Lifelong Movements – Invest In Better Movement: Movement No.4 – The Bench Press


Lifelong Movements – Invest In Better Movement

Movement No. 4 – The Bench Press

As with the previous blog posts, feedback indicates that many PTs are gaining the knowledge needed to implement the techniques I am discussing. This makes the time I spend writing these posts worthwhile.

Just to recap, I will cover the same areas in each blog post in relation to the specific movement discussed. These are:

  • Background of the movement;
  • Movement analysis;
  • Literature that is freely available;
  • My top three key coaching cues;
  • Limitations and correctives.

Background of the movement

The bench press is often a topic of debate within the fitness industry, as practitioners have different ways of executing the movement. Remember, this is a blog post about injury prevention and the safest way to conduct the exercise and promote safe tension around all joint spaces (for the bench press, mainly the scapulothoracic and glenohumeral joints).

We have seen some great feats in the sport of powerlifting over the years. The first ever bench press recorded was in 1898 and was a 164 kg (nothing in comparison to the record these days). With the aid of bench press shirts, we have seen the first ever 1000 lb bench press (by Gene Rychlak). The record for unshirted is 323.41 kg, held by Russian Kirill Sarychev.

Movement analysis

As with all movements, if the bench press is executed incorrectly, the risk of injury will begin to increase. What tends to happen during most upper limb movements is that the client overloads the anterior chain (front of the anatomy), meaning the pectorals and front deltoids take up too much tension. After a while, this will start to unnecessarily irritate tissue around the shoulder. Our mission as practitioners is to ensure that our clients load efficiently to prevent unwanted stress and to promote good movement recruitment. We want our stabilisers to maintain stability and our synergist to work in unison with the prime-movers.

The set

This is where many fail to get the most out of their press. Like with the deadlift and squat, the lats/glutes connection plays a significant part in setting up the muscle activation sequence to create positive tension.

Lie down on the bench and screw the feet into the floor.

Ensure that 45 degrees abduction is found (this encourages the shoulder to move through the scaption plane of movement).

Grip with the wrist in extension and the thumb over the index finger (this is for safety – no resting the bar on the heel of the hand).

Imagine bending the bar in half, and pull the shoulder blades together.

The action – part 1

  1. The client is now set up to descend the bar. Rather than letting the bar fall to the chest, the client should pull the bar to the chest just under the pectorals. 


The action – part 2

  1. A key to driving the bar back into the set-up position is for the client to push through the heel of the hand and press the shoulder blades into the bench at the same time. This promotes more serratus activation, which means a more stable shoulder.



Literature that is freely available

The two articles I enjoyed were:

Using Bench Press Load to Predict Upper Body Exercise Loads in Physically Active Individuals by Wong (2009);


Bench Press Exercise: The Key Points by Padulo (2015).

My top three key coaching cues

1). Break the bar – I would just like to go into more detail on this point. Breaking the bar allows the lats to depress the shoulder and connect them to the glutes, allowing the posterior chain to be involved with an anterior chain movement. See video earlier.

2). Pull down – this is something I learned from the Strong First community. It involves not allowing gravity to overtake the movement, not yielding to the descent, and staying strong.

3). Press from the triceps – another great tip from the Strong First community is to focus on the triceps pressing the bar away from the chest, rather than allowing the shoulder to do most of the work.

Limitations and correctives

1). Elbows flaring – this is a habit that many fall into due to how they have seen the press executed in the gym by bodybuilders (the wider the grip, the more mechanical tension – but at the sacrifice of shoulder health). Support the client’s elbow with your fingertips on either side or use a band:

2). No glutes contraction – some students may not know how to contract their glutes. Here is a little drill I use (cheeky lol):

This completes the fourth blog post in the series. The next one will cover the single leg deadlift.