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The 12 Biggest Bench Press Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The bench press is an incredibly effective exercise, when performed correctly.

It is not uncommon to see one person making at least one of these 12 biggest bench press mistakes when you go to the gym.

The Bench Press is a classic and popular chest exercise and, as such, people add it to their training routine thinking it’s simple and straightforward. But there are many aspects to the bench press you should be aware of.

The bench press is effective, but only when performed correctly.

The exercise is used by many to tone the upper body, from the pecs to the arms and shoulders. There are many benefits to the bench press that go past aesthetic reasons: functional and stable shoulders, and frontal pulling and pressing training are only two.

You have probably seen someone making one of the following biggest bench press mistakes during your time in the gym. Maybe even you have been the clueless one without the tools to know how to fix your movement.

Get the most out of your training by learning how to avoid these 12 biggest bench press mistakes.

12 biggest bench press mistakes

1 – Going too heavy

The biggest and most common bench press mistake people make is going too heavy. Adding too much weight onto the bar will not only increase the chances of a nasty accident but also means you’re unlikely to hit the full range of motion of the exercise.

How to avoid it: leave your ego outside and lift a manageable weight, one that you can move with proper form without the assistance of a spotter.

2 – Flaring elbows out at 90° angles

Theoretically, flaring your elbows out does increase the tension on the pecs, achieving a larger range of motion, says fitness author and coach, Sean Nalewanyj. In practice however, doing this will increase the stress on the shoulder joints, especially as you add weight to your bench press, he says.

How to avoid it: tuck your elbows in slightly during the exercise.

3 – Bending wrists backwards

Bending your wrists puts a lot of stress on your wrist joints while also being a less effective lift.

How to avoid it: protect your wrists by ensuring you keep them nice and straight, in a neutral position. Positioning the bar lower part of your palm, rather than higher up towards your fingers, is a good tip to avoid this bench press mistake.

4 – Improper grip width

athlete tests grip for bench pressSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

While variations of the bench press include the close grip bench press and wide grip bench press, these are variations, there to fulfil a different purpose. The provide different movement patterns and work different muscles.

Your ideal grip width does depend on your body’s structure, but you should generally aim for a width that causes your forearms to be vertical at the very bottom of the lift with your wrists and elbows directly stacked on top of each other.

How to avoid it: film yourself to see where you’re at and make adjustments accordingly.

5 – Lowering bar too high up on chest

The proper technique during the bench press will automatically avoid this mistake, but if you’re correcting faults then watch out for this one. Lowering the bar to your neck area can place unnecessary stress on the shoulders and can be dangerous once you progress onto heavier loads.

How to avoid it: keep elbows slightly tucked in and lower the bar to your mid to lower chest area.

6 – Bench pressing with a flat upper back

Your upper back shouldn’t be flat, instead you want to pinch your shoulder blades and drive them back into the bench. Performing a bench press with a flat upper back increases the stress in your shoulder joints as they lose contact with the bench.

How to avoid it: squeeze your shoulders together. A small arch in your lower back should also help here.

7 – Raising butt off the bench

This is a common bench pressing mistake, where people lift their glutes as they press the bar back up. This will technically help you lift the bar, but it’s not the most effective way to target your upper-body muscles.  

How to avoid it: keep your glutes tight and glued to the bench throughout the rep.

8 – Not keeping the feet grounded

Not having a solid base with the feet as you lift will put you in an unstable position and decrease your strength, as you can’t get the force from driving the feet into the ground.

How to avoid it: position your feet right below your knees and drive them solidly into the ground as you perform each rep. If putting your feet further back feels more comfortable that’s okay so long as you ensure your heels don’t come off the ground.

9 – Pressing with a thumbless grip

Using your thumb will not only help you maintain a neutral wrist position, but also decrease the chances of you losing the bar in the middle of a set and injuring yourself.

How to avoid it: wrap your entire thumb around the bar.

10 – Bounding bar off the chest

If you need momentum to lift the bar again, this is a sign that you’re going too heavy. Bouncing is unacceptable in weightlifting anyway and it’s also inefficient, because using momentum reduces the tension that you can produce.

How to avoid it: lower the bar under control, you can touch your chest slightly without bouncing, and then press the bar back up without using outside momentum.

11 – Heavy bench pressing without a spotter

bench press with spotterSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

The day will come when you’ll want to test your 1RM Bench Press. This is exciting, but you’ll need a spotter at hand if you think about maxing out and trying lower reps closer to failure.

How to avoid it: if you know a heavy bench press day is coming, always have a spotter there just in case.

12 – Moving the neck and head  

Raising your head to watch the bar as it comes down, pressing the head backwards, or moving the neck from side to side can increase the strain on your neck and will probably lead to injury.

How to avoid it: keep the neck tight but in a neutral position throughout the movement.

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