of seconds not breathing, at a time when your body is really spending oxygen. You skipped some number, but I assume that's due to revising and editing along the way. – Alec Feb 29 at 21:18
  • 2
    Thank you for putting the time into this answer. I definitely was not expecting that level of detail here. I read it through once but I think I'll need to read it through a few more times. – C. Lange Feb 29 at 23:13
  • @Alec. It's so true: the importance of breathing is an extremely under-rated aspect of one's training as a lifter. The reason I encourage the huge breath at the beginning, is that breathing causes the whole body to move and therefore can destabilize things during the bench. With proper breathing training though, you can easily do the entire bench sequence in one breath without it feeling unnatural: it's hard to believe, but just like the difference between the weight you lifted the first time you went to the gym & what you lift now, your body is capable of [cot'd] – user1271772 Mar 1 at 0:11
  • that level of improvement in breathing (compare yourself to an opera singer filling up the entire opera house without a microphone). Mexican trumpet player Rafael Mendez talks about practising without breathing for as long as you can, and then for longer and longer each time after (he takes a lot of breaths during Flight of the Bumble Bee, but starts talking about breathing at 2:40): www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUij8FCg0z8. Similarly in this famous song, an Indian singer goes almost 3 minutes, pauses then sings another 3, barely breathing if breathing at all: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ5PvGpqQzc. – user1271772 Mar 1 at 0:16
4

Contrary to JohnP, I'm pro arch, especially since you added the powerlifting tag. Having that thoracic extension really drives home the "shoulders down and back" pointer that keeps us steady. And as John points out, the movement does become more similar to a decline bench. But there's nothing wrong with that. In powerlifting competitions, it's coveted, because it gives a shorter range of motion, allowing you to load more weight. And a lot of people are stronger when pushing in a decline angle, because your arms remain closer to your core.

One big natural question is: Does the shortened range of motion take away strength gain benefits?

I'll say yes and no. Of course, if you flattened your back, you'd have a longer reach, but the big problem here is that your flattened back becomes a shifting surface, and takes away your ability to remain steady. More energy is lost recovering balance all the time.

On the topic of steadiness, there is room for improvement. I think Dark Hippo hits the nail on the head here.

it looks like there's a disconnect between your lower body and your upper

When I received instructions on this, my trainer told me two things that just stuck with me for years.

  1. Your feet should not be tippytapping. They should be firmly anchored on the ground, heels and all. They should almost be trying to slide forward, but on a proper surface, they won't. You will instead be pushed back into the bench better. With the arch you have, this should be felt as your shoulder blades digging deeper into the bench.

  2. Tighten your core. It's the link between your legs and your upper torso. If it's loose, the first point may as well be ignored. If you cinch your abs down, and really feel like you're tightening the transverse abdominis, the steadiness provided by anchored feet should keep you from wriggling around.

Oh, and then he told me that since the bench press is a laying-down exercise, "the least you can do is pretend you're not lazy, and use your entire body."

On the note of how tucked the elbows should be, I learned that it depends on the arch. Obviously, they should never flare all the way out for shoulder health reasons.

If you're unable to arch, keeping the elbows completely tucked is a disadvantage, because the bar will end up all the way down at your belly. But if you have a sick arch, it resembles a dip in the sense that you're almost pressing the bar along your torso rather than away from it. In that case, tucking your elbows provides amazing support. It keeps the arms really balanced, because they lean against your sides. Engaging your lats in that case will keep them completely rigid, and less energy is lost recovering flaring elbows.

In your case, which is sort of in between the extremes, it's hard to tell. 45 degrees is a good rule of thumb, but at this point, you should really be feeling it out. To give a number from the outside looking in would be pure speculation.

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  • I edited in some heavier lifts if you'd like to take a look. – C. Lange Feb 25 at 15:09
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First impressions from watching the video, it looks like there's a disconnect between your lower body and your upper.

On the last rep (maybe before, but that was where I noticed it), there's movement around the hips, which points to your leg drive not being transferred up the chain.

Also, I believe lifting the hips off the bench is a red light situation in competitions.

Other than that, which, from your question, you're aware of, it looks pretty solid.

Would be interesting to see a heavier rep or two to see if the leg drive is more connected (personally, I struggle with leg drive on lighter loads sometimes, but then I am pretty lazy :)

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  • 1
    He also keeps his elbows close to the body, rather than in line with the bar, but not close enough for a close grip type press. Not sure if that is a form break or not. – JohnP Feb 20 at 16:58
  • @JohnP From personal experience, flaring the elbows (which I believe you're referring to) puts the shoulders in a weaker position and can lead to injury. Keep the elbows more tucked engages the stabilisation muscles more and helps protect them. – Dark Hippo Feb 20 at 17:37
  • I can definitely try to film a few heavier reps for comparison. I wasn't sure what intensity would be best to discuss technique: too light and it doesn't expose flaws, too heavy and form generally breaks down. – C. Lange Feb 20 at 17:49
  • @JohnP, I am definitely trying to think about tucking my elbows. I've heard that queue before. However, maybe I am tucking them too much? That could be another answer entirely. – C. Lange Feb 20 at 17:50
  • Dark Hippo, I edited in some heavier lifts. – C. Lange Feb 25 at 15:09

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