Body Mechanics: The Bench Press

Welcome back to Body Mechanics. Over the past couple of weeks we have covered exercises of the lower extremities such as the deadlift and the squat. Today we will be shifting focus onto the upper body and begin discussing the exercise most commonly performed in every gym on any given day. Even though it is the most common, I would argue it is also the most ill performed exercise. Why? Well, because this is the one exercise with the biggest contribution of ego. Secondly, probably because it’s the most common exercise. Either way – let’s get to it!

The pectoralis major and pectoralis minor are the biggest muscle contributors to this exercise. The movement is a push, and as such it contributes greatly to sports that require a push motion such as a lineman in football. The NFL combine uses the bench press as one of its assessment exercises in terms of power and strength to determine the ferocity and potential of the lineman.

Getting into the muscles that contract to initiate movement, we have the pectoralis minor and major, biceps and triceps, as well as the anterior and medial fibers of the deltoid, and the isometric contraction of the abdominal musculature. The exercise is also an open kinetic chain exercise as the weight is loaded at the distal end of the limb, and pushed away from the body. The exercise is also a compound exercise as it is a multi-joint movement that recruits various muscle groups.

Lets get into the technique:

  • Find a bench and lay in a supine position
  • Grasp the bar in a closed pronated grip
  • Lift the weight of the bar and extend the arms fully but not forcefully to approximately the mid chest
  • Lower the bar so that it is positioned just over the nipple area.
  • The wrists should remain rigid and firm
  • Push the weight back up on a bit of an angle so that the end of the push the bar is located over the clavicle

That is one repetition.

Now let’s get into the portion of the article I like the least, but an important aspect nonetheless. Safety should always be number one when we enter the gym and here at Lifestyle and Strength we promote just that. The bench press, even though it offers many positives in regard to gains and popularity, is not the safest or most injury resilient exercise. There is a high correlation between the bench press and shoulder injuries. Of course some of it may be caused by technique, the biomechanics of the exercise lends itself to the susceptibility of injury.

Let’s start with the design of the bench itself. The bench actually limits the movement of the scapula, and therefore alters the movement of the glenohumeral joint. Over time this impaired or altered movement begins to create a tightness within the shoulder cuff, which in turn limits the flexibility and range of motion within the cuff.

As we have discussed before, the muscles of the rotator cuff are very small and susceptible to injury if care is not taken to prevent injury. A method of preventing this injury is to use a stability ball and perform dumbbell presses, or to use your own body weight and do push ups. Yes, the stability ball will decrease the weight, but will actually emphasize the core a lot harder so we may gain in other areas. As far as the push up is concerned there are hundreds of variations that will challenge you at every session to get better with every rep, set and breathe!

Happy Lifting!

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