For many lifters, the bench press is the “gold standard” for developing upper body strength, but its reputation invites a lot of ego-driven cluelessness around how to do it with good and safe technique. Its deceptive simplicity is where many new (and even veteran) lifters run into trouble, so let’s talk about how you can bench better and more safely.
For clarity’s sake, we’re talking about the barbell bench press (sans the balloons from the GIF above). When you watch someone bench, it looks like the exercise is all arms, chest, and the occasional loud, obnoxious grunts, but it’s actually a compound movement that also includes shoulders, traps, triceps, upper back, core, hips, and even legs to a certain degree.
Sadly, pulling a bench up to the power rack at a gym is a fantastic way to find out who the regular a-holes are at that gym. I’ve experienced more than one occasion where someone had a problem with me using a rack to bench, despite the fact the rack was clearly not in use. I don’t understand that mentality, some people just need to own the world.
In the weight room, the two most important things to consider are safety and how much you can lift. For some people, it’s one or the other, but with the right breathing techniques, you will be able to lift more weight effectively and do it without hurting yourself. Here’s how.
Low blood pressure (BP) in combination with the valsalva can lead to problems and health risks. Someone I knew had low BP who learnt this lesson when they were gently woken by concerned fellow lifters. My acquaintance did a deadlift close to their max, with breath held and bracing their core against the air in their lungs. After the lift, they exhaled and stood up. Their BP dropped rapidly, and they blacked out – fell to the floor straight. They barely missed the weight plate stand with the side of their head with a foot or so.
Their solution to this was partial valsalvas, wheretheyI open my windpipe and mouth to slowly force out air but still having a lot of intra-abdominal pressure to brace against. When they get to the point where that is no longer enough they will probably try a good stiff lifters belt.
You’ve heard all the cues, from keeping your chest up, to pushing your knees out. You’re sure you’re doing everything right, but it still feels all wrong. If this sounds anything like you at the gym, it might be because you’re not using the right form for your body.
So many strength workouts for women stray from actual strength and power development, emphasizing lighter weights. This perpetuates the notion that the workouts men do somehow just aren’t for us. But that isn’t the case. Women can and should weight train just as intensely, and with the same exercises and programs, as men, if they want to.