Sep 1, 2016
Bench Press Basics
Rich Zawack

The study of the structure and function of the human body is very important in terms of the development of the athlete. If you want an athlete to play well, they have to take advantage of the body’s mechanical structure.

The body is a whole series of levers but there are two primary places where the body bends. One is at the hips and the other is at the shoulders.

In an earlier article we discussed the hips, sitting, and the squat. These body positions are crucial to athletic success. In order to jump, run, lift, and break, you need good mechanical positions at the hips.

The upper body also requires good mechanical positioning. The shoulders are the second major area that needs to be positioned and used properly.

The exercise that everyone uses to develop the shoulder region and the upper body is the bench press. It is the one everyone prioritizes.

Everyone that lifts wants a big chest and arms. It is interesting that people often only work on the things that they can see in the mirror.

For the athlete, the chest and arms are important but legs should be the highest priority. We play most games with our core, hips, and legs.

Anyway, the second priority is the shoulder/chest region and the bench press. The bench press is something everyone thinks they can do without instruction. They ignore the basic mechanics.

The shoulder, specifically the rotor cuff, requires proper positioning and use. The shoulder is probably the weakest of all the joints. Tears and tendonitis are very common problems. The joint is not particularly strong, especially when it is out of position.

Instruction with respect to the bench press is important.

Bench pressing requires the person to lie flat on their back, with their head on the bench and feet on the floor. It sounds simple but this five point position — head, shoulders and felt solidly planted — makes it possible to push through the shoulder.

The press begins with the removal of the bar from the rack. Hand placement should be shoulder width.

The next point is key. The bar should be lowered, elbows in. This puts maximal stress on the triceps and lats. It reduces stress on the muscles that make up the rotor cuff.

The lift should emphasize the elbows and bar placement on the lower chest, just below the nipples.

This position may seem low on the chest but it puts far less pressure on the rotor cuff and the pecs, where most injuries occur.

This is the position from which an offensive lineman pushes.

It is the safest position to press from.

The lats and triceps are the muscles used to push. The pecs look great but they won’t help you shed an opposing player.

Finally, the back should have a slight arch or curve in it. That curve improves the mechanical position of the triceps and lats.

Upper body strength is needed to play successfully. You just need to learn how to effectively use your chest and shoulder to create optimum power without getting hurt.

Don’t just go and bench. Set up the lift and do it right.

Rich Zawack, BS, MA, CSCS-D, has served as president of Athletic Development Corporation for the last 10 years. Prior to that he was a high school teacher and coach for 36 years at Strongsville (Ohio) High School. He has coached 17 state champions, one NCAA champion, 18 NFL football players, and one NBA basketball player.

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