The Ultimate Bench Press Setup

Your setup determines your execution. This statement is true for all barbell lifts, but it is especially true for the bench press. Luckily, I’ve created a 3-phase process for an effective setup and strong bench press.

Follow the 3-phase process below if you want to become a bench pressing machine.

Phase 1: Set your body

To optimally set your scapula, lay on the bench and perform a bridge so your hips are in the air. Bridging places you in the best position to fully retract and depress your shoulders, which creates a strong foundation to press from.

While maintaining this upper back tension, set your feet so they are firmly on the ground. Foot width is individual and varies from person to person, but I prefer to have feet wide with toes slightly turned out and knees pushed out, as this provides a wide base of support and activates the hips.

At this point, your shoulder-blades are squeezed back and down, your feet are anchored on the floor, and your hips are still in the air, with glutes fully contracted.

Now this is a crucial step: lower your hips gently until they are grazing the bench. A cue I give my athletes is to imagine the bench is a weight scale. When you lower your hips on the bench, the scale should still read zero.

By grazing your hips on the bench, all your weight is on your upper back and your feet. This gives you the best position to utilize leg drive and press heavy weight safely.

This position also creates a natural arch in the lower back, which is perfectly okay while you’re benching! In fact, a slight arch in the lower back is optimal for upper back tightness and pressing mechanics.

At this point, all of your weight is on your upper back and feet, with your hips grazing the bench. Your shoulders are squeezed back and down, with your core and glutes engaged.

Phase 2: Un-rack the barbell

Now that your body is set, you need to properly un-rack the barbell. This step is very important because incorrectly un-racking the barbell causes loss of body tension created in phase 1, resulting in a weak bench press.

The incorrect way to un-rack the barbell is rolling the shoulders forward into protraction. If you allow your shoulders to roll forward as you un-rack the barbell, you will lose your upper back tightness!

Instead, perform the following to correctly un-rack the barbell:

  • Extend the triceps to lift the barbell, and
  • ‘Pull’ the barbell into the starting position

Using your triceps, rather than your shoulders, to un-rack the barbell ensures you maintain retracted and depressed shoulder-blades. Once unracked, ‘pull’ the barbell into the starting lockout position as if performing a straight arm lat pulldown. This engages your lats, which creates more body tension and a stronger base for a powerful press.

Bonus Tip: Have the barbell set at an appropriate height on the rack. If the barbell is too high, it will be difficult to press the barbell off the rack without rolling the shoulders forward. Therefore, the height needs to be set so that you can extend the triceps to lift the barbell while maintaining the desired upper back tightness.

Phase 3: Press with power

Now that you’ve successfully set your body and un-racked the barbell, the last (and easiest) step is to bench press the weight!

As you lower the barbell slowly under control, perform the following:

  • ‘Bend the bar’ into an upside down ‘U’
  • Begin to drive your feet into the ground and away from your body without letting your hips rise

Obviously, the bar won’t actually bend. However, by having the intent to bend the bar, your elbows tuck in a 30 to 45 degree angle from your torso, which is optimal for pressing.

Driving your feet down and away, as if pushing a rug out in front of you, activates your quads and preps them for leg drive.

Lower until the barbell gently touches the base of your chest. Then explode up by fully driving your feet down and forward without allowing your hips to rise. This fully activates your quads, and from here the force generates from your legs, up through your core, and through your arms into the bar. Mastering leg drive allows you to press massive weight, so I highly recommend you take time to practice this step.

As you press up, you may allow the elbows to slightly flare out. Essentially, you want to reverse the elbow angle you created when bending the bar on the way down.

Bonus tip: If you have a hard time maintaining upper back tightness as you press the barbell, use this cue: press your body into the bench, rather than pressing the barbell up. Athletes who utilize this cue find it easier to maintain upper back tightness as they press the barbell off their chests.

Conclusion:

If you correctly perform this 3-phase process, your bench press will skyrocket.

Although I’ve included the important steps needed for an effective bench press, the fastest path to learning your best technique is to work with a professional with years of experience who will teach, motivate, and keep you accountable.

If you want to take your bench press to the next level and unlock your strength potential, book a free intro with me today!

Bonus Video:

Click here to watch my video tutorial of the bench press!