I’m a competitive powerlifter. Though I compete “full power,” meaning I do all the lifts including the bench press, deadlift, and squat, many see me as a bench specialist.
In this article, I will cover how to properly "set up" when performing the bench press. I'll also go over tips on technique throughout the entire bench press. These topics will cover the most frequently asked questions I receive about benching. Remember one thing – bodybuilders differ in their technique of the bench. This approach is geared more for powerlifting-style benching.
Here we go.
First thing is the approach to the bench. I like to get my wrist wraps on properly, walk over to the chalk bucket, and get ready to hit it hard. I try and do this pretty much the same every time I approach and get on the bench.
I stare at the bar and tell myself, “Don’t you miss this weight in front of all these people. If you do, they are going to laugh at you.” I know it sounds weird, but this is what works for me.
I am now lying on the bench. I usually keep my feet up on bench. Next, I get my proper grip on the bar. This next step is really important, as I keep my feet up on the bench and arch as big as possible. I then dig my traps into the bench and then come down with my feet to the ground.
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Digging in the traps is very important to getting a good arch and being in the best possible position to hit a huge bench. Once the feet are on the ground, flat-footed, I make a few minor adjustments of foot placement and then I’m ready to rock.
Once my body is in the comfortable and proper position, I give my lift-off person a two-count. One, two, and then a huge breath (filling up as much air as possible) for the hand off. I feel that breathing is also a very important part of the bench press; taking in the air before the lift gets everything tight and ready to bench.
I see a lot of guys taking a breath after the bar is given to them. In my opinion, once you have the bar in hand, taking a breath at that point is just re-adjusting the body of how you have already set up. With that being said, the breath before the hand-off is what I recommend.
We're up to the bench press itself. Once the bar is in your hands and your lungs are full of air, it is time to listen for commands. Stay as tight as possible at lockout until the start command is given. Once the command is given, you want to be as fast and controlled as possible on the way down; keeping the elbows tucked to get as much cushion as possible from the lats, to the back, to the triceps, to when you hit the chest.
The bar path is also very important in raw lifting. You have to hit that sweet spot on the lower part of the chest to give you the best path to drive the weight up properly, without trying to recover and make changes during the press.
Once the bar is motionless on the chest, and you get the press command, you are driving the bar up as fast and with as much power as you can. You need to stay in the groove and keep the body tight. Don't jump around. Leg drive is important and can be used as long as you know how to control it and not make your backside come up off the bench.
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I tell people all the time – learn to arch and pull your feet back as far as possible. This still lets you use leg drive, but only a certain amount. Plus, you won't have problems with your ass coming up off the bench. Once your arms are at a lockout, you're just waiting for the rack command. After that the lift is complete and it's time to prep for your next attempt.
Here is a recap of the highlights in setting up for a big raw bench press. First, take your breath of air before the bar is handed to you; this way your body is set in place and ready to make the lift. Second, always remember to stay tight throughout the lift. Third, arch really big. Finally, keep your feet planted on the ground.
Practice your gym lifts just like it's a meet. This way, when you get to the platform it all comes easy to you and it's like any other day in the gym. These are just some of the things I think are important in the quest for your biggest raw bench.