One of the most common muscle building exercises is the bench press. Bench presses are also one of the most difficult exercises to perform properly because most exercisers believe they already know the right way to do them, though most do not. More popular among men than women, bench presses work your entire upper body, strengthening your pectoral (chest) muscles, deltoid (front shoulder) muscles, triceps (back arm), and your lats (or latissimus dorsi) in the center of your back. Because you are using some of your largest muscles to complete this exercise, it is very important to do it correctly to avoid injuring yourself and causing a lot of muscle pain.
You have probably seen movies or television shows where a buff man bench presses a pretty girl to impress her at a party, but most exercisers do not start off lifting 135 pounds. You need to gradually work up to being able to lift that much otherwise you will cause yourself serious injury all for the sake of trying too hard to impress others or pushing yourself to lift too much too soon.
If you are just starting out with bench presses, it is paramount that you have a spotter help you. A spotter stands at the head of the bench press and helps you if the weight gets too heavy or when you replace the bar back on the rack. The worst mistake you could make is not using a spotter and accidentally dropping the bar on your chest because the weight is too heavy. This kind of an injury can easily happen while bench pressing and chest injuries are very painful.
To do a bench press properly, follow these four steps:
- Sit down at the edge of the bench. Slowly lower your body backwards until you are lying flat on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar. Before you even reach for the bar, check to see that your body has these four points of contact: the soles of your feet are firmly on the floor in a wide stance, your glutes are solidly on the edge of the bench, your shoulders are pressed into the upper part of the bench, and your head is squarely against the top of the bench.
- Grasp the bar with both hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart, palms facing forwards. Slowly bring the bar down to rest at your chest with your elbows pointing towards your toes. Do not let the bar sit on your chest, hold it slightly above. If you can’t hold the bar at this level without resting it on your chest, you are probably using weights that are too heavy and should adjust them to ones that are lighter.
- Squeeze your shoulders blades and push the bar upwards until your arms are upright and your elbows are straight. Hold the bar for 1-2 seconds and slowly lower it back to the starting position. Repeat five to ten repetitions and replace the bar on the rack. Your spotter can help you with this step.
The key to completing bench presses properly is consistency. Whether you are bench pressing twenty pounds or two hundred pounds, maintain a consistent and correct form to ensure you do not inure yourself. As you bench press more often, you will become stronger and able to lift heavier weights. Remember, just because you can lift heavier weights, does not mean you can bench press without a spotter. If you do not use a spotter and drop the weight, the only way to get out from under the bar is to roll it down your chest and stomach, which can bruise your torso.