My good friend, the incredibly strong, and all round bad ass Ryan Hayes has been kind enough to write a series of articles on the most popular, but most commonly poorly executed gym exercise – the Bench Press. Throughout this series, Ryan will explain in depth the intricacies of this surprisingly technical lift, and give you a comprehensive guide on how to achieve Bench Press mastery! Ryan has an extensive knowledge of strength training, and i’m excited to have him featured on the blog! We hope you enjoy!
Technique is the absolute No.1 most important aspect of any lifting sport, in fact any sport in general. Improving your technique is a way to very quickly see huge improvements in your performance. Louie Simmons (founder of Westside Barbell) has said many times that during seminars and interviews he has helped people achieve 30Ib+ PR’s in 30 minutes just by altering their technique. Technique will differentiate with each individual, there is no one size fits all technique that will accommodate everyone.
The following is a guide to help you get the most out of your bench press in the most efficient and safest manner. Each week I will break down a key aspect of the bench press and share my views and experiences on how to improve that particular area
This will be determined by several factors such as how big you are, arm length, muscular strengths and weaknesses, how you groove the bar, how big an arch you have and most importantly of all what feels most comfortable. The most common mistake I see is placing the hands too narrow and therefore not only increasing the distance the bar has to travel but putting the shoulders at an increased risk of injury by increasing the range of motion (ROM) of the shoulder joint.
The rings on the bar are there for two reasons, number 1 is to ensure you can consistently achieve the same grip width and number 2 is 90-95% of the population should have their hands somewhere in around them rings. If your very large with long levers then you may place your hands just outside the rings, if your small then you may be just inside the rings however most of us will need to place one of our fingers on the rings.
A great way of determining your grip width is firstly to experiment with it. Try different hand positions and see what feels most comfortable, the main thing to look for is that your wrists are directly over or slightly outside your elbows when the bar is on your chest.
By stacking your joints in this manner you are ensuring maximum force production by engaging the most amount of musculature. If for example your hands are inside your elbows and therefore the angle between forearm and upper arm is smaller, this makes the lift very tricep dominant and the chest muscles are being underutilised.
In my personal experience it took at least a year of experimentation to find my ideal grip width. Originally I was too wide and I struggled to accelerate the bar off the chest, by bringing my grip inwards an inch or two I immediately saw my numbers increase and the shoulder pain I was starting to develop subsided. Ever since then it has been a matter of moving a fingers width here or there in order to optimize my hand position to accommodate my ever evolving pressing technique and set-up.
How should you go about experimenting with different widths?
A good way to do this would be to have one heavy day where you are mainly focused on moving the weight, and a lighter technique day. On the technique day you would use anywhere between 50-80% of your max and perform sets of 3-5 repetitions. Start with a grip slightly outside shoulder width and each set start to creep your hands outwards until you find a width that feels comfortable, makes the weight feel the lightest and allows you to move the bar with the most speed. Once you feel like you have found a good hand position up the weight and perform 1-2 repetitions on a heavier weight, if it still feels light, moves fast and feels comfortable then you’re on your way to having an ideal hand position.
I hope these tips and my own experiences help you to optimize your grip width and set you on your way to a bigger bench!