When it comes to the barbell bench press there are a few common mistakes that could be holding back your muscle growth. These mistakes come from a combination of poor form, misinformation and ego lifting. If it is your goal to build as much muscle as possible, then make sure you are not falling victim to the below 8 dumbest bench mistakes!
Benching Too High / Not Retracting Shoulder Blades
I decide to combine these two mistakes because 99% of the time they are related. If you are benching with a flat back this will completely change the path the barbell will travel as you raise and lower the weight to be more over your shoulders instead of your chest. If this happens, you will bring A LOT more of your shoulders into the movement which can lead to a serious shoulder injury or aggravate a previous injury. In order to avoid benching too high, or over your shoulders, make sure you are retracting your shoulder blades back and down before unracking the barbell to perform the movement.
Bouncing The Barbell Off The Chest
Many people use their chest as a bounce pad at the bottom of the barbell chest press to gain momentum to press more weight. Now, this may make you feel better because you can lift more weight for more repetitions, but you are just kidding yourself. Making the barbell change directions is one of the most challenging and important parts of targeting the chest for muscle growth. This is the STICKING POINT of the movement and you want to use as much of your chest as possible to execute this work. If you are bouncing the barbell off your chest, you are completely removing the tension from your muscles and greatly reducing the damage you could be causing to your muscle fibers in order to stimulate chest growth. To create maximum engagement / maximum growth, you need to feel and control the entire movement. Remember, if you are a bodybuilder and are lifting for maximum growth, muscle engagement and fiber damage are more important and way more effective for muscle growth than lifting more weight with improper form. You are not a powerlifter so there is no need to all of a sudden train like one when you get to the bench press!
Whenever you are performing the bench press you want to minimize movements that will distract you from the exercise. If your feet are constantly dancing during every single repetition, ESPECIALLY at the bottom of the movement, you are wasting energy and creating instability that will hinder your ability to press as much weight as you can. However, I would like to add that it is ok to bench with your feet in the air or on the bench itself. It just depends on your goal. For example, if you bench with your feet placed firmly on the ground you can use this position to help you drive more strength into the barbell for a stronger lift. But if your goal is purely muscle gain, a lot of bodybuilders prefer to keep their feet off the ground to take away the driving force that is provided from your feet, hips, and core during the movement. This way you know for sure you are activating as many muscle fibers in your chest as possible when doing the exercise. Now keep in mind that you will not be able to bench as much weight this way. But that means nothing if your goal is to build muscle. All that matters is that you are FAILING when you reach your desired rep range which is probably around 8 – 10 reps and if we know we are activating MORE chest muscle fibers with our feet up, who cares if you are benching 15 – 30 pounds less on your sets.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Any range of motion that you do not train in you will always be weakest in. So if you are skipping the lower portion of the movement, which is the sticking point, you will always feel weakest there and will have a hard time increasing your overall max lift whether bodybuilding or strength training. For those of you who just bench mid-range and never fully lockout or full descend, aside from the fact that you are not fully stretching and shortening the pectoralis major for maximum growth, you are restricting yourself from having a stronger lockout as you lift heavier as well.
Grabbing The Barbell Too Wide
As you do your own research on the barbell bench press you will find many articles telling you to bench with a wide grip to maximize how much weight you can lift. While this statement is true when it comes to strength training, when it comes to building muscle you are placing yourself at a major disadvantage. When you have a wide grip on the barbell you are minimizing the amount of stretch in your chest as you descend and how much you shorten your chest at the top of the movement as well. A wide grip also places more emphasis on your surrounding muscles instead of keeping the focus on the chest. So remember, a lot of people preach to grab wide because it is the least distance the bar has to travel so you can lift more weight and if you are a powerlifter and want to lift as much weight as possible this is true. But if you are a bodybuilder, a wide grip does not maximize the muscle fibers worked and damaged for maximum growth! Remember this difference and do what is right for YOUR goal!
Letting Your Spotter Help Too Much
This should go without saying, but if your spotter is doing all the work your chest gains are going to suffer. What happens when you are given too much help is that you will miss out on a key opportunity to not only further develop your mind-muscle connection, but your ability to focus on as much muscle damage as possible during the concentric and eccentric portions of the movement. In order to build muscle, you need to be able to focus on activating as many muscle fibers as possible on each rep during the entire set.
Not Training Your Lats Hard Enough
If you want to have a strong bench press, then you need to make sure you are also training your back / lats just as hard as your chest. This is because your lats are going to be what helps you drive the barbell off your chest at the bottom of the movement acting more like a pushing muscle, not a pulling muscle. However, their contribution to helping with the movement will decrease as you continue to press the bar away from your chest. So if you seem to always be getting stuck at the bottom of the barbell chest press, you may need to rethink your training to make sure you are targeting your back just as hard as your chest. Another way your lats help you on the bench press is that they produce internal rotation which will help you flare your elbows for added strength as you press the barbell away from your body.
Too Much Elbow Flare
The final biggest mistake people make when benching is that they flare their elbows too much during the entire set. Now as I just mentioned above, elbow flare can be useful as an advanced technique for added strength as you press the barbell away from your chest. But if you are flaring your elbows on the way down, this is where we can run into some serious problems because it will place a greater amount of strain on your shoulders thus increasing the risk of a shoulder injury. When lowering the barbell you want to keep your elbows tucked in to ensure the barbell touches your chest instead of lying across your shoulders. This will also help you bring more triceps into the movement to help you press more weight and keep the barbell traveling in a straight line above your chest.
As long as you stay clear of these 8 mistakes, you will be well on your way to developing a bigger more aesthetic chest! Now for those of you wondering which is better… the Barbell Bench Press or the Dumbbell Bench Press. You can take your training to the next level and read all about it in my VERSUS SERIES HERE.
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