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Benching with a Wider Grip = Less Elbow Flare?

Based on observation it seems that lighter lifters can learn to arch their back and tighten their upper back from driving into the bench pretty easily. Utilizing the lats took longer to learn and even if it’s down the list, it makes a huge difference in terms of total body tightness and consistency with form using submaximal and maximal weight. It probably doesn’t matter how people prioritize lat vs upper back, as long as they engage both to maximize bench potential. It’s like asking whether back or ab tightness is more important for squat and deadlift.

[quote]lift206 wrote:
Based on observation it seems that lighter lifters can learn to arch their back and tighten their upper back from driving into the bench pretty easily. Utilizing the lats took longer to learn and even if it’s down the list, it makes a huge difference in terms of total body tightness and consistency with form using submaximal and maximal weight. It probably doesn’t matter how people prioritize lat vs upper back, as long as they engage both to maximize bench potential. It’s like asking whether back or ab tightness is more important for squat and deadlift.[/quote]

I was under the impression that the upper back (in context to it’s participation in the bench) was more just about having a stable base to press from. I don’t see how the upper back increases one’s pressing ability aside from the fact that it would put someone in a better pressing position.

please, enlighten me if I’m wrong, I’m here to learn

I have found with a narrower grip my elbows do funny things flare and shake. When I go ring finger on the rings I feel more powerful can lift more and my shoulders feel far better

[quote]bmcinnis96 wrote:
I was under the impression that the upper back (in context to it’s participation in the bench) was more just about having a stable base to press from. I don’t see how the upper back increases one’s pressing ability aside from the fact that it would put someone in a better pressing position.

please, enlighten me if I’m wrong, I’m here to learn [/quote]

Yeah you’re right, I might not have used the perfect analogy since the upper back remains static and the lats perform both static and dynamic actions during the lift. The upper back is important because it provides the foundation to lift heavy and allows you to use leg drive. Your feet, glutes and upper back should feel rigid throughout the lift. If your upper back can’t handle the heavy load, it makes completing the lift very difficult. Similar to core strength in the squat and deadlift where you’re less likely to complete the lift if your back or abs give out. It seems that the lats aren’t considered as part of the foundation, hence why it is sometimes prioritized lower. I would argue that it provides stability to hold the weight during the pause portion of the lift in addition to Ecchastang mentioning it provides the initial lift at the bottom. If you ask the majority of elite benchers which is important to lift big, they’ll tell you both (just like asking whether back or ab strength is important in the squat and deadlift). I’m not close to lifting a heavy bench yet but I feel I’m finally on the right path since getting technique down has allowed for consistent progress.

[quote]bmcinnis96 wrote:
I was under the impression that the upper back (in context to it’s participation in the bench) was more just about having a stable base to press from. I don’t see how the upper back increases one’s pressing ability aside from the fact that it would put someone in a better pressing position.

please, enlighten me if I’m wrong, I’m here to learn [/quote]

Yeah you’re right, I might not have used the perfect analogy since the upper back remains static and the lats perform both static and dynamic actions during the lift. The upper back is important because it provides the foundation to lift heavy and allows you to use leg drive. Your feet, glutes and upper back should feel rigid throughout the lift. If your upper back can’t handle the heavy load, it makes completing the lift very difficult. Similar to core strength in the squat and deadlift where you’re less likely to complete the lift if your back or abs give out. It seems that the lats aren’t considered as part of the foundation, hence why it is sometimes prioritized lower. I would argue that it provides stability to hold the weight during the pause portion of the lift in addition to Ecchastang mentioning it provides the initial lift at the bottom. If you ask the majority of elite benchers which is important to lift big, they’ll tell you both (just like asking whether back or ab strength is important in the squat and deadlift). I’m not close to lifting a heavy bench yet but I feel I’m finally on the right path since getting technique down (staying tight throughout the lift and controlling bar position) has allowed for consistent progress.

