The bench press is without doubt the most common strength movement out there. “What you bench bro?” is a question that has been echoed within the walls of almost every fitness establishment in history. It’s a pretty simple movement, right? Lie down, bring the bar down, and then back up. Easy! Well as we are about to find out, it can be as simple or complicated as you like.
Basic ways to make the bench easier:
There are a lot of different ways to bench. However, there are some fundamental ideas that are common to all techniques.
- Everyone should have at least a slight arch in their back to improve back tension and reduce ROM (range of motion). Arching is not inherently dangerous at all and should be used.
- A wider grip should also be considered as this further decreases the ROM. It should be noted that this is for benching maximally, it is important to train with a variety of grips.
Now with the fundamentals out of the way, let’s talk about how to really optimise the bench.
Formula for work and how we can manipulate it:
To move weight any distance, we must produce work. The basic formula for work is Work= Force x Distance. To lift the most weight, we must perform the least work necessary to lift that weight. Any excess work performed could have been used to lift more if the method used was more efficient.To reduce the amount of necessary work we can reduce force or distance. These are the fundamental differences between the two schools of thought behind benching, the westside method and the biomechanical method.
The Westside method is very simple – straight down and straight up. The goal is to reduce the distance that the bar must travel, and as a result reduce the necessary work. To have the smallest ROM, the bar should make contact with the chest at the highest point of the arch. This will usually be the bottom part of the sternum (or chestbone).To bench this way, it is necessary to actively drag the bar above this point when you un-rack the weight.
Louie Simmons says he likes to think of it as a straight arm lat pullover. From there, the bar is brought straight down and straight up (just like it says on the tin).One advantage of this method in combination with conjugate style programming is that it works extremely well with bands. This is because the bands, if placed in the correct position, prompt the lifter to move in that straight-down straight-up manner.
To bench this way, you must have extremely strong triceps. Louie Simmons (owner of Westside Barbell) is notorious for saying that the triceps are the main drivers in the bench press. He also says that the barbell will always choose the strongest muscle. He states that this is why it is common to see the bar rise over the face on the concentric portion (where the bar is moving up) of the lift: the shoulders are stronger than the arms.
If you look up Westside or Louie Simmons, you will see a bunch of ridiculous men lifting ridiculous numbers both raw and equipped. One thing is for sure, if you choose to lift this way a lot of your upper body accessory work must be dedicated to developing strong triceps and elbows.
To understand how this method works we need to understand some basic biomechanics. Biomechanics is the study of how force interacts with our body’s joints and tissues, and it’s all about levers. A lever is a rigid body that rotates around a fixed point or point of rotation.Ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”.
The reason levers are so useful is because you can use the same effort and increase the turning force (moment) by moving the effort further from the point of rotation.However, in lifting, turning force is not desirable because we must resist it. In the bench the shoulder is the point of rotation, the arm is the rigid body and the weight is the force (or effort). So, placing the weight further away from the shoulder joint increases the amount of rotational force that the lifter must resist.
How this relates to the bench:
One of the fundamental ideas of the bench is the bar touches the chest – the highest point of the arch. The problem with this is that the load is moving away from directly over the shoulder joint, creating a large turning force. This issue must be addressed.In the most biomechanically efficient bench, the bar would make contact at the highest point of the arch (to reduce ROM) and then immediately move back directly over the shoulder joint before moving upwards.
This would mean the body has to resist the turning force for the least amount of time, reducing the force in our work equation. This results in the classic “J” bar path seen from many benchers where the bar moves towards the face and then upwards on the concentric (where the bar is moving up) portion of the lift.
Issues with a purely biomechanical method:
While this method is more biomechanically sound, it has two main issues which need to be addressed. The first is that this method increases the distance which the bar must move. If we return to the formula, Work = Force x Distance. Increasing the distance can increase the amount of work that is necessary.Secondly, to bring the bar directly over the shoulder joint requires a certain amount of shoulder rotation.
When excessive this is often referred to as an “elbow flare”. The shoulder is a naturally mobile joint which relies heavily on its musculature for stability. This is why rotator cuff work is emphasised when it comes to maintaining healthy shoulders. Adding rotation to an already complex movement can increase the risk of injury, especially under heavy loads.
Both methods have produced incredible benchers. To decide which style is for you, you must consider what training methods you use and the overall stability of your shoulder joint.As with most things, the solution likely lies somewhere in the middle. There is likely a nice compromise that can be found where you take advantage of the decreased range of motion with a slight shift towards the face towards the end of the lift.
BIOMECHANICS AND THE BENCH PRESS by Mike Robertson
Jeff Nippard- The Fastest Way To Blow Up Your Bench Press
The Best Damn Bench Press Article Period. T-Nation.com
Westside Barbell Book of Methods Pg.74-75
Robertson Training SystemsBiomechanics and the Bench Press – Robertson Training Systems
How many times since you’ve been going to the gym have you heard, “Dude, how much can you BENCH?” If you’ve been training for a while, I would venture to guess quite a few. Big bench pressers are always highly revered, especially because someone with a massive bench can inspire everyone, not just powerlifters. To […]Written byMike RobertsonEst. reading time13 minutesDec 7th, 2008YouTube | Jeff Nippard
The Fastest Way To Blow Up Your Bench Press (4 Science-Based Steps) + Sample ProgramT NATIONThe Best Damn Bench Press Article Period | T NationEverything you ever wanted to know about the bench press. If you don’t come away from this with at least a dozen ways to beef up your bench, you didn’t read carefully enough. (203 kB)https://www.t-nation.com/system/publishing/articles/10000842/original/Best_Damn_Bench_Press_Article_Period.jpg?1409169286