How to: Fix a Bench Press Imbalance (Uneven Bench Press Fix)
It’s common to see a lifter favor their dominant side in the bench press. While slight bar deviation is completely acceptable (and honestly expected), this type of bench press “imbalance” becomes more problematic when a majority of the weight starts to shift to one side or the other (this may be evident as a notable dip in the bar to one side or the lifter consistently locks out one side before the other). When a lifters current technique is throwing off their overall stability throughout the lift, that is when it needs to be addressed.
While this type of issue can seem frustrating to fix at first, a few simple cues can get you right back on course to an even bench press. All that’s needed is some time, practice, and patience. Here’s 5 tips to help fix your uneven bench press.
Tip #1. Practice a Consistent and Repeatable Bench Set-Up
First things first, start practicing the same bench press set-up over and over.
Now, there are a variety of ways to set-up and no real “right” way to do it. I’m not here to tell you which one is “the best” so go with what works for you. However, I am telling you, regardless of the setup you choose, be consistent with it.
Whenever you’re trying to fix your lifting technique regardless of what it may be, you want a repeatable process to do so. You want to be able to immediately tell what changes worked, and what changes possibly made things worse.
This is nearly impossible to do if every time you go to do a certain lift, you do it slightly different. This can leave you guessing at what changes are actually helping you, and sometimes you’ll perform a movement “correctly” but have no idea why it worked out.
If you have a consistent setup that you do every time and only change variables one at a time you’ll know exactly how certain changes effect your lift.
Oh, and while you’re at it I’d just go ahead and establish consistent setups for your other lifts as well.
Tip #2. Pinch Your Shoulder Blades Like You’re Trying to Squeeze a Pencil
This is bench press 101. Even if you don’t have a significant imbalance with your bench you should be establishing solid shoulder position every single time you setup to bench. It just so happens this can also be a great way to fix an uneven bench.
Sometimes the issue is you are really good at positioning one of your shoulder blades, but you’re being lazy with the other one. This will lead to one side of your back being raised up from the bench while the other side is flat causing that visual dip in the bar when you go to press.
Fixing this is simple, and just a matter of being cognizant that you are squeezing in both shoulder blades for a nice tight shoulder position. Imagine there is a pencil that you are trying to squeeze with your scapula. You won’t be able to do so if only one of your shoulders is locked into place.
Once you are certain you’ve “squeezed” your imaginary pencil as tight as you can, you’ll draw both shoulder blades “down” (think the opposite of shrugging your shoulders) to lock yourself into position.
Tip #3. Try Switching to Close Grip Bench Press
Another common cause behind an uneven bench press, and the reason you dip significantly to one side vs. the other is because you’re able to tuck one of your elbows into place, but not the other.
If your spotter can notice from above while you’re bench that one arm is “chicken winging” out, while the other stays tucked, you may want to consider running close grip bench for a block or two.
Close grip bench forces you to be more compact with your elbow positioning compared to wider grips seen employed in competitive powerlifting. This makes it significantly easier to keep track of where your elbow is in space and time, and generally speaking allows a lifter to more easily tell when their elbow is flaring out or not.
Now, this doesn’t mean you are stuck with close grip for the rest of your life. Once you get used to keeping your elbows tucked with the close grip, you can slowly begin to widen your grip out again week by week, so long as doing so doesn’t cause your elbow to uncontrollably flair out again.
Tip #4. Get a Friend to Unrack For You
So are we just being lazy now?
Maybe…but interestingly enough, having a friend help you unrack your bench sets could be a simple way to help you lock in your positioning.
Unfortunately, no matter how pristine and tight of a position you get yourself setup into, you’re going to end up undoing some of that hard work if you unrack the bar yourself. It’s basically unavoidable. To get the bar out of the rack you will have to press up to get the bar off the J-cups which will loosen you up very slightly. We can avoid most of this untightening if someone else does all that taxing laborious work of moving the bar that half inch for us.
This isn’t a tip you should be overly stress yourself out about. If you don’t happen to have a spotter for the day this doesn’t mean you should just skip bench press altogether. It can just make practicing your positioning that much easier…and potentially increase your bromance with that stranger spotting you…
Tip #5. Consider the “Suicide Grip”
I know, I know, this is like the one thing everyone tells you not to do while lifting.
I will fully admit that you will be using the suicide grip at your own risk. This 100% does increase your chance of letting the bar accidently slip out of your hands, and the higher you get up there in weight, the more problematic a small mistake like that can become. There is a reason it got named “suicide grip” after all. I’d highly recommend a spotter even with submaximal weights, and even then…accidents still can happen.
That being said the longer you study lifting, the more you’ll figure out there are lots of exceptions to the longstanding “rules” that everyone dogmatically follows, and sometimes you have to keep your mind open.
This is one of those cases. Releasing our thumb from the bar, while objectively increasing our overall risk, does give us a small degree more wiggle room to internally rotate our hands into the bar. This in turn results in a small degree of increase in our ability to internally rotate our elbows and lock them into place. This extra internal rotation can go a long way to helping you lock your elbow position and overall bench setup in place. The more “locked in” you are the less likely anything is going to shift on you mid-set causing you to dip the bar to your dominant side like you’re used to.
I’m not expecting this to make complete sense only in writing, so for a visual example of why this works, check out this video.
Don’t worry though. If you aren’t at all comfy with the idea of a false grip, you can closely mimic the extra internal rotation this technique gives us by using another grip called the “bulldog grip” instead.