Where it can go wrong…
Bench press can be a hard lift to master technically, finding your groove with the bench can take time. We find the women we work with often struggle with things like:
- Finding a consistent position and arch
- Getting sore wrists
- Unable to increase the weight consistently
- Being confident when going heavier & lifting alone
It can be frustrating when you aren’t progressing, you become laser-focused on all the things that feel shitty and other things start to fall apart too.
It doesn’t have to be this way! There are some big bang for buck things that we can look at to help get a banging bench and help you get stronger.
And we ALL want to get stronger!!
These are the top 5 mistakes we see with women who bench press.
#1. Grip width on the bar is too narrow
Women have a tendency to grip the bar quite narrow which places more of an emphasis on the triceps throughout the lift. Whilst this isn’t necessarily wrong, the triceps are a smaller muscle group in comparison to the pecs & shoulders. If we want to build a big bench we want a majority of the work to be done by the pecs and shoulders.
Everyone’s grip width will vary slightly, what we are looking to achieve when finding the most appropriate grip, is that you can maintain a neutral wrist. What this means is it’s stacked in line with your forearm/elbow throughout the entirety of the movement. A good starting point is to place your pinkies on the rings of the barbell, see how that looks and feels for you, and adjust from there. You may find you can find the right position with your index finger on the rings or it might be your ring finger.
#2. Bent wrists
It’s very common to see women with their wrists bent too far back, this can be from the starting position or can occur during the lift. What we want is for the wrist position to be maintained throughout the whole lift.
Having some bend in the wrist isn’t inherently wrong. However, for some having your wrist in an extended bent back position can take a toll on wrist joints and lead to discomfort or even pain through our wrist. This position can also cause instabilities in our bench and a reduction in strength and power due to a lack of stacked joints.
When we grip the bar we want the bar sitting in the base of the hand with the wrist kept in a neutral position. Depending on your body there may be some slight bending in the wrist. We are looking for the wrist to be in line with our forearm/elbow, a position we refer to as being ‘stacked.’ This stacked position reduces the strain on the wrist, particularly as the load on the bar increases, and allows us to transfer force more effectively.
#3. Lack of leg drive
When you are in your bench position (arch) and your feet are on the ground you want to squeeze your glutes, push your feet down and away (you may feel your quads burning this is ok) and hold that position for all reps. No wiggling or letting it go gals.
Not only will leg drive make the lift feel easier and more powerful, but leg drive also plays a big role in creating total body tension and maintaining your overall shape.
If you want a big bench ya got to use your legs!
#4. Lack of scapular engagement
Pulling your shoulder blades together and down (retraction and depression) is a crucial part of settign up to bench. This provides a stronger foundation to push away from the chest whilst also taking load off the primary joint used in this movement, your shoulders.
To get into this position, with your eyes under the bar squeeze your shoulder blades together whilst pulling them down towards your back pocket. Your upper back should be pressed hard into the back of the bench. This is where you start to create your arch!
Often the set up and unrack are successful but when it comes to pushing off the chest engagement is lost. You want to think about creating as much head to toe tension as possible before the unrack, with the intention to hold that position through all your reps.
Think lats on to get strong!!
#5. Bouncing the bar off the chest
When the bar is “bouncing” off the chest what often is happening is momentum is being utilised instead of control. This typically occurs when there is a lack of upper back engagement/tension and control throughout the lift.
What this can look like is the bar accelerating and dumping onto the chest in the last few inches of the lowering phase. Then when you go to press back with your pecs all power has been lost and now have to find it from somewhere else. This can look like hips lifting/bouncing up, your chest caving then inflating to create momentum back up and many other breakdowns.
Don’t be afraid to slow it down, drop the weight if you need to, and focus on controlling the bar through the entire movement, as well as keeping everything tight and engaged. Learning correct scap engagement (#4) and holding your shape will help to mitigate the need to bounce off the chest.
There you have it Queens.
Getting strong isn’t as simple as loading the bar with more weight. You got to get your foundations first!
If you’re not sure how to get your bench where you want it, we’re here to help!