Six reasons why your bench pressing is poor

Bench press is one of the most important exercises for many people. Regular visitors to gyms consider this least functional movement of the upper body a determinant of strength, agility and virility. If you treat your chest on an equal footing with other parts of your body, this article is for you! If you skip the workout of your back (rowing, pull ups, deadlift) or of your legs - the strength you gain "on the bench" will be for anything, and your body will look caricaturely (disturbed body proportions).

Reason # 1: unstable postition

Buttocks up, lack of proper foot support, improper footwear, body moving on the bench - rings a bell? You will never be strong if your body is unstable. After you position yourself on the bench your shoulders and hips should not move around. If you tend to rise your buttocks up during pressing, you reduce the weight. Do not train your ego, train your muscles and your nervous system. If you use wrong shoes, you will lose a lot of strength to stabilize the body. Slippers and jogging shoes are not suitable for strength training.

Reason # 2: you skip the eccentric phase

Bench pressing is divided into phases: lifting (concentric) and lowering the weight to your chest (eccentric). If you omit the latter, you lose the most valuable part of the whole movement. But that's not all. Very fast lowering movement makes you lose control over the barbell and you can damage your bones. Do not use your chest as a ball or trampoline. In addition, when changing to concentric phase of the exercise, you'll have to put a lot of energy into stopping of the weight. Lower the weight slowly. The best you can do is to reduce the operating weight and stop the barbell on the chest. This will teach you full control of the weight.

Reason # 3: too many series and exercises – too large capacity and intensity

If you do a split training, you can have a tendency to overtrain your chest, biceps and triceps. Particularly inefficient is the training model of one body part a week - you do colossal work once every 7 days and lose a lot of valuable time. I know a sportsman who had a problem with 90 kilos on the flat bench - he could perform 30 series on his chest during a single session.

Before you introduce a new programme - take 7-10 days of a break (strategic training). Try to train chest and triceps 2-3 times a week using the largest weights only on a single session.

Try not to exceed a total of 10 series of training unit.

For example, this is how training sessions may look like in a split training of upper and lower body:

Monday: upper body

Chest: bench pressing with wide grip: 4-5 sets x 4-6 reps

Triceps: dips: 4-5 sets x 6-8 reps (with weight)

Tuesday: lower body

Wednesday: no training

Thursday: upper body

Chest: bench pressing with narrow grip: 4-5 sets x 6-8 reps

Triceps: French bench press with both hands: 3-5 sets x 8-10 repeat.

Friday: lower body

Saturday: no training

Sunday: no training

If you select mixed training model, you may do the workout on your chest and triceps 3 times a week, 1 x heavy strength training, 1 x lighter with low reps number, 1 x volume - lighter training.

Reason # 4: weak shoulders and triceps

A recently published research from Norway (J Hum Kinet. 2013) has shown that shoulders and triceps do the heaviest job during the so called sticking point. Especially the lateral and medial head of triceps, as well as fron and middle part of the dedeltoid muscle were engaged in the exercise just befor the critical point. Biceps involvement decreased, chest also performed more work (but only slightly).

Did you do:

  • Dips with a weight of at least 50% of the body weight (you weigh 100 kgs, you suspend additional 50 kgs)?

  • Bench pressing with narrow grip and elbows out (weight at least 70-80% of standard bench press, so if you press 140 kg normally, you should do 98-112 kg with narrow grip)?

  • Heavy head down bench press,

  • Push press (weight at least within the limits of 75-85% of bench press)?

  • Short range bench presses?

  • Short range push press or shoulder press?

The stronger shoulders and triceps, the better result you will get in bench pressing. Isolation exercises such as arms straightening with dumbbels are not enough for building strength of your triceps.

Reason # 5: lack of bridges

...or a lack of the bend of your back in a moderate bow, correct placement on the bench, shoulders squeezed. Do not do extreme bridge where you could put a couple of bottles of water beneath your back. A correct bridge leaves just a little free space. The most commonly spread opinion tells us about "potentially harmful bridging" and back and buttocks raising while pressing. This is not a bridge but bridging. Any movement of the buttocks during bench pressing disqualifies a sportsman, but all weighlifter does the bridge. Do not confuse these two concepts. A bridge gives you reduction of the movement trajectory, allows you to engage the strongest part of the chest and protects shoulder joints from injury.

Reason # 6: weak back

No, it's no accident! Your back is the antagonistic muscles part to your chest - if you want to press a lot, you should take care of strong backs. Pull ups, barbell rows should be an integral part of your workout. You should do both hands rows with weight equal to the one you press on the bench. If you row with less than that, you have disturbed strength proportions.

Bench press is a technically complicated exercise. If you want to significantly improve your results, follow advice of an experienced person.

Sources: J Hum Kinet. 2013 Oct 8;38:63-71. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2013-0046. “A comparison of muscle activity in concentric and counter movement maximum bench press.”