T Nation

Bench Press Form


I am fairly new to the powerlifting style bench press, and I was hoping to get some critique on my form/setup. I have been following the Westside Program -- the video is of my last ME single benching with a half foam roller under my shirt.

I have been stuck around this weight for a few months. In fact, I actually got this weight (275) about 6 weeks ago.

Any particularly glaring weaknesses in my technique?

Thanks in advance for any help.


I think Dave Tate wrote in one of his articles: "If you are really uncomfortable when you are benching, you're doing it right".

Here is my set up regime:

  1. Sit on the bench, with my legs wide and toes pointed about 45 degrees out from the axis of the bench.
  2. Lay back and adjust so that the bar is above my nose or mouth (depends on how big the J-hooks are).
  3. Set my shoulders. I do this by pinching my shoulder blades together while holding my upper arms ~90 degrees from my body and my forearms ~90 degrees from my upper arms, palms facing up and by my ears (like somebody is holding a gun to my back and says "hands up", but laying on the bench with my shoulders pulled together). If the bench is narrow, sometimes I have to wiggle my upper back around until it feels like as much of my upper back is on the bench as possible.
  4. Set my grip, then push my upper body into the bench to help stabilize my upper back and shoulders.
  5. Lift my butt off the bench and walk my feet in as needed.
  6. Flex my legs and ass. Hard.
  7. Suck in as much air as possible, then press my butt into the bench and start driving my heels into the ground.
  8. Confirm you're ready for a lift-off (if you have a spotter) and unrack the weight.

You'll have to play around with your foot position and whatnot, but by the time you are ready to unrack the weight everything needs to be tight. If your butt and/or lower back is sore after a solid day of benching, you're on the right track.

It's hard to tell from the video what part of your form / setup needs working on, but practice your setup, keeping tight, your leg drive and every other little cue as soon as you start warming up with the bar. Like squats, benching takes a lot of practice.


Thanks, Molikeye. The proper tightness is certainly so far beyond what you think is tight as a newbie. And even if you read all the right material (Tate, etc.), sometimes it doesn't entirely click to the full extent right away. My most recent "breakthrough" involved the lower body. Rather than just focusing on leg drive only as the bar touches my chest, I push down and out (like a leg extension) before unracking the bar. Huge improvement in overall tightness, maintaining my arch, and staying on my upper back.

A few questions:

  1. Shoulder blades -- do you think only of pinching your should blades together? Or back and down? I read Mike Robertson describe a back and down approach. These are very different sensations for me.
  2. Bending the bar -- In which direction/plane should I be trying to send the middle of the bar? Away from the ground so the bar would bend around me? Towards my face as if I am trying twist my pinkies towards my feet? The "pinkies towards my feet" seems to engage my lats more and keep my elbows tucked, but I am not sure if this is the correct approach. Do I continue to focus on "bending the bar" throughout the entire concentric phase?

Thanks again for your help.


^ Whenever I read about the cue to bend the bar, it's the idea of bending the bar into a horseshoe shape or an upside-down U in the vertical plane. A better cue for me personally is to think about pulling the bar apart (i.e., pretend you're trying to pull the sleeves apart from each other); it's easier for me to engage the lats while doing this.


If you try to pull the bar apart, doesn't that cause your elbows to flare out?

Also, is there a better camera angle for bench press videos that would make it easier to assess what I am doing?


Tucking your elbows that hard in a raw bench press is asinine and probably hampering your ability to improve.


To your first point, this wont't necessarily be the case since you're trying to pull the bar apart using your lats/rear delts alone, which doesn't require a change in arm attitude. Try to imagine a band pull-apart at mid-torso level: flaring your elbows to do this is actually counterproductive.

For the second point: I'd just say to try getting closer to the bench with your camera if you can and film on a horizontal plane at about the same level as the bench itself.


Aside from what has been said, it does look like you are bringing the bar a bit low on your chest. Also, are you stuck on your full ROM bench or on this lift in particular? Any ME movement you do should be something that has carryover to the main three lifts, don't just do board presses because you have seen it in the program, pick exercises that you know will make your bench stronger where you are lacking. Is this particular exercise improving you full ROM bench?


Appreciate all the feedback. At this point, I am fairly convinced I have been going to extreme on the "tuck your elbows" cue, which has led to:

  1. Bar touching my chest too low.
  2. Hands way outside of my elbows at the bottom. Left Hand-Elbow-Body-Elbow-Hand-Right Hand forms a W.

BacktotheBar, I have been seeing improvements in other ME exercises. The biggest jump has been in close-grip bench. This makes sense though, as very tucked elbows are natural in this lift and the "W" doesn't really occur since my hands are closer. I haven't tried just plain old benching in awhile though.

