Bench Press Technique: Why the Hand-Off is Kind of a Big Deal
I know I’m a bit of an anomaly in saying this, especially considering I make my living as a strength coach and fitness writer, and you know, I’m a dude, but here it goes: I really, really dislike bench pressing.
Not that I think it’s a bad or dangerous exercises or anything. On the contrary I’d rank the bench press right up there as one of the top exercises one can perform to build overall strength and muscle mass – especially in the upper body. It’s not considered one of the “big three” (squat, deadlift, bench press) in powerlifting circles for nothing.
And least we forget: chicks dig a big bench press. Right, ladies?
Outside of overhead athletes or someone with a significant history of shoulder injuries, where it would contraindicated, the bench press is pretty much a staple exercise in any well-rounded fitness routine.
But back to me for a second. Because, you know, it’s all about me….;o)
I dislike the bench press because, well, I suck at it!
In fact if I had to make a list of things I dislike in this world, I’d place the bench press in the same breath as Jar Jar Binks, Rocky V, poodles, belly button lint, and Tracy Anderson.
Yeah, I hate it that much.
I still do it, of course. But I’ve come to the foregone conclusion that, because of my abnormally long arms, I’ll most likely never be a great bencher.
I just picked the wrong parents in that regard.
Nevertheless, my best bench (so far) is 315 lbs, and I’m cool with that. If it goes up, it goes up. If it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world.
So yeah, there you go: I have a personal disdain for the bench press, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love to coach it and help others improve their performance.
I’ve written in the past some common tips that I feel will help improve one’s bench press prowess, so I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of proper foot position, elbow positon, leg drive, bar path, grip, the efficacy of a back arch, or any number of other things that have been discussed ad naseam on the interwebz.
Instead I want to touch on something that hardly ever gets talked about, and something I feel can help improve one’s bench performance almost instantly.
And that is:
Getting a Proper Hand-Off
At Cressey Performance our athletes and clients don’t ask for a “spot.” Rather they as for a hand-off. Ask any top-notch or world class bencher what one of the main keys are, and he (or she) will say……TIGHTNESS.
You have to get tight. Especially in the upper back. Without getting into the extreme details, I like to coach guys to place their feet on the bench (relax, it’s only for a few seconds), grab the bar, lift their hips up, and drive their upper back into the bench. Simultaneously, I’ll tell them to consciously think to themselves, “together and DOWN” with the shoulder blades.
For the anatomy geeks out there – basically what I’m looking for is that the shoulder blades are adducted and posteriorly tilted.
Really it’s all fancy schmancy talk to try to get them more compact and tight so that they’re more stable and able to transfer force more efficiently through the body.
Which begs the question: Why go through all that trouble to get tight, compact, and ready to hoist a barbell off your chest, only to NOT get a proper hand-off, and lose all of it when you un-rack the bar?
Think about what happens when you un-rack a bar on your own. You essentially have to press/protract the shoulders just to get the bar off the j-hooks. As a result, the scapulae abduct and (most likely) anteriorly tilt as well, and stability is compromised.
Seems a bit counterproductive in my eyes, and serves as the impetus behind today’s video.
Bench Press Technique: The Hand-Off
A few points to consider that I didn’t cover in the video:
1. The “spotter” or hander-offer guy isn’t lifting the bar off the j-hooks, but rather “guiding” the bar to the starting position.
2. Moreover, the lifter shouldn’t think of it as pressing the bar up and into the starting postion, but instead “pulling” into position. Kind of like a bastardized straight-arm pressdown (albeit on your back).
3. Getting down the cadence of 1….2….breath….lift off is the key here. It’s going to take some practice, which is why I highly advocate finding a training partner you trust.
3. If at any point the guy providing the hand off starts chirping, “all you, all you, all you” when he’s clearly got his hands on the bar, immediately rack the bar and scissor kick him in the face.
Comments for This Entry
deansomersetThe scissor kick to the face would be so epic, especially since he would have his face right over the bar. So Jackie Chan. Great post bud.
March 13, 2013 at 11:21 am |
BarathThat's an excellent point about losing tightness while unracking. Dave Tate mentions that the j-hooks should not be so curved so you can just pull that bar from the rack maintaining tightness instead of lifting it from the rack. I don't bench press much so it doesn't apply to me :) But I am going to start benching from pins, as I think that'd be more shoulder-friendly (since I don't accidentally dip the bar below shoulder level) - any thoughts?
March 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
BarathRather, I meant dip my elbow way too low (as it's physically impossible to dip the bar below shoulders :) )
March 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
larryReally, Rocky 5 and Tracy Anderson in the same sentence. I realize it was the weakest Rocky out of the sixtuplet, but c'mon.
March 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
Clay VeldkampWhenever I tuck back my shoulder blades before benching I feel like I am eliminating a lot of the power from my pectorals and front shoulders. Is this just me being used to bad form (protracting my shoulders) or is this actually the case? Do I just need to suck it up? Also, does same apply to dumbell bench press? Thanks!
March 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
TonyGentilcoreWell, to be honest, I don't feel the bench press in general is a great pec developer. Sure, you could do a more bodybuilding type bench press (where you flare your elbows out), to place more emphasis on the pecs, but that also compromises the shoulder joint.
March 15, 2013 at 5:58 am |
JakeIf the spotter is still yelling "all you" with his hands off the bar, but has spit speckles flying in your face - you are still justified to scissor kick them right?
March 13, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
TonyGentilcoreThat deserves two.
March 15, 2013 at 6:01 am |
Training log: March 13th | Powerlifting in Heels[...] my gym overtrain. Which might explain why my bench is so weak, though I did read a very reassuring Tony Gentilcore article today and it was reassuring to know I’m not the only lifter who doesn’t care for [...]
March 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
RSTony, I wish every gym in America made anyone who insisted on benching read this blog first. The stupid things you see when guys bench... RS
March 13, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
John J BrooksTwo shoulder surgeries and crazy long arms, I hate the bench press.. almost as much as kipping pull-ups. There, I said it.
March 14, 2013 at 12:48 am |
March 15, 2013 at 6:01 am |
Paul SchmidI am in the same boat, Tony. Long arms, plus terrible scapular stability, equal me sucking at benching as well. I do like it though, mainly because of how it compliments my squat. Case in point, speaking with another fella at the gym the other day, we started talking about strength training. I had seen him before and knew that he could probably push a Camry off his chest, but NEVER trained legs. His first question was "how much you bench?" I am in the same boat as you, so I said around 315. It was big huge ego boost for him, and what he thought to be a kick in the nuts for me. Then I got under the squat rack and smoked 500 for a double. He approached me afterwards and said "Dude, can you teach me to do that?" :)
March 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
March 15, 2013 at 6:03 am |
Bench Press Tip: Let the Bar "Settle"[…] Read HERE why getting a hand-off is so […]
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