Bench Press - How Low?

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    May 02, 2013 3:52 AM GMT
    Does the bar have to touch your chest for it to be an effective bench press?

    Everything I've read/heard says that the bar should touch your chest. However when I try to bring the bar all the way down to my chest I get bad pains in my shoulders and arms, I can't press much weight at all (just a bit more than the bar), I can only do a few reps before the pain/stiffness forces me to stop, and I don't feel any sort of pump in my chest. Stopping about a few inches above my chest feels natural and I get a good pump but I worry I'm short changing myself by not doing the full range of motion.

    Can I continue to stop a few inches above my chest or is this a sign that I need to lighten the weight?
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    May 02, 2013 5:18 AM GMT
    I've always heard (and try to stick to the rule) that when doing bench pressed, the bar should come down to where your elbows would be if you were standing straight up and had your arms to your side.

    For example, when I stand up and keep my arms to my side, my elbows are resting at my lower stomach area, so when I bench press I make sure I get it as close to that as I can and let it touch my chest.

    Remember, it's a chest exercise! Work the chest :-)!
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    May 02, 2013 5:47 AM GMT
    JumpMan_Josh saidI've always heard (and try to stick to the rule) that when doing bench pressed, the bar should come down to where your elbows would be if you were standing straight up and had your arms to your side.

    For example, when I stand up and keep my arms to my side, my elbows are resting at my lower stomach area, so when I bench press I make sure I get it as close to that as I can and let it touch my chest.

    Remember, it's a chest exercise! Work the chest :-)!


    This and if I decide to do lower weight I usually extend lower
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    May 02, 2013 11:13 AM GMT
    hope this helps:



    this video shows two different types: old school and the safer way
  • italguynj

    Posts: 250

    May 02, 2013 12:02 PM GMT
    90 degrees otherwise you could potentially injury you shoulders
  • Runner2233

    Posts: 10

    May 02, 2013 12:26 PM GMT
    Yes, it should come to touch your chest. If you're experiencing pain, stop benching. Sounds like you need to work on shoulder mobility to increase your range of motion. Other ways to warm up to a proper bench press would be to do pushups where your body touches the floor, then move up to dumbbell bench press, again focusing on good form and bringing the weights down to break the plane of your chest. Search the internet for different techniques and exercises to increase your shoulder mobility. There are a hundred ways to skin a cat, I'm sure there are some good ones out there.
  • fitartistsf

    Posts: 638

    May 02, 2013 12:57 PM GMT
    NO!!! DO NOT TOUCH CHEST!!!.... a shorter range of motion keeps tension in the muscle group you are working... Lay on bench, make a fist and place it in the center of your chest, thumb side down toward the chest. When bringing the bar down, STOP approximately the distance of that fist you made. Your arm, from the shoulder to the elbow should be about parallel to the chest, at roughly a 90 degree angle, any lower, and on the way back up, the shoulders are engaged, lessing tension, and emphasis on the chest muscles. When you bring the bar back to the upper position, DO NOT lock the arms! Stop just short of lock out, with the arms still slightly bent, then repeat the rep. By stopping short of lockout at the top, and not chest touching on the way down, again, you keep tension on the muscles being worked. You may need to lower the weights to control this motion. Remember: it's not HOW MUCH you lift, but HOW you lift....
    This shorter range of motion works with the other muscle groups as well... shoulders, legs, arms, etc....
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    May 02, 2013 1:11 PM GMT
    I will start implementing these techniques right now! I've always been a bit unclear about good bench form
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    May 02, 2013 1:25 PM GMT
    If you are struggling with the weight of the bar, I would consider doing some other chest exercises for a while to build up your strength and confidence level. Machines with pulleys, dumbbells or even elastic straps are good for this because you can fine-tune the amount of weight better and not hurt yourself.

    When I "plateau'd" on my flat bench, my trainer had me do dumbbell presses using a stability ball as the bench... it was hard as hell because in addition to navigating the weight I had to use my core to stay in place. But when I went back to the bench after a six-week cycle it felt like a battleship under me and I was much more confident with the weight.
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    May 02, 2013 1:30 PM GMT
    Interestng conflicting views here. This thread will be one to follow as it develops.

    I've been doing DB exercises for chest, some of the issues are the same.
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    May 02, 2013 3:56 PM GMT
    More and more trainers are recommending NOT bench pressing. Instead, do dumbbell flyes (or cable flyes). Also, allowing your elbows to move behind your back (to the extent that an imaginary bar--or real one--touches your chest) is inviting injury. The older you get the more you'll experience injury in your shoulder by doing a bench press that way.

    See picture: elbows are extended but not locked, elbows do not drop below back. Do light enough weights so that you have balance and control and only increase weights when the number of repetitions you can do easily exceeds 12.

    flyes1.jpg
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    May 02, 2013 3:59 PM GMT
    ^Speaking as someone who is in his second round of physical therapy for shoulder impingement/rotator cuff tendonitis, I agree this this. Be careful with your shoulders. If you do bench press, use perfect form - shoulders pinched back and pressed against the bench. Don't go too heavy and cheat, it over-recruits and strains your shoulders. Don't touch your chest/let your arms go to less than a 90 degree angle. Do it on a decline rather than flat.
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    May 02, 2013 4:01 PM GMT
    mickeytopogigio saidMore and more trainers are recommending NOT bench pressing. Instead, do dumbbell flyes (or cable flyes). Also, allowing your elbows to move behind your back (to the extent that an imaginary bar--or real one--touches your chest) is inviting injury. The older you get the more you'll experience injury in your shoulder by doing a bench press that way.

