There's an old saying that a lot of great bench pressers have
repeated when discussing the importance of the upper back in benching:
"You can't shoot a cannon out of a canoe." If you don't have the
underlying stability to press big weights, the soft tissues of the
shoulder joint are going to suffer the consequences.
Stability is affected by both neuromuscular factors and
positional factors; simply repositioning yourself on the bench can
markedly increase your strength without any chronic changes to your
neuromuscular system's ability to move the weight. Here's what you need
1. Line up on the bench so that your
eyes are about 3-4 inches toward your feet from the bar (in other
words, the bar is almost directly above the top of your head). From
there, retract your shoulder blades hard. Next, push yourself back up
until your eyes are directly under the bar; at this position, your
scapulae should still be retracted, but also depressed down toward your
feet as well. If you do it right, your rib cage should pop right up.
Set your feet, and lock them into place. The position of the feet is
going to be dependent on a number of factors, but what doesn't change
is the fact that they need to be fixed in place.
Decide on what degree of arch you want to use. For general health
purposes, it doesn't need to be much. Obviously, powerlifters are going
to need to push the envelope on this front. The more arch, the more
it'll feel like a decline bench press. Declines will always be easier
on the shoulder girdle than flat bench pressing.
Grasp the bar and USE A HANDOFF from your training partner. Lifting off
to yourself is a sure-fire way to lose the tightness you've just
established in your upper back. Keep the shoulder blades back and down!
As you lower the bar, keep the upper arms at a 45-degree angle to the
torso; tuck the elbows instead of letting them flare out. It's well
documented that the elbows-flared ("bodybuilder-style") bench markedly
increases stress on the glenohumeral joint. Also, keep your wrists
under your elbows instead of letting them roll back.
Get a belly full of air and make the abdomen and chest rise up to meet
the bar as it descends. Think of it as creating a springboard for
moving big weights and, just as importantly, keeping those shoulder
blades back to save your taters from undue stress.
Do not excessively protract the shoulder blades at the top of the rep;
you shouldn't lose your tightness prior to descending into the
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