Thanks for clarifying buddy. I remember hearing either wendler or another elite level lifting say the same thing as you in regards to how both were equally important

Yeah we always hear the top lifters saying full body tightness is important but it took so long for me to understand it and utilize it correctly. We always see articles referring to specific muscle groups such as chest, triceps, back, abs, glutes, hams, quads, etc. and because of that we sometimes focus on only a few areas, which is useful if that area is neglected.

But really, everything is important and some people may emphasize certain groups more than others depending on the individual body type but we still have to remember that every muscle group is important and has to be used to its full capability when lifting huge numbers. Instead of focusing on the differences among elite lifters in different weight classes, body types, etc., I try to find the similarities across all groups and incorporate that into my training routine/philosophy.

[quote]bmcinnis96 wrote:

[quote]lift206 wrote:
Based on observation it seems that lighter lifters can learn to arch their back and tighten their upper back from driving into the bench pretty easily. Utilizing the lats took longer to learn and even if it’s down the list, it makes a huge difference in terms of total body tightness and consistency with form using submaximal and maximal weight. It probably doesn’t matter how people prioritize lat vs upper back, as long as they engage both to maximize bench potential. It’s like asking whether back or ab tightness is more important for squat and deadlift.[/quote]

I was under the impression that the upper back (in context to it’s participation in the bench) was more just about having a stable base to press from. I don’t see how the upper back increases one’s pressing ability aside from the fact that it would put someone in a better pressing position.

please, enlighten me if I’m wrong, I’m here to learn [/quote]

This question is exactly why I felt the need to make my initial post.

The lats do not move the bar upward, so what you’re asking could be said for the lats just as easily. And the upper back attaches to the scapula just as the lat does, so proper movement of the scapula requires the lat, traps, rotator cuff, rhomboids, etc to be firing correctly.

The idea of the lat as a spring is just silly. If you don’t believe me, go lower a bar to your chest and then try to move it without actually pressing the bar. Just “flex your lats” and “use them as a spring” and see what happens. The bar will remain just as motionless and unbudged as if you were doing nothing at all because the bar’s upward movement comes from force input of the pecs, shoulders and triceps primarily. The tightness you feel at the bottom is from the tissue of the above muscles being stretched and ready to fire into contraction.

The lats can act as a convenient stopping point in that scenario, but they are not contributing to upward movement.

Most of what people need of the lats is proper scapular mobility, which can be accomplished through tissue work and stretching. Then the scapula will glide along the ribcage properly, in which the lats certainly play a role.

None of this is saying don’t train the back with priority, either. I train it 6x weekly in some form or fashion, I’m just not overstating what they do in certain movements.

Would anyone in here argue that the pecs are integrally important to a deadlift? I would argue that’s the same thing.

Lol, I could go on an entirely different rant about the abs and squatting. The abs act in concert with the obliques and transverse abdominus to contract isometrically. Training spinal flexion is useless for a squat or deadlift when compared to isometric training. Want to stop failing at the low back in a squat? Do Beltless squats, not banded crunches.

HeavyTriple:

I have been just as adamant as you about people not over prioritizing the lats, but there are a few corrections that need to be made. The lats do not attach to the scapula, and don’t play a role in scapular movement any more than the ribs do, as it moves between the two…lats and ribs. In a normal width grip or wide grip, the lats only help tuck the elbows in the bottom portion of the lift. But in a close grip, when the arms are pretty much parallel to the side of the body, the lats, through the action of adduction (bringing the humerus to the body) will help with the bottom portion of the lift, as the humerus starts behind the midline, and for the first couple inches get the assistance. For most powerlifters, they are not narrow enough to take advantage of that. Next time you are in the gym, grab the bar at shoulder width and lower it to just above your chest, and just tighten the lats and you will be able to hold the bar off your chest (depending how much weight is on there).

The problem comes in when people try to focus on the lats to get stronger in the bench…it just doesn’t work. The chest, delts, and triceps are the prime movers.

