5 mistakes everyone makes when bench pressing

Check out 5 bench press mistakes everyone makes. Learn them inside out and fix yourself up to get the benefits you deserve from this awesome chest workout.

Lying horizontally and lifting a bar requires more than meets the eye. So how can you ensure proper bench press performance to optimize muscle growth? Let’s take a look at Israel’s tips for maximum muscle growth.

The bench press is one of the best exercises a person can do to develop their chest. In fact, we’ve said it here more than once that it’s the BEST chest workout. But that’s true only if you know how to perform the exercise correctly. And trust us, there are plenty of ways you can disrupt your workout with this move.

The foundation of the insights in this article is based on a video presentation by Jeremy Ethier, a respected kinesiologist and fitness coach who co-founded Built With Science. With a whopping 6 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, Ethier has built a reputation for providing clear information based on solid scientific research.

Source: Photo: CrossFit Inc.

So let’s dive into five mistakes everyone makes when bench pressing so you don’t make them the next time you train your chest.

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5 mistakes everyone makes when bench pressing

Do you feel shoulder pain while bench pressing? Are your shoulders and arms doing more work than your chest? It’s time to address these issues and maximize the effectiveness of your bench press. In this article, we’ll look at five common mistakes most people make and offer practical solutions to help you sit with proper form and activate your chest like never before.

  1. Elbow angle: The first fault revolves around the angle of the elbow. Many people use too wide an elbow angle, which makes lowering the bar to the chest challenging. This can put a strain on the shoulders. Instead, focus on the angle of the elbow, which is in line with the direction of most of the pectoral fibers. Try angles around 60 and find the one that suits you best by observing the path of the rod.
  2. Grip width: Choosing the right grip is critical to maximizing chest activation. A 2022 study showed that the same grip width led to different muscle activations in individuals. Rest the barbell on your lower chest and adjust the grip width until your arms are straight up and down. This ensures optimal chest involvement and minimizes triceps engagement.
  3. Breast exam: Avoid letting your breast in on the way up. If your shoulders are relatively stronger than your chest, you may inadvertently let your chest cave in, resulting in increased frontal activation. Focus on maintaining a proud chest, using your back muscles to pull the bar down and squeezing your biceps on the way up to properly activate your chest.
  4. Set Up Stability: Improve the stability of your set up to improve strength and reduce the risk of injury. Mimic powerlifting by tensing your back, core and lower body before lifting. Create tension throughout your body, like an unopened and full can, to efficiently transfer energy during the lift.
  5. Machine vs. Free Weights: Contrary to popular belief, a 2023 meta-analysis found no significant differences in muscle growth between free weights like the bench press and machines like the Smith machine. If you struggle with bench pressing despite previous fixes, consider alternative exercises like chest machines or dumbbells. Listen to your body, and if the bench press isn’t for you, explore other options.
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Achieving bench press mastery is a journey that requires meticulous attention to detail and an unwavering commitment to maintaining proper form throughout your lifting sessions. Every element of your bench press, from the subtle nuances of elbow angles to the strategic choice of grip width, plays a key role in determining the effectiveness of the exercise and the overall condition of the shoulders.

Considering elbow angles and grip width is paramount in optimizing bench press performance. A wide elbow angle, a common mistake, not only restricts movement, but also puts unnecessary strain on the shoulders. Choosing an elbow angle that is aligned with the pectoral fibers not only allows for a deeper range of motion, but also improves pectoral activation. This subtle adjustment can make a big difference in the overall effectiveness of your bench press.

Similarly, the width of the grip is a very individual choice. By tailoring your grip based on your body mechanics, supporting the bar with your lower chest and aligning your forearms vertically, you maximize chest contact and minimize triceps engagement. This personalized approach creates a deep connection between your body and the exercise, unlocking the full potential of your pectoral muscles.

barbell bench press

In addition, ensuring the activation of the chest and the stability of the settings are key to a successful bench press. By preventing your chest from slouching up as you go, you direct your focus to the intended muscle group, promoting a controlled and deliberate lift. Embracing a proud chest, engaging your back muscles to pull the bar down, and squeezing your biceps together during the lift will not only promote enhanced chest activation, but also the overall quality of the lift.

Creating stability in the setting resembles the precision of powerlifters, which involves a disciplined approach to tightening the back, core and lower body. This whole body tension, similar to an unopened and full can, facilitates seamless energy transfer and increases power during the lift. Finally, the alternative to alternative exercises, as revealed in a 2023 meta-analysis, challenges the notion that free weights are inherently better than machines. Exploring alternatives such as chest machines or dumbbells can be helpful if bench pressing poses ongoing challenges, highlighting the importance of finding exercises that work for your body for optimal results.

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In summary, prioritizing the right form is non-negotiable in order to guarantee safe and effective training. By diving into exploring elbow angles, grip width, chest activation, setup stability, and options, you will not only improve your bench press experience, but also pave the way for continued progress, reduce the risk of injury, and most importantly, improve chest activation. Mastery comes with a commitment to continuous improvement and an appreciation of the nuances that make each lift unique.

Check out Jeremy Ethier’s video below for visual cues and how to avoid these five mistakes everyone makes when bench pressing.

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The best way to train your chest for hypertrophy (muscle mass)

In general, it is recommended that you train your pecs at least once a week to see improvements in strength and muscle growth. However, some individuals may benefit from more frequent chest training, such as 2-3 times per week, especially if they are more experienced lifters and want to target specific areas of the chest.

It is important to note that you should not train your pectorals on consecutive days, as this can lead to overuse and increase the risk of injury. Additionally, it’s important to allow your muscles to rest and recover between workouts so they have time to repair and grow.

Some of the benefits of bench press strengthening include:

  1. Increased upper body strength: The bench press is a compound exercise that works several muscle groups at once. By performing this exercise regularly, you can increase your upper body strength and improve your overall fitness.
  2. Better muscle size and definition: The bench press can help increase muscle size and definition in the chest, shoulders and triceps, which can improve your physical appearance.
  3. Increased bone density: Weight-bearing exercises such as the bench press can help increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  4. Better posture: The bench press can help strengthen your upper back muscles, which can improve your posture and reduce your risk of back pain.
  5. Increased calorie burn: Compound exercises like the bench press can help you burn more calories than isolation exercises, which can be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.
  6. Improved athletic performance: Bench pressing can help increase upper body strength and power, which can improve your performance in sports that require upper body strength, such as soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

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