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How to bench press for Stronglifts [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Apr 18, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Bnech press stronglifts

How to bench press for Stronglifts

All in all the most important bit is to take it step by step, know your goals and keep good form for Stronglifts. Good form includes a straight bar path, keeping your ass on the bench and pausing on the chest. I have included further tips in this post, which are especially of interest to people who want to build a strong bench press first and grow muscle second. 

Bench press calculator

How often do you bench press on the program

If you want more details on the entire program structure please refer to my extensive Stronglifts 5x5 review.  As the program is structured with three training days per week alternating between A and B, whereas workout A includes one bench press session covering 5 sets per 5 repetitions you will

Bench press between 1 - 2 times a week including 25 - 50 repetitions

This assumes that you will hit all of your repetitions per session. This assumption is relatively save to make for the beginning of the program in whicn it will be a lot easier to hit all repetitions on all sets. Sucessively this will get arder as you mature as a lifter and you might ave weeks where you only hit 20 - 40 repetitions.

If you do less than 15 repetitions of bench pressing I would consider a deload and the Stronglifts 5x5 App will also most likely tell you to do so at this stage, as you have now entered 5x3 territory which is suitable for advanced lifters when you have gotten everything out of 5x5.

How to warm up 

You have a choice of either following your own warm up routine or purchasing the add on in the 5x5 app for warm ups. I would always recommend some dynamic stretching before and static stretching after your session. 

The general dynamic stretching can be done before the entire sessions starts. I like to work with the De Franco Agile 8 warm up in addition to working your shoulders with a broom stick. Without the broom stick work I find the De Franco to fall a bit short, especially on a bench day. 

Specifically for your bench press repetitions use the guidance from the app starting from an empty bar working with 20kg, 40 kg, 50 kg, 80kg and 100kg warm ups, depending on where your at in your progression. I encourage you, even if you have a monster bench, to start your warm ups from an empty bar to "brush of the rust" for the specific bench press movement pattern, before putting on load. 

The warm up should be conducted as if you were doing your hardest set. Stay fully focused, rest the bar on your chest (more on that later) and drive it out with full force in a controlled way. Lifting light weight like heavy weights will lead to lifting heavy weights like light weights.

Use full range of movement

Full range of motion for the bench press means that you bring both of your arms to full lockout at the elbow and from there lower the barbell fully onto your chest. From the chest you take the same path upwards as you did downwards to end with fully locked out elbows at the highest point.

The barpath for this should be as straight as possible while using your natural leverages in the best way. This covers two principles out of physics. First being that the more straight the bar travels up and down, the less inches it has to travel overall and therefore less force is needed to be applied. This means you will bench more at same strength level.

Second principle is the one of leverages which varies from lifter to lifter due to how long their arms are in proportion to their upper body. A perfectly straight line might not be physically possibe or even not adviseable depending on personal physique. Even though straight bar path is ideal you will find out with experience which is the perfect balance between the two for you personally.

To keep it simple as a beginner as your upper body will not be overdeveloped to get in the way of a straight bar path, keep it straight unless medical círcumstances do not allow for it.

Using full range of motion will help you to activate the most muscles posssible for the bench press and to develop a more rounded physique. Half repetitions are most likely to develop a less orunded physique, less strength and expose you to higher risk of injury due to overuse of one particular muscle group which you isolate.

Touch and go bench press

A touch and go bench press means that you use the momentum that the bar develops on the way down to drive it back up again by only touching your chest minimally before intiating the upward push. This is the type of bench press I most commonly have seen in gyms that I have been to. 

Better form and more bang your buck especially to develop muscle in the lower chest tissue is to pause the bench press. This is one of the things I would personally do differently If i could go back in time.

Paused bench press

The paused bench press is the big borther of the bench press you most commonly see. Here you do everything in the same way, except that you let the bar rest on your chest fully so that it loses momentum at the lowest point.

This forces you to develop more strength out of your chest as you do not cheat by making use of physics to your advanatge. The paused bench press can be enhanced and made more challenging if you have a spotter. The spotter can then give you a command to press which gets you more bang for the buck for training your nervous system and your muscles and how they interact. For powerlifters that would also closer mirror competition standards. 

Keep your ass on the bench

A mistake that I made too. When you start out with the bench press you will most likely want to bring your lower end up from the bench to activate the glutes in the lift. The hardcore version of avoiding this is to strap your legs stretched out to the bench, if you have one that is long enough to allow for that.

Generally keep your ass on the bench to make it up the chest and not your entire body. The less arch you have and the less grounded your feet are, the more the bench press will become a chest exercise. If you are really strict and follow 5x5 by the book then if your lower half leaves the bench the repetition is not counted and therefore no full set awarded.

Building an arch on the bench press

This one is up to you and only recommended if you have the flexibility. By building an arch on the bench you can get similar effects as with getting your lower parts of the bench while still adhering to powerlifting rules. I personally learnt this technique and find it to be fun now. However you will also get results if you do not bench with an arch. In fact I would say, if your main goal is to build extra muscle and not to gain strength mainly you might be even better off with a paused bench press with your legs off to the ground. Comments appreacites on this point, as I did not compare and try myself over a longer period of time.

Pulling the bar into you with your pinkies

This is also a queue as with the arch which is a nice to have, but not a must have depending your training style. First get your bearings with barbell and get used to moving it up and down. Once you have "greased" that movement get into working your grip with white knuckling and the pinky.

Pulling the bar into with your pinkies means to apply pressure to the barbell as if you wanted to bend it. This will give you a stringer grip and activate your triceps more during the lift.

White knuckling

White knuckling can be apllied not just to the bench press, but to any lift including a abrbell or dumbbell. This means that you wrap your fingers around the bar and squeeze it until your knuckles turn white. Combined with the afore mentioned queue you actively work on developing a stringer grip and therefore a stringer bench press.

Conclusion

Stronglifts 5x5 is a program for beginners and tread it as such. Start with an empty bar for the bench press and get used to the movement. If your aim is maximum strength development try to incorporate all of the tips mentioned in this post bit by bit. I would not try to learn all of these additions like the arch at once, because this might be much to adapt to. 

If you are leaning more towards muscle development in the chest and strength is only an afterthought for you, keep your legs off the ground and do paused bench presses.

I am now at a 140kg bench press at 82kg bodyweight and I hope these tips will help you to achieve the same and beyond.

If there are any questions please leave a comment below.

Further reading on Stronglifts

Further reading on the bench press

Topics: Stronglifts 5x5, Bench Press