Q: If you were to introduce someone to resistance training for the first time, and were interested in teaching them to bench press properly with the elbows tucked, which bench grip would you have them use? In other words, everything else equal, what are your basic guidelines for optimum bench biomechanics?
A: This is one area in which true specificity might take a bit of a backseat in the short-term.
If we’re dealing with a true beginner, I’m going to start with dumbbell pressing and push-ups (which, incidentally, everyone thinks they can do perfectly – yet 95% of the lay population completely butchers).
With a push-up, we can build some solid lumbar spine and scapular stability while optimizing the angle of the upper arm to the torso (about 45 degrees). If it’s too hard from the floor, we just elevate them a bit by doing the push-ups off the safety pins in a power rack.
I'd also teach them a neutral grip dumbbell bench press first. My experience has been that people who are trying to learn the elbows-tucked style of benching do best with a lot of neutral grip pressing as their assistance work.
As a next step, at Cressey Performance, we’ll throw in a multi-purpose bar, which allows people to bench with a neutral grip. You won’t see them very often in gyms, but they’re absolutely awesome.
There is more instability, so it teaches the lifter to grip the bar like crazy and optimize scapular stability. You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe.
After 4-6 weeks of this stuff, beginners can start to dabble with the straight bar – and they usually pick it up really quickly.