Today we are going to discuss the hot topic of ‘Bench Press Bar Path’.
Although there are many ways to achieve a good bench, applying the tools discussed in this blog will help you maximise your bench performance while promoting longevity within the lift. One of the most common ideas around bar path is that a straight line will provide the most efficient path for force to travel through.
Pressing through anything but a straight line will create more distance for the bar to move, creating a larger ROM and thus making the bar path somewhat inefficient. I actually applied this logic to my bench pressing for years. It wasn’t until I experienced some shoulder pain that I researched it further and started applying some major keys that not only provided more stability and strength, but safety in the lift.
Before we go any further on the bar path, I need to cover how to create stability within the bench press – mainly for those readers who may not know how yet. This is 101 and we cannot create a consistent and efficient bar path without it. The goal is stability, and we achieve that by supplying a strong surface and stable foundation to press from. To put it simply: Can you imagine trying to bench press on a waterbed? You get the idea. Stability within your set up is absolutely necessary.
Some common keys to maximise tension in your Bench Press setup:
Let’s move on.
THE IMPINGEMENT ZONE
If a straight line was our bar path goal when bench pressing, we would have to drop the bar down directly down from our starting position. Assuming you start your bench press with the weight over the axis of stability (the shoulder joint), that would mean the bar would be dropping down just below your throat and on top of your shoulders. This style of benching would put the rotator cuffs into ‘The Impingement Zone’ (yet it is still extremely common – take a look around next time you’re in the gym). By flaring your elbows and dropping the weight directly down, you are putting your chest and shoulders in a deeply compromised position. As you do this your elbows are pointing out at a 90 degree angle in relation to your body, putting them at risk for inflammation and impingement. You see, impingement can occur when the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles become irritated and inflamed as they pass through the subacromial space. This can result in pain, weakness, and loss of movement at and within the shoulder joint.
I think by now you get what’s coming next! How do we avoid the impingement zone? There are a couple of really easy things we can implement to avoid this issue:
1. Shift your elbows in.
2. Touch lower on your chest.
Is it really that simple? Well, yes.
By tucking your elbows in anywhere from 20 to 60 degrees (I recommend sitting around the 45 degree mark) and touching lower on your chest, you will create enough space within the shoulder joint to allow you to move freely without any aggravation or pain.
AXIS OF STABILITY + ELBOW POSITIONING:
We know our shoulders are the axis of stability when bench pressing. So, as you unrack the bar, you want to place it above your shoulder joints, nice and sturdy. From here, we want to tuck your elbows and touch just under our chest or on our sternum. As discussed above, this creates more room within our rotator cuff and shoulder joint.
Note: It is also very common for people to ‘over tuck’. As I mentioned above, anywhere from 20-60 degrees should work well for most athletes, I suggest beginners start roughly around 45 degrees.
To explain and justify this technique thoroughly, let’s continue to dive into some other factors.
So, if the shoulder joint is the point of stability, isn’t touching lower on the chest creating a longer moment arm from the axis of stability, thus creating more resistance to overcome when we have to lift the bar up?
Much like in squatting, we adjust and tweak the placement of the bar to create less ROM or more leverage for ourselves, making us stronger. The majority of people are stronger squatting low bar. Why is that? Most people will say its’ exclusively due to the ROM being reduced by having the bar lower on your back. But wait… there’s more! When you put the bar lower on your back, you slightly change the leverage of the lift. Instead of your torso being upright with a traditional high bar squat, primarily utilising the quads and glutes, the back is now on an angle. This adjustment gives us more forward lean and allows us to increase the flexion demand of the back. This just means that the muscle has to now work harder due to the load being placed on it. You are now incorporating another muscle group to activate and contribute to producing force.
When benching, the further forward the bar drifts, the more flexion demand you are creating. This allows us to utilise our shoulder strength and some torque at the shoulder joint. So although the mechanics become worse the further the bar gets from its axis of stability, you can possibly get more muscle recruitment from your big old boulder shoulders!
Round trip – this leaves me pretty happy about tucking and touching lower and not too worried about it effecting my force production performance.
So, now that we’ve considered all there is to be considered, how should our bar path look!? Well, in summary, this is what we’ve covered:
1. To create a consistent bar path we first need a strong, stable setup with correct shoulder positioning.
2. We have to adjust our bar path to avoid causing shoulder impingement or inflammation. This requires an approximate 45-degree tuck of the elbows, and touching lower on the chest around the sternum.
3. The lower you touch on your chest the larger the moment arm is from your axis of stability (the shoulders). This, generally speaking, will create more resistance to overcome.
4. Although creating a longer moment arm isn’t the most mechanically efficient way to press, we create further flexion demand at the shoulders when we move the weight forward further away from the axis of stability. This can recruit more muscle fibres within your big old shoulders to help with the lifting and create a little more torque at the shoulder joint.
With all this in mind, let’s go over the:
BENCH PRESS BAR PATH:
– We start with the bar over point A(shoulders/axis of stability)
– We slightly tuck our elbows as we lower the weight down to point B (20-60 degrees)
– We touch under our chest or on our sternum
– We press the weight off our chest
– Back up and over our shoulders to point A and lock it out.
I hope the information will help you become a stronger more efficient lifter like it has for myself and my clients. Please don’t hesitate to message me on Instagram @fight4growth or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. For those of you who are interested in online coaching, click over and check out www.letmecoachyou.net
Written by Brogan Williams
Edited by Hugh Ozumba