The barbell bench press can seem like an easy exercise, especially if you’ve been training for a long time. The movement isn’t just about lying on a bench and pushing your chest weight, especially given your goals in the weight room.
The bench press is a great all-time exercise for building chest size, but it’s also an important benchmark strength move (ahem), one of three events in the powerlifting competition world (along with deadlift and back squat at the bar). Working your way to push as much weight as possible isn’t just for growth if you are a powerlifter. If you can’t get your bench up, you’ll never compete.
So some trainers might teach you how to bench press with an emphasis on hypertrophy to build as much muscle as possible. For others, like legendary powerlifter and trainer Mark Bell, who claims a bench press gross PR of 578 pounds, the goal is to push the weight. Bell recently shared a lengthy YouTube exercise tutorial, really taking the time to break down what he thinks are the most important aspects of the bench press. He teaches neuroscientist and podcaster Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. about movement with the help of trainer Nsima Inyang, but if you want to learn more about this school of thought, his advice will work for you, too.
How Mark Bell teaches the bench press
For Bell, it all starts with placing the hand on the bar. It is not fixed to a particular place, it depends on what is comfortable for the person doing the exercise. “Just make sure you have an even grip,” he says. Just make sure you tighten the bar firmly. “When we squeeze a bar, we want to squeeze it with whatever we have because we are trying to initiate from our fingers down to our toes. We want everything to be involved in a bench press.”
Once you lie down on the bench, Bell stresses that it’s important that your chest is in an upright position to help maintain a neutral spine. “When our back is in a neutral position and our head is in a neutral position – it’s not too low, it’s not too high – we are able to express the most force through our extremities. , in this case our arms. “
When it comes to shifting the weight, Bell has what sounds like a counterintuitive advice: pull the bar out of the rack, rather than push it. But there is one method to the madness – pushing the weight puts your shoulders in a bad position once it comes time to get your body into position for the actual squeeze. Especially if you are working with a lot of weight, you will want to adjust yourself to go into pressing mode safely.
As you lower the weight to your chest, Bell advises aiming for a point near your breastbone that feels comfortable. Pro tip: If you work with a bigger stomach, use it to shorten your range of motion to make it easier to perform the lift.
From there, Bell comes back a bit to talk about positioning on the bench. He acknowledges that there is some controversy around the arch of the back, but he quickly clarifies that dramatic positions that see athletes with their shoulders and buttocks as the only points of contact on the bench are not the point here. “We’re not trying to arch the lower back,” he says. “We arch our upper back aggressively and try to take our shoulders and really screw them onto the bench.” This concept is no different from other exercises like deadlifts and squats, where you focus on “screwing” your feet into the ground in order to come down to build power.
To get this arch, drop down onto the bench using the bar. Can’t you figure it out? Have an observer grab you by the traps to push you into position. Just make sure you don’t move your body and slide on the bench. Next, focus on activating your lower body by putting your feet on the floor. “I like my heels to touch the ground,” says Bell. “Even if you’re someone who likes to be on your tiptoes, you still want to sink your heels to the floor throughout the range of motion.” This is because you want to be in a position where your knee is lower than your hip.
Next, Bell says the key to positioning your arm is to have your bones stacked, with your wrist and fists above your elbows, with your elbows close to your body. Keeping your arms close allows you to shorten your range of motion, which again makes lifting easier. You can also use your lats and triceps to help your chest from this position.
“Basically, if you’re somehow successful, you’ll almost feel like you can almost pull the weight in and be really strong and explosive when you come back up,” he says. When you’re in the last row, Bell recommends trying to ‘bend the bar’ – sometimes we MH recommends trying to “break the bar” by rotating your elbows outward. This allows you to create better leverage for your lift.
When Huberman takes over, Bell has further comments on grip width. Remember: what you feel is much more important than an arbitrary position. Keep watching for more tips and tricks for an even stronger bench.
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