The Powerlift Bench Press: A Safer and More Effective Lift

This post courtesy of guest expert
Zach Roberts, CPT CHWC
DMH Wellness Center

Anyone who has been in a standard gym on a Monday knows that your odds of snagging a bench press bench are only slightly better than that of winning the Powerball lottery.  Jokingly referred to as “International Bench Press Monday” in the strength and conditioning world, it’s become the standard for judging strength in gyms and locker rooms everywhere.  It’s beyond the scope of this post to discuss whether that’s entirely appropriate or not (Can I get an AMEN for squat and deadlift?), so instead we’ll take a look at form and technique.

A powerlifting style of bench press – utilizing leg drive, high arch from hips to upper back and shoulder rotation – can reduce the risk of injury and improve performance. Many bodybuilders and physique competitors have a distinct style of benching – less leg drive, flat on the bench, elbow and upper arm at a right angle to the body during the lift. This is designed to impart maximum stimulation to the pectoral muscles and promote muscular growth.

Fortunately for everybody involved, increasing an athlete’s efficiency by ensuring effective mechanics will result in a safer lift and improved power output. And here’s how.

1)      LEGS. Keeping your legs engaged, tight and grounded creates a stable platform and utilizes the added force that your legs provide. Ever seen somebody kicking their feet around while performing a heavy bench? That loss of tension and force from the legs is often the difference between a missed lift and a new PR.

2)      BACK and SHOULDERS. The purpose of a high arch in the back is to decrease bar path – the distance you have to move the bar, thereby reducing the amount of work necessary to perform the movement. As this arch also shifts the angle from a horizontal one to a slightly downward, it prompts external rotation at the shoulder that stabilizes the lift and reduces strain across the chest (picture trying to bend or break the bar).

3)      LATS and TRIS. In this technique, the lats and triceps become the primary movers – the lats lowering the weight as they stabilize the shoulders and the triceps driving the weight back up through extension at the elbow. Similarly, the shortest path to the top of the lift is a straight line up from the sternum. Rather than making a “C” shape with the bar as you lift, ideally the bar should touch the chest, then travel in straight line to the top of the lift. This keeps the lats engaged and decreasing any unnecessary movement or exertion.

So there you have it. Engage your legs, arch your back, rotate the shoulders, and lift straight up. This powerlifting style bench press reduces the risk of injury and improves performance in competitive strength sports. If you’re interested in learning more about technique for the bench press or any other lift, or if you’re ready for new approach to fitness and weight loss, please feel free to contact the DMH Wellness Center at 876-4249.

By Zach Roberts, CPT CHWC, DMH Wellness Center