4 Cues to Improve Your Next Bench Press Session

1. Push Yourself Off The Back of The Bench

Too many lifters forget to utilize leg drive in their bench press. While this is certainly an upper body dominant lift, your legs can still help you out big time and are the secret to a lot of powerlifters success.

The good news is leg drive is actually really easy to pull off. All you need to think about is genuinely trying to push yourself off the back end of the bench with your legs throughout the entirety of the movement. From the moment you unrack to the second you lockout you should be driving your feet into the ground so hard that, if not for the weight holding you down, you WOULD push yourself off the back of the bench.

2 Mistakes to look out for. First, don’t think about leg drive as pushing “up” with your legs, you are not hip thrusting into the air (if this is you…stop it…there are people watching…). Second, while driving your feet into the ground don’t let your butt lift up off the bench. Not only will this result in a red light at your local powerlifting meet, it’s also just commonly accepted gym culture…if your butt lifts up…the rep didn’t count. 

2. Shoulders “Back”, Scaps “Down”

This cue should be on your mind every single time you setup to bench press, to the point where it just becomes an automatic response.

You never want to lazily flop down onto the bench. Instead, give yourself a strong and stable “platform” to press off by setting your shoulders and lats into a tight position.

Shoulders back, scaps down” should become your bench press mantra. Before you unrack, pull those shoulders back…hard. You can imagine squeezing a pencil between your scapula if that helps. Okay, pencil squeezed? Good, now without releasing your shoulder position, pull your scapula down. This combination of shoulders back, scaps down essentially locks you into position, and makes pressing in the proper bar path extremely easy.

3. Eyes Under The Bar

Keep smashing into the j-cups every single time you setup to bench? Feel like the bar is a mile away from you for your lift off? There is an easy cue to fix this problem.

When you setup to bench set your eyes so they are in line just underneath the barbell. If your gaze is looking straight up you should be able to see some ceiling tile just in front of the front edge of the bar. This sets up almost all lifters in a position where they can both comfortably unrack the bar without a spotter, but also don’t need to worry about smashing into the rack on any of their reps.

Looking just in front of the front edge of the barbell works for most, but you may need to play with this. You might need to be underneath the barbell completely, or looking just behind the back edge of the bar depending on your torso and limb lengths. Basic thing to understand…if your head is a half foot behind the bar…you’re going to hit the rack…if your head is a half foot in front of the bar…good luck with that unrack.

4. “Pull” The Bar Out of The Rack 

Remember how we just talked about your shoulder position being so important above? You can accidently undo some or all of your hard work if you aren’t paying attention when you unrack the bar.

How many of you right now would say you “press” the bar out of the rack? This is the direct opposite of that shoulders back and scaps down cue and can unintentionally pull your shoulders out of position just before you start your first rep. Instead, think about “pulling” the bar out of the rack with your lats. If you’ve ever done a lat pullover, this is the same kind of idea just for your bench.

Now realistically, unless you are getting a liftoff, yes you are going to lose a bit of tightness when you unrack regardless of what you do, it’s unavoidable. But the simple mental cue of “pulling” the bar out of the rack with your lats instead of “pressing” it out with your shoulders can help you maintain as tight a position as is possible. If you can’t fight the feeling of “pressing” the bar out of the rack no matter how hard you try, your j-cups may just be off. If they are too low you will quite literally have to bench press your way off the rack, and if they are set too high you’ll find the only way to move the bar is to loosen your shoulder position and push up. Shoot for that middle ground where you can almost effortlessly pull the bar off the rack.


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.