The barbell bench press is one of the best chest-building, compound exercises around, and yet so often I see guys neglecting their form and risking injury to their wrists or back.
Even worse, these all-too-common bench-press mistakes will hurt your joints as well as your progress, since poor form will almost always yield poor results.
Here are some of the most common barbell bench press mistakes I see every day and how to correct them.
1. Flaring Your Elbows
If your elbows are too high or if they flare out wider than 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement, you’ll put unnecessary strain on your shoulders and elbow joints, and possibly irritate your rotator cuff on every single rep. If you’re experiencing elbow or shoulder pain after chest day, this might be why.
Solution: Keep your elbows closer to your body while you lower the bar. Ideally, your upper arms should form a 45-degree angle with your upper body.
2. Not Arching Your Back
This is another common mistake I see all the time. Benching with a completely flat chest will be much harder and more uncomfortable than having a slight arch, and you won’t be able to bench as heavy, either.
This is because when your chest is flat, the bar must touch your torso lower at the bottom of the movement in order to keep your forearms vertical. The lower the bar has to go to touch your body, the longer the distance the bar must travel. And the longer distance the bar must travel, the harder it becomes for you to bench press. Makes sense?
Solution: Slowly raise your chest until you get a slight, natural arch in your lower back.
Before you lie on the bench, retract your shoulder blades by rolling your shoulders up, back, and down. Squeeze them together so you can get a natural arch in the lower back.
Don’t: over-arch your back, however; too much arching will put tremendous strain on your lower back.
3. Lifting Your Butt Off The Bench
Do you know why so many guys do this, especially on their last reps? In short, it’s because it’s technically cheating, as your body tries to compensate for a weight that’s too heavy. The weight becomes significantly easier to lift if you raise your butt off the bench, as this shortens the range of motion. When the range of motion is shorter, your muscles only need to do half the work to lift the bar, and thus, the weight will feel surprisingly lighter. Unfortunately, this kind of cheating does nothing to help build up your chest muscles, to keep proper form, choose lighter weights, and don’t lift your butt.
Solution: Only slightly arch your lower back so that you can keep your butt down when benching. If your butt keeps coming off the bench, it indicates that you’re lifting too heavy, so lighten the barbell. Keep in mind that you’re training for yourself, so leave your ego at the door.
4. Not Using A Full Range Of Motion
This is a very very common problem, and one that I didn’t take very seriously until I realized I wasn’t making any gains for all those months.
Using a full range of motion can help target multiple muscles, not just your pectoral muscles, but also your deltoids and triceps. Just think of it this way: The shorter the range of motion you use, the fewer muscles you work. The fewer muscles you work, the fewer gains you make. Simple, right?
I know a lot of you want to bench 300 pounds or even heavier, but it doesn’t make any sense if you’re only using a partial range of motion. Some people even know this is wrong, but they keep benching like that just because of their ego. Let’s face it, this is not the right way to increase your bench, in case that is what you want to do.
Solution: Go all the way down. Let the bar touch your chest and press it all the way up immediately (making sure your elbows don’t sink below your bench). If it’s hard for you to do the same amount of reps, then reduce the weight.
Don’t: lose control of the bar or let it drop on your chest.
5. Bouncing Your Bar
This mistake is related to the previous problem and you know what? It may not be so terrible, depending on how much hard the bar hits your chest at the bottom portion of the bench press. This mistake is more about the fact that bouncing the bar is another kind of cheating, as it creates momentum and makes the weight easier for you to lift.
However, if the weight is heavy enough and you don’t have control over the bar, you might drop it and damage your rib-cage. Not only is dropping the bar dangerous, but you’d also miss out on the amazing strength benefits from lifting and lowering your bar with control.
Solution: Try to lower the bar slowly. If just can’t, reduce the weight, because it’s too heavy for you. Once again, you’re not training for anyone else except yourself, so don’t be afraid to choose a weight that actually makes sense.
6. Not Using Your Legs
You may find this tip to be a little bit weird, but hear me out. I’m pretty sure that you’ve already seen some lifters benching with their feet in the air, or even on the bench. Do not be one of these people!
Using your legs, with your feet flat on the floor, not only helps you stabilize better, but also gives you more power to bench heavier. If you are wondering why you’ve been stuck benching the same weight for months, then this may be the simple answer.
Solution: Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. At the same time, keep your feet slightly behind your knees so that you can have for optimal balance.
Don’t: Put your feet on the bench, in the air, directly under the knees or raise your heels.