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.