Bench press shirt technique
“Mistakes and how to avoid them”
By Ian Smalley
Anyone who has ever chosen the road to frustration known as shirted benching knows that there is a fine line between doing it correctly and dumping. Its kind of like a golf swing. The more you focus on technique and execution, the better you swing. The harder and farther you try to hit the ball the worse you get. The perfect golf swing feels smooth and effortless, and so does the perfect shirted press. Like the weight isn’t even there. Here are some things that can go wrong on your path to perfect bench pressing and how to fix them.
1. CCollapsing – If you're bench pressing flat backed then go ahead and move on to number two. For the rest of you this will kill your bench faster than anything. Most bench shirts that are worth anything are constructed for arched benching. Meaning that the sleeves were attached at an angle condusive to loading at 25 to 45 degrees. If you drop below the intended sleeve angle the shirt will become pretty useless. Often times it will still hold the weight, but have no energy stored for the press and the bar will stall a couple of inches off of your sternum. Collapsing is usually due to a lack of tightness in the upper back/lats. It is this tightness that holds your shoulders underneath you and your shoulder blades tucked. If you lose that tightness your upper body will fall, then it doesn’t really matter how high you push your belly up because the shirt is already de-loaded. At meets you’ll often here guys yelling “stay up” or “belly up” while their guy is lowering the bar. This is to ensure correct body position so that the shirt will do its job. So stay tight and focus on driving your sternum up to the ceiling and you should not have a problem.
2. HHeaving- This is when you throw the weight back at the rack instead of bench pressing it upward. Heaving is the result of one of two things. Either you’ve collapsed and the bar is too low down your body, and your only move is to get it going back towards your face instead of up (because you have no leverage), or you’ve cocked your wrists open on the decent, which puts your elbows out in front of the weight. When you press, the weight must drift back instead of up so you can get your elbows back into alignment under the bar to lock it out. Either way the result is the same. You'll either dump on your face or press into the rack. No good. To fix this problem do two things. #1 just stay up and don’t collapse, having correct body position will ensure the shirt loads correctly and the weight pops up, and #2 keep you wrists and elbows in alignment. Your elbows will go in the opposite direction as your hands to counter balance the weight. If the weight falls back into your palm, your elbows will jut out in front. Make sure the line between the top of your hand and your elbow is always perpendicular to the floor and you will avoid heaving.
3. OOvertucking – As you take the weight out and break at the elbows the shirt will begin to load and take the weight. One way to sabotage this is to over tuck your elbows, or bring them too close to your sides. Tucking is a part of the powerlifting bench press, it's what saves your chest and front delts from being torn apart when the weight gets heavy. However, when wearing a shirt the more you tuck the more tension you take out of the shirt. To prove my point, next time you put on your shirt, get set up and take the weight out. Now try to lower the bar with your elbows OUT. Unless your shirt is totally worn out you will probably make it about 2-3 inches and the weight will cease to move. This is true no matter how much weight you have on the bar. Now, in contrast take the weight out and immediately tuck your elbows all the way to your sides. The weight will drop like a shot and you’ll get pinned. The shirt is completely deloaded .
So with shirted bench pressing, the correct way to approach this is to take the weight out, break at the elbows and tuck VERY SLOWLY. This keeps you tight and in control, and keeps the shirt loaded through out the movement. About two inches off of the sternum the weight should stop and the shirt should lock up. At this point you can either raise your head and roll up towards the bar and let it touch your belly (which is what fat guys do) or row the weight straight down and crush the bubble (which is what skinny guys do). Fat guy way is easier -but that’s their reward for having a big belly. Skinny guy way is harder, but that’s your fault for being skinny….and by the way, fat guy way doesn’t work for skinny guy. Skinny guy will always collapse as he rolls up because he doesn’t have the body mass to keep the shirt loaded. If fat guy collapses, the shirt doesn’t know the difference because his belly’s so big. And fat guys can’t arch anyway. Hope that helps.
These three problems probably count for 90% of dumps or missed lifts. If you are conscious of these mistakes when they happen then you can work in training to reverse the causes, and be ob the road to better benchpressing.