By Sebastian Burns
When most people set up for the bench they usually don't think that what they are doing is the most important part of the lift. They are focused on the weight and maybe the excitement of the meet or training session. What they don't know is that the game is won or lost in the setup. I don't think that many local gym rats even think about it at all. Judging by most of what I have seen working in the gym business for 15 odd years most people just lay down and push the bar up in whatever way possible. This is fine if you are a flat back benchin gym rat, but when you are looking to do some damage to the state, national, or world record books you will need to pay more attention to your setup. I have personally seen lifters add 50 to 100lbs to their bench in one or two training sessions just by improving their setup. That's right, 50 to 100lbs!! Most lifters would say only a bench shirt could cause an increase like that. Well I will try to convey in writing the proper way to set up your bench press so you to can enjoy an increase like that.
Lets start with feet position your feet should be spread wide. A good rule of thumb here is to always spread your feet a little wider than you think they should be. If you keep that in your head over time you will be able to get them pretty wide if you are not flexible enough to do so in the beginning .Now lets look at foot placement. The way we will do this is to look at the foot in relation to the knee. The feet should be tucked behind your knee more towards your head and the angle of your leg from a side view should look like this (<). There is a few reasons for this foot placement the first being the ability to drive hard from your legs without your ass coming up off the bench. The second is stability. The wide stance will provide the base needed to steer heavy weight with a bench shirt on. The actual way you place your feet is also important. We have found that it is best to put the full force of your push onto the balls of your feet but at the same time pressing the heel to the floor. Pushing the heel to the floor can be used as a fine adjustment knob for getting weight to touch your chest with your shirt on. When you push your heel down this will cause your stomach to rise and will allow the bar to touch.
Now lets move beyond the feet to the hip joint. It is here that we create the angle of the upper leg (<) we are looking for to get the feet in the proper position. This is accomplished by flexing your gluteus as much as possible and rotating your crotch towards the bench (Balls to the bench if you will). If you follow all the steps up till here we have solved the problems of getting max stability with max leg drive without raising your ass off the bench. For most lifters this would seem impossible but with some time and a lot of effort you will get the position right. If your ass is still coming off the bench then your feet will have to go wider or farther back or both.
Next is the lower back, obviously this will determine most of your arch and you will need to really push yourself to get your arch up if you are not flexible enough to do so already. I cannot say enough how important it is that you try really hard to get better at arching it is almost the biggest piece of the shirt bench puzzle. There is a few ways I have seen over the years to try to help you arch, everything from placing various balls and boards under your back to crazy stretching exercises. My opinion here is that if you think it works then try it. I personally have never used anything except trying to arch higher and higher every single set and I have been told that my arch is one of the best save for a few girls who can just bend in half.
Now lets move to arching the upper back. Most people think that only the lower back arches but this is not so and this is very important if you want to get the most out of your shirt, this is accomplished by putting your upper trap on the bench and pushing your chest out as far as possible. To see what I am saying sit up straight in a chair and place your finger on the highest point on your trap you will see that this is not behind you but rather on top. This is what you are trying to get on the bench.
Now that we have made it this far lets talk about the final piece and perhaps the most important. Shoulder blade retraction the best way to explain this is to stand straight up and put your arms up like you are about to bench. Now have someone put his or her finger in the middle of your upper back on your spine. Pull your shoulders together and try to squeeze that persons finger notice your bench stroke will shorten a few inches from doing this. This will also aid in touching weight with a tight shirt on. The reason for it in the setup will be to hold your shirt in place while you are arching.
Now that we have broken down each area of the proper setup lets put it all together into one motion because it must become one fluid motion that does not require lots of valuable energy needed for the lift.
Start by sitting on the end of the bench retracting your shoulder blades keeping your shirt where you have placed it for the lift. Lying back on the bench and grabbing the bar with an underhand grip, next move your head and upper body thru the bench towards your handoff spotter while holding yourself up with your underhand grip. Shoulders still retracted, pull your feet back farther than where you would normally place them, almost where they are touching the cross member of the bench. Keep them there and start moving your body back toward the front of the bench without moving your feet. Once you feel a great stretch in your hipflexors. Anchor your hips to the bench and start rotating your crotch downward toward the bench. Your feet still remain in the extremely flexed position at this time. Shoulders still together chest and stomach pushed up real high, this is where you must focus on the upper back arch. You can also use your head to hold your upper back off the bench while you are trying to get the upper trap on the bench. When you feel you have enough of an arch to put your traps down, slam them down hard and dig in. All the time be aware of your shirt and arm position. Keep pushing your ass and your traps closer together using your feet at one end and pushing into the arch with your hands on the bar with the other. The whole time you are doing this you will need to be aware of your bench shirt and the position of your arms, I cannot stress this enough. Now that you are in position slide your feet forward (not too far) until you can get a solid base on the balls of your feet now push your heels to the floor. If you can do so easily you went too far. It should be hard to get them to touch the floor .Now without moving your shirt turn your hands around push together a little more take a deep breath and take the weight.
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