bench press during powerlifting comp

The bench press is easily the most popular exercise, with everyone from high school athletes to internet warriors asking, “how much you bench?”

Unfortunately, not many people know how to do the bench press properly, and it leads to a variety of shoulder injuries.

In this article, I’ll explain the proper way to bench press to keep you injury-free while still building strength!


Bench Press Basics

The basic movement is easy enough for most people to figure out the first time they see a bench with a bar situated above it. It’s a lot like a push up.

To start, you lie on a bench on your back. You take the weight off the rack, lower it to your chest, then push it back up till your arms are locked out. Then rack it.

The problem is, most people ignore the subtle details required for a good bench (or push up.)

Step-by-Step How to Bench Press

The bench press uses the same type of steps as in the squat and some of the same principles.

  • Get on bench.
  • Unrack bar.
  • Lower bar to chest.
  • Raise bar till arms are locked.
  • Rack bar.

To see each step in action, here’s a video:

Watch Ryan Celli. Here he is benching 617lb, making it look easy!

Setting Up for the Bench Press

Sit down on the bench and lie back to where your head is under the bar.

Grab the bar at a little wider than a shoulder width grip. (Exact grip width is personal preference.)

Be sure to wrap your thumb around the bar and get a good, solid grip on it. The bar should sit in the lower part of your palm, close to your wrists. If it’s too close to your fingers, the weight will bend your wrists back, which could lead to wrist injuries.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and arch your back, bringing your chest up. Your shoulder blades form the base you’re pushing off of.

Put your feet flat on the floor. Most lifters have their feet in front of them, but some place their feet as far back as possible. Some lifters keep their feet close to the bench while others take a wide stance. Whatever stance you choose, keep your weight on your heels.

Lowering and Raising the Bar

As usual, take a deep breath to start out.

Unrack the bar with arms straight and elbows locked, being careful not to lose your position. Having a spotter here really helps, since you don’t want to waste any energy pushing the bar up and out of the holder.


  • Keep your body tight and really squeeze the bar tight the whole time.
  • To engage your lats more for a stronger lift, imagine pulling the bar apart.
  • keep your elbows in; don’t flare them out to the sides (that’s asking for a shoulder injury.)

Lower the bar to your chest very slowly so you can pause the bar on your chest. (But don’t relax at all during this pause! Keep your body tight, ready to explode up.)

  • Your elbows should be under the bar with forearms perpendicular to the floor when the bar touches your chest.

Press the bar back up in a straight line with as much strength as you can muster.

  • Be sure to push off your heels and keep the arch in your back the whole time.
  • Keep your glutes on the bench, don’t raise them.

Lock out your arms at the top, then rack the bar.

You just completed a bench press.


Practice benching with proper form, and once you get that figured out, you can work on lifting heavier weights.

Be sure to read these guides, too:

Photo Credit: J Griffin

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