Bench Press Coaching Points

Bench Press Coaching Points

1 strong, functional body > individual muscles firing independently


To create an optimal body position so you can effectively create and transfer force into the barbell.

  • The ultimate goal is to create full-body tightness so you can function as a single unit.
    • The bench is not a chest isolation exercise
  • Roll the bar forward towards the end of the rack.   
    • Easier to unrack with/without a spotter
  • Firmly plant your heels into the ground with your shins roughly perpendicular to the floor.
    • This creates the most optimal body position to generate and transfer force
  • Focus on pinching your shoulder blades (scapulas) together as you lie back on the bench... See my Halloween-themed pic below
    • Feel as if you are driving your shoulder blades into the bench
    • You want to maintain this position/feeling throughout the lift 

  • If your shoulder and legs are optimally placed, there will be a slight arch in your back. 
    • This is a good, strong position to bench from 
    • Do not arch excessively or lie flat on the bench


To effectively generate torque between your body and the barbell without causing injury to the shoulder, elbow, wrist or chest.

  • Grip the bar roughly shoulder-width apart.
    • Too wide of a grip puts an excessive strain on your pectorals while also decreasing lat tightness
    • Too narrow a grip can place excess stress on the elbow joint and bicep
      • The length the bar has to travel increases with a closer grip
  • Grip the bar in the heel of your palm. Wrap your thumb around the barbell.
      • Do not grip the bar in your fingers with your wrist extended
        • Think of your wrist as being rolled back
    • Try to ‘break the bar’ in half as you grip it, this will create an immense amount of lat and upper back tightness.
      • The more tightness you have = the stronger the base you have to press from  
      • ‘Breaking the bar’ will also naturally put your elbows in an optimal position.
        • You do not want your elbows to flare or excessively internally rotate
        • Having your forearms perpendicular to the floor is a good coaching cue for this
    Unracking & Descent

    To maintain the tightness generated at the setup, establish a proper bar path and create a stretch-shortening cycle for the press on the way up.

    • As you unrack (with or without a spotter) do not lose your tightness and/or shoulder blade position.
      • Your shoulder blades should not roll forward to unrack the bar
    • Do not abruptly ‘drop’ the bar to your chest.
      • Maintain the tightness generated and feel as if you are pulling the bar down towards you
    • Because of biomechanics and human anatomy, it is impossible to keep the bar path absolutely straight.
      • You will have to lower it at a slight angle away from you with the bar touching at or just below your nipple line

      • Still continue to break the bar in half with your hands. 
        • This is cheating the movement. You are utilizing momentum instead of muscles.

      To complete the movement using your lats and chest for the initial drive off of the body then finishing the lockout with your triceps.

      • Drive your feet/heels through the floor while maintaining a tight midsection.
        • Remember you are transferring force generated from the floor into the bar.
      • Still continue to ‘break the bar’ apart as you press up, this will keep your form locked in.
        • Forearms perpendicular to the floor
      • Since the bar descent was slightly away from you, remember to press on the same path upward.
        • Press toward the rack
      • Do not let your butt come off of the bench or excessively arch your back.
      • Upon lockout, do not roll your shoulders forward to complete the lift.
        • You lose your tightness if performing more reps
        • You make the lift harder because you are extending the length the bar has to travel


    • What are some exercises to build my bench press?
    • You will need to develop your posterior shoulders (rotator cuff), lats, upper back, and triceps. Creating a strong back and posterior shoulder will provide a platform to press from and get the bar initially off your chest. Developing stronger triceps will be the main variable in developing a stronger lockout.

        • DB Rows, Cable/Band Face Pulls, Band Pull-Apart, Pullup Variations
        • Tricep Extensions, Dips, Pushups
    • How should I breathe while benching?
    • DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATHE DURING THE WHOLE LIFT! Inhale before you perform the rep and exhale as you complete the lockout.

    • Should I wrap my thumb around the bar?
    • Yes, do not use a suicide grip. It is called a suicide grip for a reason.

    • How should I program the bench press with sets, reps, etc…?
    • This is a very loaded question. While you do not need an extremely detailed program to bench, it is best to follow a basic template so overuse injuries do not occur. Benching excessively can cause shoulder and/or elbow pain so we recommend not performing the lift more than 2x/week, preferably in a different variation each time.

      We also recommend for every set of bench you perform, do 2 sets of a back/posterior shoulder exercise, this is crucial for injury prevention and developing a well-rounded physique. 

    • Are wrist wraps necessary?
    • They are not. The wraps themselves do not improve your strength output or directly prevent injury. Unless you are a competitive powerlifter pushing world-record weight routinely, adequate technique prevents the majority of injuries. If you are trying to break a PR, go for it. It won't hurt the cause.

    • Is the same bench technique applied when using different barbells such as a Swiss, Bamboo or Fat bar?
    • Yes, relatively, the same technique applies across all barbell types. There will be some intricate differences as it relates to hand positioning, bar path or tempo of the lift, but the setup and execution of the lift are the same. 

    • What about the use of bands or chains on the bench press?
    • Bands and chains are typically reserved for more advanced lifters using them with the specific intent of advancing their strength for sport. They are not to be used without proper knowledge of how to apply them within training or physically set them up correctly.

      A lot of variables must be considered when using these implements such as the additional weight/tension provided at different points of the lift, bar path/speed, and a host of other coaching points. However, bands can be used as a teaching tool to teach proper bar path and control because it provides optimal tension without the risk of serious injury. If you don’t know how to physically set them up correctly, then don’t mess with them.

    • Why do some people use a super-wide grip when the bench?
    • They utilize a wider grip because it decreases the length the bar has to travel. While this is optimal for lifting the most weight, it is not recommended for overall physical fitness. Remember the most weight does not correlate to a stronger, leaner physique.

      There is an increased risk for pectoral tears and elbow pain if a wide grip is utilized incorrectly over a long period of time.


      Trey Thornton is a NASM Certified Person Trainer. He spent 4 years interning with the University of TN Chattanooga Athletic Performance Dept. along with spending time at Harvard University Strength & Conditioning. He attained his Bachelor's in Exercise Science From UT Chattanooga and coached at D1 Sports Performance in Bowling Green, KY before joining the TF Staff.

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