Big, Bench Pressers Have a HUGE…

Pop Quiz.

What is the one thing that all big bench pressers have?

If you answered “a big bench”, congratulations! Just like me, you’re a sarcastic ass. However, the answer is a HUGE back.

Think about it. Some guys, like James Henderson (711-lb Raw Bench Press), have GIANT shoulders. Other guys, like Jeremy Hoornstra (675-lb Raw bench press at 255-lb bodyweight), have massive triceps to aid their powerful bench. They all have billboard sized backs, though, to support massive weights.

Like most lifts, the bench press is a two part movement. The bar descends to the chest (eccentric motion) and returns to a locked-out state (concentric motion). However, the eccentric movement often gets overlooked as a “fall”. In reality, it’s just as, if not more, important than the concentric part.

Think of a standard, military compliant push up (not like Crossfit or burpee style), where you lower yourself until your chest slightly touches the ground and return to the upright position. In order to lower the body to the bottom position without the entire thing crashing, you must tighten the scapula adducting muscles (rhomboids, traps and even lats) and create a springing, compressing movement. The closer you get to the ground, the tighter the back flexes. These muscles are keeping the body, essentially, hovering over the ground albeit only for a slight second.

You need to picture this entire process in your mind while lowering a barbell to your chest.

Think of Goose and Maverick while practicing this. The bench press is just like a push up, only INVERTED. (See what I did there?)

“But, Donnie… How do I know if I’m doing it correctly?” you hypothetically ask to a computer screen days, weeks or even months after this article is written. Well, don’t you worry your pretty, little head. Papa is here to help.

  1. Set up a bar in a power rack about 3-4 feet from the ground. Place yourself under it with your feet fully extended and grab the bar in the same position you would grab it while performing a bench press. Pull yourself up to the bar, so that it touches your chest in a similar location as the bench press would, and hold for 1-2 seconds. Repeat this for a few reps until you feel exactly which muscles are flexing in your back in order to hold that position.
  2. Slow the eccentric motion down while performing the bench press. Allow your mind/muscle connection time to take shape. Unless you’re a top level athlete, you’re going to have to focus on this movement in order for it to happen. Picture your scapulae trying to wrap around the bench to help visualize the movement of the back.
  3. Have someone try and move the bar while it’s positioned on your chest. If they can easily manipulate the bar to move “east and west” (as opposed to the “north and south” that a vertical movement creates), then your back is most likely not flexed (or “tight” as we like to say).
  4. Practice, practice and more freaking practice. Keeping in mind that practice does NOT make perfect, yet perfect practice over time makes perfect.

Once you learn to control the bar to the chest using the back as the stabilizer, you’ll have a more consistent “stroke”, which will allow the proper muscles to be used efficiently. What does all of this mean in layman’s terms?


And if there’s one thing women love, it’s a vascular man with a huge bench!

Come see me on Monday nights at Crossfit ABF in Largo, FL for more poor attempts at irrelevant pop culture humor and (more importantly) tips for a bigger bench press.

Written by: Donnie Kiernan, B-AS, CPT.

About Donnie Kiernan

8-year combat veteran Donnie Kiernan  is the Owner and Trainer of Atlas Strength Training, a Certified Personal Trainer (International Sports Sciences Association) and a United States Powerlifting Association certified judge. Kiernan is currently the Strength and Conditioning Coach for St. Petersburg College’s baseball program and a promoter for both The Tampa Bay Strongman Classic and the Strength Camp Challenge. When not lifting heavy things, Kiernan spends time with his wife and two daughters.

World Powerlifting Congress Records
Squat (previous), Deadlift (previous), Bench Press (current)

American Powerlifting Federation Records
Squat (previous), Bench Press (previous), Deadlift (current)


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Amy Bell has always been into sports and fitness all her life, starting soccer at a very young age, playing competitively through high school. Once she started college, being an athlete and staying fit wasn’t really important to her at the time but quickly realized she needed to do something to get her fitness back in check. Her sister participated in CrossFit for over a year before she finally talked Amy into trying it. Once Amy did, she was hooked. She started CrossFit in Georgia as she finished her bachelor’s degree and then moved to Florida. Shortly after her move to Clearwater, planning on testing different gyms in the area, she bought a Groupon for ABF as her first one and stayed, never trying anywhere else.

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Brandi fell in love with all things barbell after watching the CrossFit games in 2012. She hadn’t been into sports or fitness in her younger years, but had been looking for ways to improve her strength and conditioning between a desk job and being a mom. After failing to make much headway in a standard globo-gym, she bought a Groupon for a local CrossFit box and immediately realized there was no turning back. The supportive community and infinite scalability of CrossFit has kept her engaged and coming back for more. Years later, Brandi continues to grow into a well-rounded athlete.

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Fitness has always been a piece of her life, but things didn’t change until she found a Groupon for CrossFit ABF. Andrea gave ABF a chance after years of attending a regular gym that left her wanting more out of fitness. This was the best choice she made as it combines her love of being social with new and old friends and a newfound love of lifting weights and pushing herself to the limits. CrossFit ABF has shown her what a FitFam really means as she looks forward to working out with them every week.

Andrea is an inspiring mother to her daughter Layla and her giant fur babies, Storm and Thunder. You can catch Andrea killing a workout, rollerblading down the causeway, or enjoying a night out line dancing (yes, she loves her country music!). She enjoys the adventures of life and encourages others to strive towards their goals. Andrea continues to take her skills to the next level and wants to be there to help you do the same.


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Amber Krumn, lovingly referred to as “Krumncake,” joined CrossFit ABF (and the overall discipline of CrossFit) in 2017 after she grew tired and bored of the “typical” gym atmosphere. Different from anything she’d done before, she grew to enjoy CrossFit due to its varied workout types. Every day’s workout finally became exciting! An avid runner, Krumncake also fell in love with the sporting aspect of CrossFit. Recently, she’s become more interested in the nutritional aspects of functional fitness and you’ll often find her trying to improve the sport’s various skills, which, in turn, make the sport all the more challenging.



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Ryan McElhaney is a CrossFit Level II Trainer, USAW Level II Coach, CrossFit Gymnastics, and CrossFit Movement and Mobility Certified. He has been an athlete for as long as he can remember. His father built box jumps and agility courses in the backyard rather, than sending him to summer camps. He’s participated in soccer, track & field, cycling, golf, basketball, paddle boarding, 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and extreme napping.

In February of 2012, he realized that he needed more than what the standard Globo-Gym could offer, so he finally took the advice of a good friend and gave CrossFit a try. He was hooked somewhere between 3-2-1 Go! and the gut-wrenching feeling of never having conquered a workout like this before. Continuously-varied challenging workouts, strong community support, constant improvement, and a proper diet are what fueled his passion to coach and inspire others to share in his success. Two years later he completed the CrossFit Level I Trainer course followed by CrossFit Movement & Mobility.

“I love to coach, it’s the highlight of my day when one of my athletes becomes proficient in a lift or movement and I’m extremely passionate about helping others improve their fitness. I’m also a big fan of any career that promotes flip flops and t-shirts as the standard work uniform… coaching!”

Ryan is married to Linda and they have an adorable puppy named Bella.


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