Kgildner, thanks for explaining what I should feel when I "pull the bar apart." Very different sensation than how I was doing it before, but it definitely helps keep the back tight without over-tucking the elbows.

Molikeye, I really like the "hands up" move for setting the upper back. Much easier to maintain a hard arch in my upper back.

Heavytriple, I agree that I the elbows were too tucked.

I"ll post some new videos on Monday after ME day. For the ME lift, should I just do flat bench this time to work on form?


If you have no meet coming up it doesn't hurt to do a regular bench session to reset your dynamic days every 8-10 weeks or so. If you do have a meet maybe just show your form on DE day where you can get away with a semi heavy 85-90% single after your DE is done.


Watch the So You Think You Can Bench series. It's pretty much spot on with the good advice you get above, but seeing a video demonstration really helps for most people.

On another note, I think Westside training is great, but one area where it's not so great is for perfecting form and technique with heavier weights. The dynamic days are great for practicing your form/technique and engraining proper motor patterns, but it requires another level of skill to maintain strong technique as the intensity gets very high. The variations are just that -- variations that are a similar but different movement then the bench at the end of the day. I'd personally do a regular bench press on ME day once every 3-4 weeks. At the end of the day the BP is still different from your other variations, so you will still get a lot of the same benefits of rotating nothing but variations but also get the added bonus of training your form/technique at higher weights.


It's hard to critique form on a 100% lift, or more in your case. Vid 2-3 reps at 80% so guys can see what your form looks like before it breaks down. I get noithing from this vid, other than you struggling under to heavy a load, at least you didn't lift your ass off the bench. I wouldn't tyouch 275 again for atleast 8 weeks, your playing with injury, and gaining nothing. Here's som,e advice from what I can see, spend some time at 230-240 doing 6-10 tripples. Work opn your strength, and form there, possible send vid. Good luck.

Stop tucking your elbows, stop stuffing shit in your shirt, and start eatting !


For someone just starting and lifting raw, it would probably be best to go with 70-80% without any accommodating resistance. Your reps will still be solid and have a lot of snap, but it's enough load to actually train your form with weight. If you want more true speed work, just do some plyos before that.


It's my preferred way of doing it for lifting raw as well, for a change once in a while I might go 60-70% and add about 10% in chains, and I may drop a rep for 80% but keep the same set scheme. Seems to keep work well. I never gain much with accommodating resistance lifting raw. Once in a while I throw in a wide gap between bar weight and resistance (40-50%), but usually on an ME movement and very rarely.


Bands only served to screw up my bar path. I would also recommend against them.


I personally don't think there should ever be a time you aren't doing your normal grip with moderately heavy weights. It's a skill, so I don't see the value in doing other movements that aren't actually improving your skill in the bench.


I can tell ya this.
1. Perfecting a tight...very tight setup that you use every single set is where it starts. Pinching your shoulder blades together and get as tight w. Your arch as possible along with locking your legs in tightly for the most leg drive.

  1. Time spent using this setup will build a groove. An exact path the bar follows up and down eaCh and every rep. Just keep progressively working these two. You'll eventually notice on rep out or max sets when you start to fall out of this groove while struggling. These sets make you recognize that a. Youve built a groove and now can feel the difference. B. Depending where you struggle and how ,can now start to work on that particular weakness.

  2. Now your more ready to move on to some pause benches, speedwork, closegrip benches ect.....too many people try doing all these too early on instead of building a perfect setup and groove 1st.


Alright gentlemen. Here's 225x3. Apologies for the snail's pace setup, but it's still an epic journey trying to end up with something approximating correct.

Main focus was on pulling the bar apart and not tucking my elbows so much.

For what it's worth, I put up 265 full ROM (didn't get 275 benching to a 3" pad last week in the video up top).

And I plan on doing 8 sets at 185 for DE day instead of the usual 150.

Do your worst...


decent form, now spend the next couple months getting that 225 up to 10 solid reps. Forget singles, and such, and build a base. Goodluck


Looks pretty solid, but the angle is hard to see certain things. Think you should see some better results upping you DE day percentage too. I would also stay away from doing any board press type movements, stick to more full ROM ME movements if you are lifting raw (close grip, reverse grip, 3-5 second pauses, inclines, can even just use varying grip widths somewhere in between your close and normal grip.) If your gym has a football bar that could work too.

Are you going to a 1RM every week? There should be phases were for a few weeks you are only working up to a 3-5 RM (accumulation,) then after that working up to a 1 RM (intensification.)