This post discusses the proper form for the bench press. The bench press is without question the most frequently performed exercise in any gym or fitness facility (especially among young males). However, it also also the most incorrectly performed exercise, contributing to both chronic and acute shoulder injuries in many individuals, while also limiting the strength gains one could realize from the exercise . Here are some tips for proper bench press form and performance.
Set up on the bench with a slight arch in your lower back but keep your rear end firmly on the bench. Walk your feet out laterally so you feel tightness and a slight pulling in your outer hips. Then, walk your feet back towards your head as far as you can without your heels coming off the floor. This set up may seem awkward the first few times you do it, but it will optimize performance in the lift as you get used to it.
Moving to your upper body, make sure you set your scapula. Make sure you pull your shoulder blades together and down HARD! This will optimize your base of support, allow you to lift more weight, and will keep your shoulders safe due to the increased stability in your upper back.
Make sure you get a lift off from a training partner when removing the bar from the rack. If you try to take the bar out yourself, you will lose the stability and tightness created in your upper back when you set-up by pulling your shoulder blades together and down.
Once you have the bar unracked, it should be centered directly over your chest at about nipple level. Your wrists should be straight-NOT extended.
As you lower the bar, tuck your elbows in towards your rib cage. This will be much easier on your shoulders and will allow you use a greater load. The "elbows out" style of bench pressing seen in most gyms is dangerous, placing extreme forces on your shoulder joints, and is bio mechanically inefficient in terms of lifting a heavy load. You will get stronger faster-and protect your shoulders-if you tuck the elbows in a bit.
The bar should be lowered to mid-chest/nipple level...NOT to your upper chest/collar bone area. Again, this is very dangerous and inefficient.
The bar should be driven up in a STRAIGHT LINE...this is the shortest distance between two points. Do not lift the weight in "J" curve and end up with the bar over your collar bone or eyes. This is an inefficient bar path.
Setting up for and performing the bench press in the manner described above will optimize your strength gains on the exercise (allows you to lift the most weight), and will protect your shoulders from injury. Remember, train hard, but also safely and in the most bio mechanically efficient manner possible.