Set Yourself up for Bench Press Success by Avoiding These 5 Common Mistakes
Bench presses are one of the most powerful upper-body workouts on the planet. If you’re looking to build bigger chest and shoulder muscles, you’ll want to incorporate bench presses into your workout routine. Although there are dozens of different upper-body exercises, nothing compares to good old fashioned bench presses for upper body strength training. To maximize their muscle building benefits, however, you should avoid the following bench press mistakes.
Mistake #1 – Gripping Exactly Shoulder Width Apart
One of the most common mistakes people make when performing a bench press is gripping the bar at exactly shoulder width apart. By gripping the bar this way, you’re emphasizing your triceps instead of your chest. Your triceps are forced to work overtime while your chest is gaining no real benefit. Of course, this is fine if you want to add mass to your triceps, but we’re talking about the pectorals here.
So, what’s the best way to grip the bar? Most professional bodybuilders will agree that moving your hands just slightly outward is the ideal grip location. Go ahead and grip the bar with your hands located right above your shoulders, and then move them about an inch or two away from your body. Doing so shortens the distance the bar must travel during your reps; therefore, making it easier to lift heavy weights.
It’s important to note that spreading your grip too far out will leave you vulnerable to injury. Your shoulder joints are in a suboptimal position that puts them at injury risk and decreases the amount of weight you will be able to push. So for a successful bench press, spread your hands just slightly away from your shoulders.
Mistake #2 – Focusing on Rep Numbers and Not Weight
When it comes to bench presses, weight generally trumps rep numbers. If you go the gym on a regular basis, you are bound to see an inexperienced bench presser performing dozens of reps using a low weight. The problem in doing so is that it limits the strain on your muscles. If you are performing bench presses for the purpose of building bigger upper-body muscles, then you’ll want to perform fewer reps using a heavier weight. For mass and strength, you will generally shoot for 8-12 reps using a weight that fatigues you within that rep range. If you are an experienced lifter benching for maximum strength, the reps will be even lower; as low as even just one if you are testing your 1 rep max.
That being said, when you are working on stabilizing your muscles and gaining endurance, using low weights for about 20 reps is recommended. If you are just starting to bench press, this is the best practice to set you up for success in the future so you can safely bench for strength and mass.
Mistake #3 – Growing Complacent
Another common bench press mistake is growing complacent with your weight set. You’ll end up lifting the same weights on each and every trip to the gym simply because that’s what’s you’re used to doing. As with any strength training workout, though, you must constantly push yourself to your physical and mental limits. Don’t allow yourself to grow complacent with a weight set. Instead, keep experimenting with heavier weights to see what you’re truly capable of lifting. After all, pushing yourself to the limits is the only way you’ll improve. Add a little at a time, not too much all at once. Remember that your competition is yourself and don’t pay attention to what anyone else is lifting. Choose weights that are safe yet challenging for you where you are at.
Mistake #4 – Not Asking For a Spotter
A fourth mistake that many people are guilty of doing is not asking for a spotter. Performing heavy lifts for the first time leaves you vulnerable to injury. To prevent this from happening, take a minute to find and ask someone if they will spot you.The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for newcomers, but you’ll quickly realize that most people are willing to give you a spot. Not everyone, but a great many experienced lifters are more than happy to share their knowledge and help beginners.
Of course, you should selectively choose your bench press spotter based on their physique. If they don’t look appear to be physically fit and capable of holding up the weights, choose someone else. If they have an underdeveloped chest, chances are they don’t know proper bench form. You’ll do better choosing a spotter that looks like they have benched more than once or twice! Also…make sure you approach someone when they are otherwise unoccupied, not in the middle of their own set!
Mistake #5 – Performing ONLY the Bench Press
Of course, the bench press is the best way to build brute strength and monster mass for the chest, but it’s not the only chest exercise you’ll ever need. In fact, your benching performance will improve if you add a couple other key chest and shoulder exercises. The first is the dumbbell chest press. This way, when your two sides are moving independently, you can work on improving the strength of your weak side. When you only ever do the barbell bench press, the strong side will overcompensate for the weak side. Since you’re only as strong as your weakest, isolating the weak side through the dumbbell chest press will allow your bench to become stronger across the board.
Another great and often neglected way to improve your bench press and make this lift safer on your joints is to spend some time stabilizing the rotator cuff. Add shoulder external rotation exercises to your routine using very light weights to improve the stability and the endurance of the often-overlooked yet vital muscles of the rotator cuff. You can use dumbbells or a cable machine to do shoulder external rotation exercises. Click here to watch a demonstration video.
The Bottom Line
When you avoid these 5 common bench press mistakes, you’ll be setting yourself up for ongoing bench press success. Dialing in your bench press is truly worthwhile as benching is generally considered the best way to build chest muscle mass and strength.
Did we miss any of your favorite tips for improving your bench press? Or do you have any questions about what you have read? Let us know in the comments below!