Benching Style Argument

Hey Paul, I have a question regarding the bench press.

I have three friends (all have been working out regularly for about 3-ish years or so). One is mainly focused on strength and wants to compete in powerlifting someday. One is mainly focused on size and aesthetics, like a bodybuilder that doesn’t want to compete. And the final one is just someone who wants a little of both and wants to be happy.

They always argue about how to bench properly. It should be said that they have no shoulder injuries

The strength-focused one says that you should pack your shoulders/scapulas back and hold them there to provide stability and limit the range of motion, arch your back as much as possible, tuck your elbows as much as possible, “bend the bar”, etc to lift more weight, and says that getting stronger will get you bigger regardless of how you do it, so doing it in a way that lifts more weight will be better for both

The size/aesthetics-oriented one says that you should do the opposite (no back arch, arms flared as much as possible, squeeze the bar inward, don’t use leg drive, etc) and says that getting big is done by training like it.

The middle-ground one says that you should have a slight arch in your back, arms at a 45-60° angle, and use leg drive, and says that you can and should build both at the same time.

We all have huge respect for you, and we all agreed that since you e done both strength and size work and are incredibly knowledgeable for all things lifting, that what you say is probably the beat information we can get.

So what do you think? Is one benching style better for strength and another’s for hypertrophy, or is there one style that is best for safety, strength, and size? And if it’s the first one, what are they each, if you have time?

Thank you so much for the reply, have a great day

(Btw, I know I posted something regarding benching a while ago, but I thought I should ask you since you’re so experienced with both of these categories)

You can tell them that they are all correct to some degree.

For strength - yes - you want to get into deep retraction, arch, and get leg drive. This is all in the name of maximal strength.


If you’re using the bench press to try and work the sternal pecs that is NOT how you want to bench.

You don’t want to be flat backed, but you do want to create tension in the antagonists with the mid-traps and rhomboids to create stability. However, when pressing to fully shorten the pecs and not create shoulder dysfunction you want the allow the shoulders to move forwards and around the ribcage in order to fully shorten the pecs. Not protraction. So don’t confuse the two.

As far as elbow path, if you allow the arms to be abducted at about 45 degrees then yes the pecs will get more lengthened. The reason for tucking in powerlifting is to create more tension throughout the back (the lats are internal rotators…weak internal rotators, but I digress). So it behooves you to create a tremendous amount of antagonist tension with this method, to shorten the bench stroke, and then to use leg press to help break inertia.

If you’re trying to actually build the pecs why would you use leg drive when you need to be initiating with the pecs? If you’re using leg drive to help break that resting inertia then the pecs aren’t doing that. And what you initiate with in a movement is what’s going to end up producing the most force. In the leg drive case, it’s momentum.

A slight arch is fine for the guy trying to build his pecs as it will naturally create more tension in the upperback which does improve stability which means more output for the pecs.

A very strong arch means a shorter bench stroke.

Hope that helps.

Thank you, that was exactly what I (and my friends) we’re looking for

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