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Bench Press Essentials

Nov 16, 2007
In some gyms, the bench press in the peacock plumage of exercises, where people brag about how much they can lift and "What you bench?" is as commonly heard as "Come here often?" is in low-rent singles bars.

But no matter how you feel abut that particular kind of gym rat, the fact is that the bench press should be a central exercise for anyone looking to build their upper body. But while doing the bench press, like in doing any exercise, the focus shouldn't be on big numbers, it should be on proper technique.

When you lie on the bench, make sure both your feet are planted flat on the ground. When you grab the bar make sure your thumbs on the opposite side of your fingers. Doing a "monkey grip," with your thumbs on the same side as your fingers increases the odds of the bar suddenly rolling out of your hands, and onto whatever soft, easily crushed flesh that might be below it. So give the boys down at the emergency room a break and always grip the bar with your thumbs.

Before you raise the bar from the rack line it up with your nose. This will put you in an optimal position to lift. After you lift the bar from the rack, hold it in the top position and breathe in deeply. This will puff out your chest and give you better leverage for the actual lift.

As you lower the bar to your chest, keep your arms completely under the bar for optimum control. Try and avoid tilting your wrists. This is not only dangerous, but it might put unnecessary strain on your joints. As you lift the bar back up, keep your body flat on the bench and feet flat on the floor.

Sometimes people new to lifting try to get better leverage by arching their back and lifting themselves on their toes, but they are only asking for aches and pains, and possibly serious injury.

Like in many weight exercises, the goal isn't to lift the bar up and down as quickly as possible. You should keep a consistent tempo through each repetition. A good rule of thumb is to make the whole repetition at least four seconds. So, for example, you might have the concentric phase last one second, the bottom last one second, and the eccentric last two seconds. Consult with a personal trainer to see what tempo will best help you reach your goals.

Since most people are injured during the bottom or transition phase of the bench press, pay extra close attention to this time. Sometimes lifters, perhaps a bit too confident in the durability of their chest, bounce the bar against their chest in order to get some momentum in getting the bar to go back to starting position.

It's sad that this has to be said, but it's never a good idea to slam heavy things into your body. If your upper body is tired, there's no shame in just reducing the weight on the bar.

Bench pressing is like any other exercise: the people who want to boost their ego will concern themselves with "how much," and the people concerned with getting results will concern themselves with "how." This is not to say that gradual improvement and strength is a bad thing, but lifters should never lose sight of why they are working out in the first place.
About the Author
Chris McCombs is a Orange County personal trainer specializing in fat loss and muscle toning. His website www.socalworkout.com contains valuable tips on fitness and "how to" style exercise videos.
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