If you're looking for a move that can strengthen basically your entire upper body, the bench press is it. And while the motion seems pretty simple, it's fairly easy to mess up, which can hinder your progress and even leave you injured. Before you load up your barbell, consider some of these common bench press mistakes.
Especially if you're aiming to increase your weight, start slow and even ask a friend or trainer to spot your lift.
Proper Bench Press Form
First, let's define what proper form looks like for this popular weight-lifting exercise. While you can chest press on an incline or decline or with dumbbells, the most standard version of the exercise involves lying on a flat bench with a barbell racked overhead, according to the American Council on Exercise.
- Lie on a flat bench, facing up and gripping the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Press your feet into the ground and your hips into the bench as you lift the barbell off the rack.
- Slowly lower the barbell to your chest, bending at the elbows.
- Once the barbell reaches chest height and your elbows dip slightly below the bench, press your heels into the ground to raise the barbell back up.
- Return the barbell to starting position, elbows extended but not locked.
7 of the Worst Bench Press Mistakes
Alongside the deadlift and squat, the barbell bench press is one of the most common compound movements, meaning it involves more than one joint and muscle group. While this move is primarily known for building and strengthening your pectorals (chest), it also targets your triceps and deltoids for stabilization. Before you hop onto the bench, consider these seven common errors.
1. Not Holding the Bar Over the Middle of Your Chest
Lowering the barbell at a proper level is extremely important if you want to reap the full benefits of this exercise, says Sam Becourtney, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
Your chest is a broad area, and it can be easy to lower the bar either above or below the actual middle of your chest. While the exact alignment of the barbell may not seem like a huge deal, performing this exercise incorrectly can put you at risk for shoulder injury.
Fix it: Use your nipple level as a guide, says Becourtney. You'll want to lower the bar to about nipple height on your chest. Also, when you first get set up, position your body on the bench so that the bar is directly above eye level while racked.
2. Flaring Your Elbows Out
Excessively flaring your elbows out to the sides is another common mistake you may not even realize you're making, Becourtney says. Especially when lifting the bar back up, many people tend to turn the elbows out.
Fix it: "Think about engaging your lats [upper back] and 'tucking' the elbows, this will help keep you in better alignment," Becourtney says. You can also incorporate some triceps exercises into your exercise regimen to help minimize elbow flare.
3. Resting the Bar on Your Chest
Often, people perform the bench press too quickly and use momentum to bounce the bar off the chest in order to raise it back up. Similarly, some gym-goers may rest the bar on their chest mid-set for a quick break. Both of these strategies can leave you injured and make the exercise less effective.
Fix it: "Don't be embarrassed to ask for a spotter," says Becourtney. "I think that a spotter is critical during the bench press, particularly with heavier loads. Sometimes, just the presence of a spotter will give you that little boost of confidence you need to lift the weight in a more controlled fashion."
Proper form is crucial with the bench press, so if you're shooting for 10 repetitions but can only complete eight or nine with good form, stop there. It's better to control the motion and minimize "chest bounce." Similarly, if you're pausing for a mid-set break, you should probably be performing fewer reps or loading less weight.
4. Dropping the Bar to One Side
Especially toward the last few reps of a set, you may notice the bar beginning to droop to one side. Often, as you fatigue, the barbell may begin to lean to your weaker side, causing you to depend more heavily on your stronger side to raise and lower the weight.
Fix it: Add more dumbbell bench press exercises to your workout routine, Becourtney says. Using dumbbells forces you to isolate both arms. For instance, if your left arm fatigues, your right arm won't be able to assist you. Using dumbbells can help you strengthen your weaker side.
5. Raising Your Feet, Butt or Head and Neck
If you're trying to press a weight that's too heavy or unsustainable, you may notice your feet rise off the ground. Or you may even raise your butt up off the bench as you try to fight for your last repetition, says Becourtney. Similarly, people have a tendency to raise their head and neck during the lift. All of those put you at greater risk for injury.
Fix it: "It can be hard to recognize if you are someone who tends to lift their neck or butt off of the bench because it is often times subtle," says Becourtney. "So, ask a friend or spotter to check out your form and adjust as needed."
Think about screwing the feet into the ground, he says. This will help you keep your feet anchored. Grounding your feet and glutes will also help create more power in your upper body to complete the repetition. Similarly, keep your head and neck grounded to the bench.
6. Pushing Your Shoulders Forward
Since the bench press is a pushing movement, it's common for people to think they need to push their chest and shoulders out, causing the shoulder blades to protract (pushing apart and out/forward). However, you should be retracting the shoulder blades by pulling them back, says Becourtney. Keeping retraction in the shoulder blades will help you push more weight.
Fix it: "Think about pushing your body away from the bar and your back through the bench, rather than pushing the bar away from the chest," he says. This adjustment can help you make the shoulder blade retraction or "squeeze" feel more appropriate.
7. Improper Grip on the Barbell
Both the width of your grip and the placement of your wrist are important in the barbell bench press. You don't want to grip the bar too wide or too narrow, nor do you want to let your wrists extend or bend too far.
Fix it: Line your hands up properly (right outside shoulder width) before you attempt to lift the weight. And keep your wrists strong, as with a biceps curl, without letting them extend or bend too far.