Today we’re performing the bench press, and I often get asked questions about why we bench press a certain way. Besides having learned from Starting Strength and Westside Barbell coaches, we also took a thing or two from the 70s Big Coaches and as I perused the 70sBig.com website last night I stumbled upon their recent post highlighting the inherent risk of the Bench Press. Justin linked to a UK article of a man found dead crushed underneath the weight of a heavy bar. In his post he confidently says he believes “Bench Press is the most dangerous lift you can perform.” Sure the case can be made either way, and the man in the article above was lifting intoxicated, but I’m inclined to agree with Justin as it’s much harder to safely fail a missed bench press rep because of the risk of being pinned underneath, something that doesn’t happen often with other lifts. Some of you might remember the USC player who dropped the bench press bar on himself a few years back, and required major surgery to repair the damage caused to his throat and larynx. Sure they seem like freak accidents but Back Squats and Deadlifts and even olympic lifts performed poorly at high weights and/or high volume can lead to injuries, but I haven’t heard of many cases where people die or get pretty messed up like they could in bench pressing.
My goal is not to scare you, but to help you understand some of the risks inherent with the movement and the precautions we’ve taken to help avoid instances like the ones highlighted above from occuring. First, we never use a false grip. Justin posted a great picture in his post on what benching with a false grip looks like, but picture of your thumb being on the underside of the bar and not fully grasping the bar. Although this technique may feel “stronger” to many of you, there is a lot more potential of the bar slipping out of your hands especially when the weight gets heavier and the instability increases. Unless you have wrist trouble, plan on bench pressing with a grip where your thumb grabs around the bar. Second, we always use a spotter on our heavier sets. Not only does this help us conserve energy and keep our shoulders in better positon when lifting the bar off of the rack, but a good spotter can save your ass should you find yourself stalling mid press or getting pinned under heavy weight. Something the poor UK man was missing above. Finally, we don’t use collars for our bench presses here at Intrepid. If the worst case scenario occurs where you’re benching without a spotter and you get pinned under a weight and unable to lift it off your chest, at least you have a lifeline where you can simply tilt the bar one direction and let the plates slide off, then tip the other and now your free. Something that’s unachievable when the collars are used. We feel that going collarless promotes the habit so that if you decide to bench on your own you’ll be used to benching without the collars, but if you’re bench press is all sorts of uneven and ugly and not having collars is causing the plates to slide around we shouldn’t be talking about using collars but more about your weight selection and/or control.
Use a spotter, no false gripping, and no collars and your bench pressing will go smoothly. Get your butt in for our double lift day and set some PR’s to post on PR Saturday!
Bench Press 3×5/Wendler