Have you ever hit a golf ball off of a skateboard? Rollerblades? Unicycle?
If you have, you’re probably a complete nut-job. But, you also know there’s no power behind your swing. This is instability.
Now swing from the ground. This is stability.
When we are trying to produce as much power as possible, such as in the bench, generating stability is extremely important.
Aren’t we generating enough stability by just being on the bench? Well, yes, but you can generate even more by “packing” your shoulders.
What is “packing” your shoulders and how do we do it?
Packing your shoulders is a combination of pinching your shoulder blades together and simultaneously driving them away from your ear. Think about putting your shoulder blades in your back pocket to execute the movement.
Try this movement weightless before you start. See the picture below:
You can use the bench to your advantage to hold the shoulder blades together and give you so biological feedback if they do lose their down and back position.
The toughest thing to do is keep your shoulder blades packed while taking out the bar from the bench, which brings me to the next step in the barbell bench press sequence:
Unracking the bar.
How do we take the bar out of the rack without losing our shoulder blade positioning? “Slide” the bar off the pins toward your chest instead of pressing the bar forward first and then moving the bar toward your chest. This is best accomplished by using a spotter, but you’ll need to coach the spotter to “slide” the bar instead of lifting the bar vertically up. See the pictures below:
Aside from our shoulder blade positioning, can we generate even more stability?
“Bend” the bar
I’m using more quotes than an Austin Powers movie, but using these external cues, I find, with my clients really get the point across. Bending the bar is basically statically pulling the bar laterally. In English, you are generating tension against the bar by pulling the bar laterally.
Full range of motion or ½ range of motion?
When the barbell comes halfway down towards the chest, the shoulders go into a bit of internal rotation. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll know internal rotation of the shoulders is no bueno: SLAP tears, overuse injuries, and the like will result.
However, because we are “packing” our shoulders, which is essentially putting our shoulders into external rotation, our shoulders will not endure this internal rotation.
When building strength and muscle, it is important the muscle are activated to their highest threshold. This only can be done from benching full range of motion.
When you’re learning the lift, it’s important you keep the load light and the bar speed slow. Make sure your shoulders stay packed, lats stay firing, and the bar is touching the right spot.
Where does the bar touch?
To keep the shoulders in external rotation, it is imperative you tough the bar below the chest (where the crease in your bottom pec is).
Can I use my feet to generate even more force?
Absolutely! In fact, it’s something I coach my clients to do everyday. Bring your feet in line with end of the bench and screw them into the floor. Push your feet into the ground as though you are kicking a soccer ball, generating so much tension that it pushes your torso backwards and down into the bench.
Now you have proper bench press form!