Proper Bench Press Technique

The bench press is one of the most important upper-body exercises in your movement toolkit. Not only is it crucial for upper-body muscular development, but it's an exceptional strength builder. Many people think the bench press is just a chest exercise, but I'm here to tell you that your triceps, shoulders, back, and even your glutes are involved. It's a very complex movement that can be disastrous if you get it wrong. If you've been doing the bench press without being too concerned about how you're doing it, it might be time for you to take a step back and focus on improving your technique.

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Bench press technique and proper formBench press technique and proper form are important

Bench Press Proper Form

Here is how to bench press with proper form: lower the bar to your mid-chest. Press it back up until your elbows are locked. Proper bench press form starts lying on a bench with your feet on the floor.  Un-rack the bar with straight arms. Lower it to your mid-chest. Press it back up until you’ve locked your elbows. Keep your butt on the bench. The bench press is a full-body, compound exercise. It works your chest, shoulders, and triceps most. It’s the most effective exercise to gain upper-body strength and muscle because it’s the upper-body exercise you’ll lift the most weight on (more than Overhead Press). The bigger your bench, the bigger your chest.  To avoid shoulder pain, tuck your elbows 45-75° when you lower the bar. Don’t try to stretch your chest by flaring your elbows 90° out. You’ll impinge your shoulders if your upper arms are perpendicular to your torso at the bottom. Unlike the Squat or Deadlift, the bar doesn’t move in a vertical line when you Bench Press with proper form. It moves diagonally from your mid-chest over your shoulders. This is the safest way to bench press for your shoulders. It’s also the most effective way to bench press heavy.

How to Avoid Bench Press Injuries

Bad Bench Press form often results in shoulder pain and many injuries, so remember to keep these critical points in mind. Do not bench press bodybuilding-style with your elbows flared 90°, and make sure you do not lower the bar guillotine-style to your neck. You may get a more extensive chest stretch if your elbows are perpendicular to your torso at the bottom of the movement, but you will also impinge your shoulders. The top of your upper arm will squeeze your rotator cuff tendons against your AC joint, thus causing tissue inflammation and resultant shoulder pain. 

Proper Bench Press form is elbows about 45-75° in at the bottom. The exact angle depends on your build. But your elbows shouldn’t be perpendicular to your torso because that’s unsafe. However, your elbows should not touch your torso either because that’s ineffective. Lower the bar with your elbows in about 45-75° while keeping your forearms vertical from every angle. Videotape yourself when you bench press to check your elbows. Avoid bench Pressing in the smith machine because it forces a vertical bar path because the bar is attached to the rails.  The bar path is not vertical on the Bench Press, and the bar should not move in a vertical line over your shoulders because that impinges them.  To perform the bench press correctly, the bar must move diagonally from your shoulders to your mid-chest, and you need free weights to do this.

Bench Press Modifications

One quick and easy modification you can make to correct your bench press form and avoid shoulder impingement is to use an elastic loop band around the wrists while you bench press.  Using an elastic band looped around the wrists will help provide the tactile assistance needed to keep your elbows tucked in and the isometric resistance the loop band provides. At the same time, activate the lateral RTC muscles to help better stabilize the shoulder joint.

By: Justin Carmel, PT, DPT

Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute

If you are experiencing injuries from bench pressing or other activities, JOI can help you! To schedule an appointment with a JOI doctor, call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online at, or click the link below.

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