The Bench Press:
Most people's concept of bench pressing is to just let the bar come to the chest stop and/or bounce it and just press it up. I assume this style is okay if you have no plans of ever improving a whole lot or ever competing. Bench pressing is divided into four main areas of technique:
-The set-up (which is you the person)
-The descent of bar
-The ascent of the bar
All areas are important to achieve the maximum amount weight lifted not only in the contest but also in training for the contest. As in squatting, tight is the key word, and working on the shortest distance the bar travels is what we are looking and striving for.
This is a very critical component of the bench press. Most lifters who fail in a big bench or raise the bar or level for injury do so because of a poor set-up. As you lay down on the bench we already assume you are stretched and as limber as you can be. Your feet should be in a position on the floor where they can get sufficient footing and traction. I realize that most meet promoters, it is sad to say, fail more in this aspect of bench press platform preparation than any other area. Slick floors, dirt on good floors make feet slip, and slick floors that allow the bench itself to slide when pushing with the feet can negatively affect your set-up. Work with the judges and meet promoters before the meet to correct this situation. You have experimented and found the best foot position to allow you to push hard with the feet/legs and not have your rear end come off the bench. For shorter people this is almost anywhere. The taller you are the more your feet must be way out in front, way out to the side or way back underneath you—your choice. Wear a shoe with a heel of some type. This type of shoe gives you an angle to push against and increases your leverage to push. As you lay down on the bench push yourself into an arch. The bigger the arch, the higher the chest, the less distance the bar travels—i.e. bigger numbers. You can work on flexibility exercises to increase your arch. This arch is a biggee and very important—work on it.
I push with my hands against the uprights, as they are right there by my shoulders. My feet are under me, and my heels tilted out as far as they can. That feet set-up will lock you into position better. You should have those shoulders and neck pushing down into the padding of the bench. Your thighs and hams should be wrapped around the bench and your chin should be tucked into the chest. The way you grip the bar is optional in all federations except the IPF and its affiliates, where you must use the thumb around. If you desire other methods do so in other federations. A few (very few) use the reverse grip, but a vast majority uses the power grip or thumb less grip. This grip is much preferred if allowed. It takes most all the stress off of the shoulders, elbows and wrists. Thus, the grip alleviates a large percentage of lifters of tendonitis or similar problems. You should, however, use whatever your federations rules dictate or allow. The width of your hands on the bar is crucial. We want the best leverage without compromising our strong points or build. The wider the better is usually true. With the advent of bench press shirts, narrower grips are becoming more common as the shirt helps more with the bottom part of the bench than the top. I really feel, however, that too narrow of a grip is a bad choice for most lifters. It leaves out the chance of injury to weakened muscle groups—i.e. the chest—and leaves out the largest muscle groups that could be involved in the bench press. More is better in this case. If they would continue with the wide grip, until injury or age dictate a closer one, I think they would be much more successful. This grip brings more of the three muscle groups responsible for benching into play than any other grip. Chest, shoulders and triceps should be put to the test, and the maximum gain from each used to get the maximum results. Squeeze the bar, and pull the elbows in as much as possible. Squeeze the shoulder blades together (or rotate the shoulders down), whichever way you understand it better. The result is the same—it shortens the distance the bar travels to the chest. We are on our way to emulating a decline as much as possible (since we all know one can decline more than you can bench).
Next, the spotter/loader lifts off to you, gingerly and gently, letting go at over the top ab or so. This position should be about the highest part, i.e. shortest distance for the bar to travel. Take a deep breath as the bar is lifted out. I mean a big, deep breath— get that chest in the air. So when you let the bar down, it is the shortest distance for the bar to travel. Did I mention this is the shortest distance for the bar to travel? On some it may be a bit further down the ab (for those of you with only one ab, heh heh heh) /abs. As the bar is being handed out, emphasize even further the pushing together of the shoulder blades. You should still be squeezing the bar. Push hard against the floor with your feet as you take the bar from the spotter/loader.
Dr. Tom McLaughlin, PhD....in his book, Bench Press More Now: Breakthrough in Biomechanics and Training Methods, he showed that beginners, and advanced bench pressers had different rates of descent on the norm. Beginning lifters usually let the bar down to fast, out of control hitting a different spot on the chest each time. Also, they usually have difficulty in max weights of stopping the weight for a pause and having success in pushing it back up. The more advanced lifter had twice the time period in the descent and thus the even heavier weight was in control, more easily stopped and paused. Thus, the ascent was more easily achieved.
-Rickey Dale Crain (5x World Champion)