Five Common Bench Press Mistakes

Nicholas J. Perri MA, NASM-PES

First of all, I am not a huge fan of the traditional bench press. Sure…how much you can bench press has long been the standard for determining how strong you are and is still used today in some sports and even some careers as a criterion for making the team or getting the job. But exercise science has come a long way and there are other ways to strengthen your chest that allow for a proper path of motion at the appropriate joints and a holistic approach to strength training, in general. However, if you can’t let go of the bench press, you might as well make sure you are doing it correctly.

The following tips are mostly in response to a recent Men’s Health article titled Rookie Mistakes: The Bench Press, that actually gives you a blue print for how to perform the bench press almost entirely wrong.

1. Have a good start. Make sure your shoulder blades are depressed and retracted, almost creating a little space between your upper middle back and the bench. Your abdominals should be engaged and back flat into the bench or slightly off (as long as you do not increase the space between your back and the bench during your lift). I prefer to keep my back flat to the bench because the bench gives me a good reference point as to where my back is at all times. Keep your feet light! During a dumbbell chest press, I will usually keep my feet of the ground entirely, ensuring that I am not using the floor as leverage to lift the weight. How many times have we seen the guy who has his back arched so severely you think he’s going to snap in half or his hips completely off the bench? It’s a chest press. Use your chest!

2. Get a grip. Make sure your grip isn’t too wide or too narrow. How do you determine this? When you are at the bottom of your range of motion, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle. Any more or any less of an angle isn’t good. In addition, Make sure you keep your grip on the lighter side. Do not squeeze the bar. That is wasted energy. My wrists are neutral or as close to neutral as possible and the bar is resting firmly in the heel of my palm.

3. Press over your chest! If the bar is over your neck or drifting back over your head, you are NOT performing the exercise correctly. Your elbows should be slightly in towards your body and directly under your wrists while pressing the bar over your chest. If the bar and your hands are in alignment with your nipples, you are performing the exercise correctly.

4. Don’t use the floor! This is a chest press, not a leg press! Keep your feet light. That’s all I’m saying about this one.

5. Go slow. Lower and raise the bar slowly with smooth transitions. The exercise will be more effective and less likely to cause injury or decapitation.


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