    See picture: elbows are extended but not locked, elbows do not drop below back. Do light enough weights so that you have balance and control and only increase weights when the number of repetitions you can do easily exceeds 12.

    flyes1.jpg


    This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.
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    May 02, 2013 4:03 PM GMT
    NJShiftyJK said

    This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.


    Your pecs are all one muscle. If you're hitting them, you're hitting them. Personally, I think the whole inner/outer pec thing is bro science.
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    May 02, 2013 5:53 PM GMT
    it should graze your windpipe
  • fitartistsf

    Posts: 638

    May 02, 2013 7:08 PM GMT
    calibro saidit should graze your windpipe


    No, that's too low, by that time your elbows will be below your shoulders and that is incorrect, and the bar too high up the chest. You want to keep the bar up above the nipples during the entire repetition. And bring it down to within one fist's length above the center of the chest....
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    May 02, 2013 7:09 PM GMT
    fitartistsf said
    calibro saidit should graze your windpipe


    No, that's too low, by that time your elbows will be below your shoulders and that is incorrect, and the bar too high up the chest. You want to keep the bar up above the nipples during the entire repetition. And bring it down to within one fist's length above the center of the chest....


    FYI, calibro's posts are NEVER serious.
  • fitartistsf

    Posts: 638

    May 02, 2013 7:41 PM GMT
    showme said
    fitartistsf said
    calibro saidit should graze your windpipe


    No, that's too low, by that time your elbows will be below your shoulders and that is incorrect, and the bar too high up the chest. You want to keep the bar up above the nipples during the entire repetition. And bring it down to within one fist's length above the center of the chest....


    FYI, calibro's posts are NEVER serious.


    Oh, I see... Didn't know that.
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    May 02, 2013 7:43 PM GMT
    showme said
    NJShiftyJK said

    This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.


    Your pecs are all one muscle. If you're hitting them, you're hitting them. Personally, I think the whole inner/outer pec thing is bro science.


    10 years training with a repeat Mid-Atlantic Lightweight natural bodybuilding champion under contract to the NY Giants out the window.
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    May 02, 2013 7:56 PM GMT
    NJShiftyJK said
    showme said
    NJShiftyJK said

    This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.


    Your pecs are all one muscle. If you're hitting them, you're hitting them. Personally, I think the whole inner/outer pec thing is bro science.


    10 years training with a repeat Mid-Atlantic Lightweight natural bodybuilding champion under contract to the NY Giants out the window.


    Lol, who am I to argue with success.
  • Medjai

    Posts: 2671

    May 02, 2013 8:10 PM GMT
    showme said
    NJShiftyJK said

    This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.


    Your pecs are all one muscle. If you're hitting them, you're hitting them. Personally, I think the whole inner/outer pec thing is bro science.


    Your pecs are not all one muscle. There is pec major, the one you see most of, and pec minor. Here is a picture:

    Pectoral-Anatomy1.jpg

    Pec minor is very important in scapula stabilization, and as such, very important in a movement like the bench press.
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    May 02, 2013 9:06 PM GMT
    showme said
    NJShiftyJK said
    showme said
    NJShiftyJK said

    This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.


    Your pecs are all one muscle. If you're hitting them, you're hitting them. Personally, I think the whole inner/outer pec thing is bro science.


    10 years training with a repeat Mid-Atlantic Lightweight natural bodybuilding champion under contract to the NY Giants out the window.


    Lol, who am I to argue with success.


    He had more success with Rodney Hampton than he did with me, but Rodney Hampton doesn't have my boss.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    May 02, 2013 9:21 PM GMT
    [/quote] This seems like it would emphasize outer chest... would you suggest something different for inner/lower? I have done close-grip decline bench with a lot less weight to try to hit this area.[/quote]

    It does indeed emphasize outer chest.
    For inner chest, do incline flyes.
    Better still, do flat bench, incline and decline.

    Even better still, work on your lats to strengthen your back.
  • dc415

    Posts: 255

    May 02, 2013 11:40 PM GMT
    There's nothing wrong with touching the bar to your chest, and in fact this is what starting strength (mark rippetoe) recommends.

    What *is* important is that you don't flare your arms out 90 degrees to the side. Your elbows should be a bit lower with respect to your shoulders so that the bar touches around your nipple line. Otherwise you could seriously fuck up your shoulders.

    Also don't forget to balance out with other exercises, like pushups, rows, and overhead press. Doing bench press to the exclusion of everything else, even if you're bench pressing with perfect form, will also seriously fuck up your shoulders.
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    May 03, 2013 12:11 AM GMT
    Dahas saidCan I continue to stop a few inches above my chest or is this a sign that I need to lighten the weight?


    I would think we don't have enough information to give you good advice. Low weights shouldn't cause pain, but what causes yours, I cannot say. Is it form, injury, or weakness of muscle or joints?

    Why don't you schedule an hour with a fitness trainer? It costs a fraction of what an injury would cost you, and you would know for sure.