This exercise provided courtesy of Billy Polson, founder and co-owner of DIAKADI Body training gym, voted best personal training gym in San Francisco by CitySearch in 2006.
There's a reason that the bench press is the weightlifting gold standard. It's not just the lift from your chest—you need to engage your abs and back to get through these safely. Don't hurry, don't arch your back, and don't bounce the bar off your chest, and you'll see some real pectoral gains.
Lie on your back on a flat bench with a barbell on the rack over your upper body. The barbell should be at a level corresponding to the distance from your elbow to your hand when your elbows are bent at right angles at your sides. Take the barbell in your hands with your hands wider than shoulder-distance apart and your palms facing toward your feet (see Photo 1).
- From the starting position, and with the barbell still on the rack, contract your shoulder blades together and downward to raise your chest toward the bar. Engage your abdominals by pulling them in toward your spine to create a muscular "weight belt". You will use this technique to keep your back flat throughout the exercise—do not, at any time, permit your back to arch.
- Lift the bar off the rack and, keeping it steady, bend and lower your elbows to the side until they are at the level of your back. The bar should not touch or bounce off of your chest at any point (see Photo 2).
- Keeping your head and neck in line with your spine and your back flat on the bench by engaging your abs, slowly press the bar directly toward the ceiling (see Photo 3).
- Controlling the motion, return the bar to the position just above your chest, with your elbows at the level of your back (see Photo 4). Repeat the exercise for a full set of 12, keeping your abdominals engaged and the bar steady throughout.