7 Ways to Make the Bench Press Safer & More Effective

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

The bench press is as equally loved as it is hated. It’s a great size and strength building exercise, but at the same time, one that can wreak havoc on your shoulders, especially if you’re not 5’7″ and built like a brick shit house naturally.

If you’re an average injury prone, skinny-fat dude or just someone with long limbs and/or tiny joints you’ve gotta be smart about how you program it.

Unless someone is training for some sort of test I never prescribe a plain old, standard flat bench press. I like to add a few tweaks here and there to make it safer.

Here are seven of them:

1) Use Chains

Attaching heavy chains to the bar is an idea I got from Louie Simmons that’s based on improving acceleration and accommodating resistance. While chains are awesome for those reasons the biggest benefit of using them is deloading the bottom range of the lift where the shoulder stress is at it’s greatest.

If you put two or three chains on the bar plus the added weight of the plates you can tailor it to your specific needs so that it’s 50-100 pounds lighter in the bottom range. This alone can save your shoulders.

2) Use a Moderate to Close Grip

Wide grip bench presses to target the pecs more will rip your shoulders to shreds. A slightly wider than shoulder width grip is about out as far as you’d want to go. This allows you to tuck the elbows at a 45 degree angle to your side which will protect your shoulders.

3) Use a Reverse Band Set Up

This basically does the same things that chains do just in a different way. When you loop the bar through heavy strength bands then attach it to the top of the rack it deloads the weight at the bottom. With the right band set up you could have almost no weight on the bar in the bottom position and a few hundred pounds at the top.

Because your shoulder gets blown out at the bottom position, this set up allows a much safer performance of the exercise. Just be sure the bands are new and heavy duty. If they’re old and fraying you’re asking for a trip to the ER.

4) Use a Slight Incline

People may be getting tired of me saying this by now but a slight incline of 15-30 degrees makes a world of difference in pressing a bar. It’s safer and also targets the pecs more effectively. I learned this from Dorian Yates back in the early 90’s and have had it confirmed countless times since.

5) Use Boards

Powerlifters stack 2×4’s on their chests to work different ranges of the bench press. For the average guy not looking to out-bench Mel Hennesy in competition, this set up allows you to completely eliminate the bottom range, which would reduce the stress on the shoulder. A one, two or three board press are all viable options.

6) Do Handstand Holds First

Regular readers know I’m a huge fan of bodyweight training. Over the years we’ve found that by practicing handstands before doing any type of heavy pressing the shoulders feel a lot more stable and resistant to injury.

At then end of your warm up walk over to a wall, place your hands about a foot away from it, get into a sprint start stance with one leg bent under your chest and the other extended behind you, then kick up into a handstand. Hold it for anywhere between ten and sixty seconds. A few of those will get the stabilizer muscles activated and ready to push some big weights.

7) Use a Neutral or Angled Grip Bar

A straight bar places unnatural stress on the wrists, which then leads up to the elbows and then the shoulders. If you have the option you should always press with a bar that has a neutral or angled grip such as The Renegade Bar. This will keep you a lot healthier a lot longer.

Those are just a few of the numerous ways I’ve discovered over the years to make the bench press safer and more effective.

You Can’t Get Big if You’re Constantly Getting Hurt

Recently I’ve been conducting surveys through social media and different avenues and have found that people are always getting beat up and battling injury. Not that this is surprising to anyone but I figured it was worth noting.

Injury is one of the main things that holds people back from reaching their goals. They don’t know how to train without getting hurt and compiling a host of little nagging aches and pains.

That’s why one of the key components of my training programs is the avoidance, or at least minimization of injuries while you’re in the process of getting jacked.


Leave a Reply

24 Responses to 7 Ways to Make the Bench Press Safer & More Effective

  1. Nferina October 1, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Nice PJ reference.

  2. Brad October 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Hey Jason, great post as always. I do believe that Dorian had talked about doing bench pressing with a slight decline instead of incline. At least that is what I had read.

  3. Brian Pauley October 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I love my Renegade Bar.  I use it for standing shoulder presses, low incline bench presses, and curls.  I have small joints and so my wrists thank you for inventing it, Jay.

  4. James October 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Renegade diet question here: I just got the Renegade Diet Book and I’m loving not having to eat breakfast.

    I’m vegetarian, so as you note, I am limited to fish, soy, and eggs. Do you recommend soy? I understand it is an inferior protein source. Furthermore, how many eggs can I eat a day? (I love em!)

    • James October 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

      Btw–a sample vegetarian plan, or some suggested reading, would be much appreciated!

    • Jason Ferruggia October 2, 2012 at 9:04 am #

       If you eat eggs you can have whey. No soy, just whey. And let’s try to stick with the topic at hand otherwise we’ll have utter chaos around here

  5. 49erBill October 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Fellas, Google Renegade Bar. You might want to consider a new name. Also, the parallel grip on that thing looks real unstable. The dude doing 300×3 is shaking like Michael Fox. Honestly doesn’t look all that safe.

    • Jason Ferruggia October 3, 2012 at 5:49 am #

       That was his first time using it. That goes away within two weeks.

  6. Rsschaefer09 October 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    I bought the Renegade Diet when it first became available, and was I would receive a hard copy when it became avaliable.  I can no longer access my download because it says the link has expired.   Do you have hard copies yet?

    • Jason Ferruggia October 9, 2012 at 9:37 am #

       Please contact customer service and they’ll take care of you. Sorry about that.

  7. Marcello Bernacchia October 6, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Hi, Coach Ferruggia. My name is Marcello.
    I understand that the article is about bench press, but I’d like to know if the same reduced joint stress you get with bands, chains or boards can be achieved by performing floor press. Thanks.

  8. Joe Meglio October 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Great article Jay. Since I tore my pec a few months back, I have re evaluated the bench press and it has changed my perspective on it. I especially like in the post how you talk about not being able to train if your hurt. I can attest to that

    • Jason Ferruggia October 9, 2012 at 9:36 am #

       Thanks Joe. Hope your recovery is going well. Why people who will never powerlift are so hung up on the bench is beyond me.

  9. Gasper Groselj October 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    #8 fat gripz? They help me when pushing heavy to keep my shoulder pain free. Being 6″2 isn’t a built for a bench press champion, so trying to keep my shoulders healthy. Love the blog btw

    • Jason Ferruggia October 9, 2012 at 9:37 am #

       Thanks Gasper. I’d only use Fat Gripz on angled or neutral grip bars. Too risky on a straight bar. But if you have a fat straight bar definitely use that.

  10. Karim Kinch October 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    I totally wrecked my shoulders with wide grip bench presses in the early days.  Now I seldom  go wider than shoulder width. I haven’t tried chains yet but the theory makes sense.

  11. mikey October 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Hi Jason! I’m planning to follow your Muscle Gaining Secrets Book workouts before, do you still suggest for folk to follow that book? Thanks and More Power!

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