Females: 4 Characteristics of a Powerful Bench Set Up

How you set up for the bench press can make or break your performance. The bench press to the naked eye looks like a straightforward exercise however, that is far from the case.  When you look closely at some of the best raw (no bench shirt) female benchers we can see a common overlap of characteristics.  For instance, let’s look at Jennifer Thompson, a 131-pound female who bench pressed 292.1 pounds effortlessly in 2010 or even one of our athletes here at CSP, Taryn Trask.  

Taryn bench pressing 135 for a smooth double.

Both of these females have an extremely strong bench set up which gives them an advantage over other females who might be as strong as them however, lack the skill/technique for success. Similar to any of the big lifts such as the deadlift or squat there are multiple ways to set up for success based on limb length, mobility, stability restrictions, and overall what works best for your success.


Here are four characteristics you can implement today to refine your bench press set up and start moving more weight with confidence.


1. Wider Hand Position

An upward trend I continue to see with novice lifters starts by placing the hands too narrow on the bar and resting the barbell in their finger tips. This compromises ones ability to create tension with their upper back tight and can place both the shoulders and wrists in a vulnerable position when loads get heavier.

On the barbell there is two lines not covered by knurling. Start by placing your pinkies on this line and wrapping your hands around the bar. By keeping your hands wider, placing the barbell in the palm of your hand, and knuckles to the sky you will be in a better biomechanical position for success.

NOT THIS: Weak Hand/Wrist Position

NOT THIS: Weak Hand/Wrist Position

DO THIS: Strong Hand/Wrist Position

DO THIS: Strong Hand/Wrist Position

                                 Unstable Shoulder Position                                                                       Stable Shoulder Position



2. Tight Upper Back

Having a rock solid upper back not only sets your foundation for this lift but also plays a major role in protecting the shoulders and here’s why.

When you bench with a paper flat upper back you increase the range of motion the bar has to travel. This extra motion not only makes this lift harder but also causes the scapulae to dip into anterior tilt and shoots us into an unstable position of anterior humeral glide. Over time this can cause irritation to the biceps tendon and results in cranky shoulders.


Weak Back Position: Longer Range of Motion

Weak Back Position: Longer Range of Motion

Strong Upper Back Position: Smaller range of motion

Strong Upper Back Position: Smaller range of motion

Having a small arch in your upper back will help you establish a strong and stiff foundation to “pull” the bar to your chest. This slight arch will decrease the range of motion the bar has to travel and will protect your shoulders from pronating during the hand off.



3. Strong Leg Drive

 When it comes to foot location staying out of “no man’s land” is crucial.  In this poor foot position you’re unable to create any leg drive and nine out of ten times it will cause your butt to shoot off the bench placing more wear and tear on the shoulders.

Check out this video by Cressey Sport Performance strength coach Tony Bonvechio. Here, Tony explains what leg drive is and how to use leg drive to make your bench press come alive. 





4. Purposeful Mindset

 The key to improving on anything (not just bench pressing) is to practice the movement so the body learns it better and allows it to become more efficient. When it comes to any lift you need to concentrate on cues that address your weakness. If you’re having a hard time creating leg drive you might think “ tighten butt on the way down, squeeze the bench on the way up.” As Greg Nuckols states “ You can’t just go through the motions – you have to have a sense of purpose, practice the exercises you want to improve at, and focus on doing every rep flawlessly.”

These four characteristics are a must have in order to improve both your bench technique and confidence I encourage you to place yourself in an environment with people who are more knowledgeable and stronger so you can learn and PRACTICE these four characteristics.