HeavyTriple, we’re on the same page with how the abs come into play for the squat and deadlift because whenever I refer to ab work, I’m thinking of the isometric contraction of the obliques and transverse abdominus. That’s why I mention doing paused squats and front squats to work the core in my past posts, not crunches.

The argument whether the lats contribute to the bench exists because people argue based on their own experience, which is valid. But you also have to consider the differences in technique. If I place my arm in front or behind my torso and flex my lats hard my elbows will return to my side, close to my lats. The lats can function by returning your elbow to the same plane as your torso. When I bench with an arch, my elbows move back behind my torso and stays there during the pause while my lats are stretched backwards. To initiate the press I have to squeeze my lats so that the muscle contracts to bring my elbows back in plane with my torso. That in effect moves the bar off my chest. So yes my lats do contribute to the upward movement. The chest and shoulders do work but also the lats because the lats bring the elbows back in plane with my torso when fully contracted. From then on the shoulders, chest and triceps take over. The variables that can influence amount of lat use seems to depend on upper back and chest thickness, degree of arch, amount of elbow tuck and anthropometry.

The main point that has to be considered is that some people use the lats as a stopping point (fully contracted) while others may move beyond that point and force the lats to become extended so that they can use the contraction to initiate the lift. Whether this is the most efficient bench technique is up for debate. I’m more concerned about my squat and deadlift so if my bench is continuing to go up using a non-optimal setup that allows me to be injury free, that’s fine.

Ecchastang and HeavyTriple, I agree with both of you. I emphasized the lats because I never properly used them in the past and thought the OP might have a problem utilizing them too. Once you learn to utilize the correct muscles and technique, you have to build all the muscles to hit big numbers, not just focus on the one thing that used to be a weakness. Now we’re finally on the same page lol.

Edit: In conclusion the lats are prioritized lower than upper back because its degree of use varies depending on grip width and amount of elbow tuck. So OP, experiment with what allows you to be strongest.

[quote]Ecchastang wrote:
HeavyTriple:

I have been just as adamant as you about people not over prioritizing the lats, but there are a few corrections that need to be made. The lats do not attach to the scapula, and don’t play a role in scapular movement any more than the ribs do, as it moves between the two…lats and ribs. In a normal width grip or wide grip, the lats only help tuck the elbows in the bottom portion of the lift. But in a close grip, when the arms are pretty much parallel to the side of the body, the lats, through the action of adduction (bringing the humerus to the body) will help with the bottom portion of the lift, as the humerus starts behind the midline, and for the first couple inches get the assistance. For most powerlifters, they are not narrow enough to take advantage of that. Next time you are in the gym, grab the bar at shoulder width and lower it to just above your chest, and just tighten the lats and you will be able to hold the bar off your chest (depending how much weight is on there).

The problem comes in when people try to focus on the lats to get stronger in the bench…it just doesn’t work. The chest, delts, and triceps are the prime movers. [/quote]

EAT SHIT AND DIE BRO I HATE YOU GAWWWW

jk, jk.

You’re right, I got into rant mode and stopped thinking about what I was typing. The point I was attempting to make was that scapular mechanics are the most important factor in downward bar path. And bad scapular mechanics lead to scapular winging and tightened pecs, shoulders, etc.

The lats attach to humerus, but they absolutely assist in depressing the scapula, rotating it down, and retracting it. This has to do with where the lats cross over the scapulae. So again, this is their main function in the bench in my opinion. That they don’t actually attach to the scapulae only serves to reinforce my point that muscles such as the traps are more important as bench stabilizers.

To bring this back full circle, the lats also internally rotate the humerus and thus contribute to elbow flare. So the lats help put you in a position to use the muscles that actually move the bar up.

The other scenarios you describe, as you pointed out, are not practically relevant to how anyone actually bench presses.

Lift, I’m not denying what you say. I’m arguing practical versus hypothetical significance. The amount the lats contribute in the scenario you describe doesn’t practically compare to the force contribution of the prime movers. It’s a drop in the ocean, so to speak.

