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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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?
A BIGGER FREAKING BENCH PRESS.
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)