Bench Basics: 5 Points of Contact
The measure of the common man hinges on his ability to bench press. It’s an objective pecking order, which directly correlates to ones self-worth, income, social status and overall manliness. Ergo the more you can bench, the easier your life will be…
At least this is the mind sight you inhabited as you approached the bench for the first time. Here’s a fool-proof rookie check-list for your bench set-up
Building a beastly bench press is much like building a towering estate, it all starts with the foundation. Proper foot position is imperative not only for generating strength in the movement, but also to make sure you’re executing it safely.
Your feet should be flat on the floor, shoulder width apart creating at least* a 90 Degree angle at the knee. *More advanced lifters might create a more acute angle at the knee and have their feet anchored behind their knees in order to increase their arch and subsequently decrease the distance the bar has to travel.
Some beginners find themselves with either too narrow of a base or too obtuse of a knee angle. Both of which will decrease the ability of the lifter to generate force through the bar.
The second point of contact to focus on is where you park your ass-ets. There isn’t much to discuss here other than the fact that you need to keep your ass parked on the bench the entire set. Your butt is going to dictate how the rest of your spine will act, and as long as it stays on the bench you should be just fine.
An over zealous leg drive can force the lifters buttock to come off the bench, placing excessive force on the upper back, and putting the cervical spine into more relative flexion. A no-no when attempting to bench injury free.
Shoulder blade contact when performing a bench press is inevitable. The variable is not where the shoulder blades are placed relative to the bench but rather where they are placed relative to each other and relative to the rib cage. The scapula-thoracic joint is the least understood of the four joints of the shoulder.
The safest and strongest scapular position for the bench press is full retraction and DEPRESSION! Retraction is easy, a quick verbal cue can get most people to activate their rhomboids and bring their shoulder blades together.
But DEPRESSION requires the use of a myriad of muscles which include the serratus anterior as well as lower traps, two muscles that are often out of balance with other dominant scapular elevators and protractors.
A good verbal cue to help optimize scapular position is try and put your shoulder blades in your back pocket when you set up on the bench. This will bring your shoulders into a stable position for the duration of the movement.
Head contact with the bench becomes of great concern as you begin to struggle with weights, often time people attempt to replicate a head up on eccentric form, head back concentric pattern as demonstrated by some of the top powerlifters, this is a delicate movement and takes some serious finesse to utilize in order to generate more power. For 99% of you reading, a neutral head contact with the bench is the prefered method, especially if you like your cervical spine discs where they are…
Hand position on the bar is our final box to check on the bench basics checklist. Hands should be symmetrically placed on the either side of midline. It’s common knowledge that the width of your hand placement can dictate which muscles are emphasized during the movements.
Closer grip will utilize more of your triceps, as the angle of the elbow will increase the closer the grip is, but this logic has diminishing returns when the lifters hands come inside of shoulder width, a very narrow grip forces the wrists into loaded ulnar deviation which can drastically limit your lifting longevity.
Wider grip is going to decrease the amount of travel through the elbow, therefore decreasing the triceps demand to complete the movement, that load gets placed on the anterior delt as the shoulder has to travel into more flexion/extension.
Beginner lifters should have their hands placed at a point that when the bar touches their chest, their elbows are at a 90 degree angle, and not attempt to overload a certain secondary muscle group when performing the movement.
So there you have it , whether you’ve been benching for years, or headed in for your inaugural lift, make sure to refer to the 5 points of contact as you build your beastly bench!
Dr Jordan Shallow DC