5 Mistakes Holding Back Your Bench Press Gains—and How to Fix Them | mattsspot.com

5 Mistakes Holding Back Your Bench Press Gains—and How to Fix Them

SOMEDAY, MAYBE WE can ditch the outdated gym ice breaker, “How much do you bench?” and replace it with the more appropriate “How good is your bench press form?”

To this day, the barbell bench press remains the de facto measuring stick for meatheads to gauge the overall strength for gym-goers of all sizes and skills—from the elite athletes to world-class powerlifters to the mass monsters on the bodybuilding stage. It’s also the exercise that normally kicks off international chest day.

But before you bounce a barbell loaded with 45s off your chest pushing as hard as possible for a 1RM, there are some major mistakes that may be not only preventing you from any regular strength progression, but also setting you up for injury, according to says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

“If we’re not [bench pressing] correctly, and if we’re making a couple of mistakes, we’re not going to get the most out of this for our chest,” Samuel says. “And we’re also going to open ourselves up to injuries at the shoulder joint, the elbow, and at the wrist. And that’s something we don’t want to do.”


Here are some of the key mistakes you might be making that are holding back your bench press gains—and what you can do to fix them for better pressing.

5 Bench Press Mistakes to Avoid

You Skip Your Warmup Sets

Yes, it’s actually beneficial to “go through the motions” prior to piling poundage onto the barbell. In addition to your normal dynamic warmup routine, going through some initial empty-bar sets or even utilizing light dumbbells for a few reps will not only help warm up your muscles, it will also give you a quick form check to ensure all systems are good to go for chest day. This can set the stage for your upcoming powerful heavy lifts.

Try to warm up like this:

  • Start with five pound dumbbells or the unloaded bar. Push out five reps, focusing on an explosive concentric (the press) and gauging how you feel.
  • Grab a weight halfway between your warmup weight and your working weight. Bang out five reps, keeping your focus on how you feel.
  • Progress to your first working set.

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Your Feet Aren’t on the Floor

One of the first cues for a proper bench press setup is to make sure your feet are firmly on the floor. To get that big press, your initial energy force needs to begin the moment you drive your heels into the floor, then transferring that force up the chain all the way to the top of each rep. Having your feet lazy or even off the ground (which is a different exercise—the Larsen press) reduces any chance of generating full force throughout your bench press. “When I’m driving that bar up and really struggling to drive that bar up, I want to be able to ground my feet and drive it into the ground and try to transfer a little bit of force from my lower body to my upper body—and that can’t happen [with your feet in the air],” Samuel says.

You Don’t Squeeze Your Glutes

A longstanding muscle myth holds that the key that powering through a tough bench press rep is lifting your hips and glutes off the bench to help generate more power. In reality, that’s not going to help you much.

By keeping your glutes squeezed and glued to the bench, you’re continuing the force transfer that began with your heel drive. And plus, lifting your glutes from the bench won’t count as a complete rep if you’re competing, or you have any ambition for nailing a big lift among powerlifters. “If we’re digging our feet into the ground, but we’re not squeezing our glutes we have this big energy leak that we’re not going to be able to transfer force into your lower back,” Samuel says. “So we want to make sure our feet are flat on the ground, and we’re squeezing our glutes.”

You Don’t Squeeze Your Shoulder Blades

Now that you have your lower body tight and secure, the last thing you want to do is lose any muscle momentum you created. Unfortunately, oftentimes benchers allow their shoulder blades to loosen up on the bench, thereby losing tension—and eventually maximum explosiveness on the bench press.

By keeping your shoulder blades squeezed tight to the bench, you’ll protect your shoulders, while also creating a natural “arch” in the back. Now, you can drive the bar with more force and at a shorter distance—like a powerlifter. Otherwise, having loose shoulder blades will take the emphasis off our chest and right back to our shoulders—not what we want for chest gains.

“Whenever we bring that bar down, our shoulder blades need to be able to squeeze together,” Samuel says. “As we drive that bar up. Our shoulder blades need a little bit of room to open up … we want to be able to have that freedom and we can’t do that if we’re not driving our shoulders part into the bench.”

You Don’t Break the Bar

Don’t take the term literally. Not even The Rock would be able to snap a standard barbell in half (at least we don’t think he can)—but by simulating the bar-bending motion, you’re actually including more muscle engagement from a host of muscle groups, thereby creating more explosive pressing power. Skipping this cue is both a common and complicated mistake, but instead of thinking about actually “breaking” the bar, try to imagine trying to twist the bar apart as you begin turning the pits of your elbows toward your feet, thereby eliminating the chance that they flare out. By doing this you’re not only protecting your shoulders, you’re also activating your lats into the bench press. “You want to get those feet driving into the ground, you want to squeeze through those glutes, and then shoulder blades,” Samuel says. “Then you’re gonna break the bar—that all sets you up for the perfect bench press reps that you need.”

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