I realize we’re arguing opinions here, but I just don’t see how that tiny potential contribution to upward movement is more important than its action as a stabilizer.

[quote]HeavyTriple wrote:
Lift, I’m not denying what you say. I’m arguing practical versus hypothetical significance. The amount the lats contribute in the scenario you describe doesn’t practically compare to the force contribution of the prime movers. It’s a drop in the ocean, so to speak.

I realize we’re arguing opinions here, but I just don’t see how that tiny potential contribution to upward movement is more important than its action as a stabilizer.[/quote]

Yes I agree 100% that the lats acting as a stabilizer is its most important function. I think I stated that in the beginning and then went off with what Ecchastang said about the spring because I noticed the same thing in my lift. Even if the lats only contributed 50 lbs to the initial lift it’s still something. But yes the main reason why I tuck my elbows so much in the first place is to get the benefit of stability and tightness in the upper body, in addition to digging the traps into the bench. If I use a wider grip, my elbow tuck and lat tightness isn’t always consistent which places more load on my pecs and I have gotten close to tearing my pecs from high volume work and lack of recovery.

So although the slightly closer grip places the pecs at a disadvantage it allows for reduced risk of injury while training at high volumes with consistent form. The higher volume has allowed consistent gains as well so there really isn’t any reason for me to move to the wider grip unless it’s a PR attempt. A max attempt is fine for my pecs, but just not the high volume work. I do flies for pec work. A wide grip was fine when I benched 1x per week but now I bench 3x per week.

[quote]HeavyTriple wrote:

[quote]Ecchastang wrote:
HeavyTriple:

I have been just as adamant as you about people not over prioritizing the lats, but there are a few corrections that need to be made. The lats do not attach to the scapula, and don’t play a role in scapular movement any more than the ribs do, as it moves between the two…lats and ribs. In a normal width grip or wide grip, the lats only help tuck the elbows in the bottom portion of the lift. But in a close grip, when the arms are pretty much parallel to the side of the body, the lats, through the action of adduction (bringing the humerus to the body) will help with the bottom portion of the lift, as the humerus starts behind the midline, and for the first couple inches get the assistance. For most powerlifters, they are not narrow enough to take advantage of that. Next time you are in the gym, grab the bar at shoulder width and lower it to just above your chest, and just tighten the lats and you will be able to hold the bar off your chest (depending how much weight is on there).

The problem comes in when people try to focus on the lats to get stronger in the bench…it just doesn’t work. The chest, delts, and triceps are the prime movers. [/quote]

EAT SHIT AND DIE BRO I HATE YOU GAWWWW

jk, jk.

You’re right, I got into rant mode and stopped thinking about what I was typing. The point I was attempting to make was that scapular mechanics are the most important factor in downward bar path. And bad scapular mechanics lead to scapular winging and tightened pecs, shoulders, etc.

The lats attach to humerus, but they absolutely assist in depressing the scapula, rotating it down, and retracting it. This has to do with where the lats cross over the scapulae. So again, this is their main function in the bench in my opinion. That they don’t actually attach to the scapulae only serves to reinforce my point that muscles such as the traps are more important as bench stabilizers.

To bring this back full circle, the lats also internally rotate the humerus and thus contribute to elbow flare. So the lats help put you in a position to use the muscles that actually move the bar up.

The other scenarios you describe, as you pointed out, are not practically relevant to how anyone actually bench presses.
[/quote]
Exactly!
especially the last line.

I don’t think my grip is even that narrow… pinkies on the rings. It is closer relative to when I used to have my pointing or middle fingers on the rings and that grip felt wide. My training partner benches with his grip a couple inches in from mine and uses less elbow tuck and arch but definitely gets tight. We both flare our elbows coming up.

We’re still making progress at the same rate so it’s just a matter of preference, similar to stance width on squat and deadlift. I think it was because HeavyTriple said lats aren’t that important and several arguments were made to support it. I tend to argue in support of static muscles because dynamic muscles get all the glory. IMO, static muscles contribute more to good technique.