Tech Corner: Bench Press

The key points you need to improve your performance and reduce pain in the bench press.

I’ve worked with my fair share of athletes who are looking to reduce pain, improve performance, and mitigate injury risks in their powerlifting career. Quite often, the changes we make to technique in order to improve on any of the above boils down to a few key points. As such, I’ve decided to make a video/article series over the next couple of weeks outlining some of the key points the StrongerYou coaches look at when coaching the squat, bench press, or deadlift. This series won’t cover everything that could possibly go wrong in a lift, but rather some of the most common talking points we cover, as well as some interesting perspectives on the matter. 

Today’s article will be centered around the bench press and the three aspects we consider essential to your best pressing performance: trunk position and brace, scapular stability, and lower body position. 

1) Trunk Position

In the powerlifting bench press, we create an arch to reduce range of motion and improve leverages. Due to the elevated rib cage position, the diaphragm must push out horizontally (belly out) in order to “lock” the ribs to the pelvis. Without this outward pressure created by proper diaphragm usage, there is nothing to allow for proper force transfer from the legs.  When the lifter has a stable platform where the scaps have base (ribcage) to hold on to, and leg drive can transfer into the shoulders instead of just compressing the lumbar spine, optimum force transfer and strength expression can occur. 

Additionally, having a relatively uniform spinal extension allows for more even force distribution across the spine instead of concentrating the load at a single hinge point in the spine – something we commonly see in lifters who feel pressure in the lower back when they arch in the bench press. 

2) Scapular Position

 Once the trunk position and Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP) has been addressed, creating a stable scapular position is crucial to maintaining both shoulder health as well as maximizing performance for a couple of reasons by increasing longevity in the shoulders as well as providing a more efficient position for the scapula and shoulder joint to transfer force through instead of the smaller stabilizing muscles acting as prime movers. 

You can’t bench if you’re injured… If your shoulders are shrugging and anteriorly tilting all the time, you’re just setting yourself up for injury. Similarly, with a stable scap positon (retracted and depressed), you can get optimum force transfer from the bar through the bench, and into the floor.

3) Leg/Foot Position

Generally, my observation has been that lifters who use more leg drive tend to benefit from a more toes forward, narrower stance, while a wider stance with more of a toes out position tends to be better for taller lifters and/or lifters who use a more consistent leg drive with less “heave”. Regardless of which stance you choose, your direction of leg drive should allow for the butt to stay glued to the bench and support or increase the arch of the spine. 

Planting the feet properly is essential. Having the toes pushed into the front of the shoes is the easiest way to get good planting in the feet, as well as an appropriately grippy sole to prevent slipping.

With a proper stance and footwear, timing the leg drive with the press is another important technique item that can improve bench press performance. Ensuring the legs drive as the chest begins the upward motion leads to better force transfer up into the bar. Often we will see lifters make a big leg drive movement, but without the bar in contact with the chest, that force presses into nothing, so there is no notable improvement in performance.

There you have it: 3 big fish to fry to improve your bench press and reduce pain: trunk position, scap stability, and lower body technique. With practice, these drills should become second nature and can be an excellent way to warm up for the bench as well.