Common Bench Press Problems and Solutions
Overcoming Bench Press Anomalies
By Bob Shaefer
I can honestly say,as a gym owner for many years, I have spent a considerable amount of the last 10 trying to develop a counter attack for every possible bench press anomaly that posed a threat to the progress of any or all of my team. I spent 100% of my time on the floor trying to correct problems with form, learning the various idiosyncrasies that would seemingly fool Isaac Newton. What a boring 10 years it would have been had I mindlessly wandered around spotting my members without once questioning an individual's problems with form or progress.
In actuality, I became almost obsessed with solving the problems of the truly talented members to the point where I put my own personal gains on the back burner, so to speak. I was in no way, sacrificing personally for I cared little to compete. My interest was always centered around the problem solving methods that could help my young team continue on with long term progress.
There is so much to be learned by helping others day in and day out. Focusing on your own progress robs you of the chance to stand over others as they bench, seeing obvious problems that if, left as is might bring about injury and surely hinder progress. Identifying and attempting to solve these problems has given me a greater insight into my own personal anomalies.
What we see day after day, as we play lift off assistant, might never enter the minds of those who care little to help others or just don't care to take the time to help others on a problem solving course.
One of my favorite sayings, "You look like an earthworm having a seizure" gave a new member full notice that we were about to begin a problem solving, training reformation.
It all seems so simple...we let the bar down and we push the bar up. The more I learned the more I realized how LITTLE I had learned while training on my own as a young man.
Uneven extensions, windmilling, bouncing the bar, hitting too high on the chest, extreme arching with daylight between the bench and the butt, dancing, (excessive foot movement ), breathing or exhaling at the wrong moment, not breathing at all, and a few problems that defy description.
In the developing stages we tend to mindlessly do our reps. Myself as an example, I trained for several years with one elbow tucked in and the other fanned out 90 degrees from the bench pad.
Only after being told by a friend who stopped in as I was in the middle of a routine, did I become conscious of the problem. Even then I had to be extremely attentive as I lowered the bar or I would inadvertently fall back into the wrong form. I attribute the bad habit to a shoulder dislocation that occurred years earlier. Left to it's own resources, the body will take the path of least resistance so my weak shoulder was doing it's best to get help from the lats. To solve the problem I had to lighten my training load by a measurable amount. Warmups were lowered to a lesser weight and more reps. I eventually ended up mounting a mirror on the ceiling over the bench so I could view each rep at the same angle as a spotter (I trained alone for many years).
After several Months, I overcame the problem. Once conquered, my progress was back on track.
My uneven lockouts disappeared.
Uneven extensions must be analyzed in two fashions. Totally unacceptable in training (as in multiple rep sets) and highly undesirable during max attempts. Many beginners will fall into a habit of locking one arm before the other. Even the Elite bencher can be seen pre loading the weight on the way up, from time to time. I had little luck in getting a bencher to make a conscious effort to overcome the "one two punch", not that they were lacking in their desire.
To solve the problem, we first have to understand one very important factor. Many do not realize, the trailing arm in an uneven lockout is not the weakest, it's the strongest. For whatever weak muscle group involved the leading arm is preloading the strong side, causing the stronger side to lock last, subconsciously. The reasons are many. A prior injury could be the culprit. Many times I saw baseball pitchers who had to deal with this problem due to the extremely uneven development in the shoulder region.
Just the simple fact that one arm is used more than the other in everyday life, shows up as a "right to left"power differential once benching becomes a part of a beginner's training.
We developed two ways to attack the problem, applied singly or together. Offsetting the weight on the bar will do wonders. Anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds added to the side that locks first.
Over a period of several Months the added weight is delaying the weaker side, letting the strong side ascend faster. Don't confuse the additional offset poundage as being an overall increase in training weight. It's simply a matter of loading the bar to a specific total weight but allowing one side to carry an extra 5 to 20 pounds. The second method involves using a "wider than legal" grip. We found the wider grip to be very productive in solving, not just uneven extensions but rotation or windmilling effects that plague even the best, during max attempts. I could write volumes about the benefits gained by training extensively with varying grip widths. By applying a conscious effort, a wider grip along with an offset weighted bar, we succeeded in overcoming both anomalies to a point where they no longer hindered our progress.
You'll hear many different opinions concerning, "inhale -hold-it- exhale".
I have no "one method for all" opinion. I've seen some who fall apart attempting triple unless they hold their breath throughout the set. I believe ribcage contour is a factor in developing the proper breathing techniques for each individual. My best advice for the beginner, search out an experienced trainer and kindly ask them to monitor your breathing pattern as you do a few reps. This is another area where page upon page could be written in effort to cover the breathing subject in detail. Obviously, we all need a full tank of air at the top but what takes place thereafter, concerning reps and handoffs, becomes a topic of varied opinions. I've seen benchers deflate half way up causing some to falter while others seemed to draw strength from the action.
For those with an arch rivaling MacDonald's, simply train with both legs extended, leaving only the heel of your shoe in contact with the floor. If you keep both legs locked during the bench session I can pretty well guarantee you, your butt will stay glued to the bench. Yup, the reps will drop off in number at first but soon you'll be regaining and surpassing your previous best.
Bouncing the bar off the ribcage had me on the verge of canceling memberships on a few occasions. What a dangerous practice, especially for those who have no appreciable thickness developed in the chest. Finally, I found a way to help the bouncers help themselves by no longer requiring them to touch the chest at the bottom of the stroke. By having them stop within an inch or so, the problem was solved as long as the party in question, stuck to the rules.
It turned out to be a valuable tool of prevention along with some piece of mind for myself.
Don't accept anything less than a mechanically perfect, balanced form, void of ascending rotation, trailing arm lockouts and unnecessary body movement. Even if you don't succeed in totally curing 100 % of your problems, you will still come much closer to realizing your optimum genetic potential in the bench. Never forget, good form will always be your best insurance against injury.With all of our smallest muscles having to play such an important role in this most popular lift, those who write it off as a simple, "Up-Down" event, will find themselves left behind early on.