I felt the need to post this video as a public service announcement and reminder about the most dangerous thing you can do in the gym: the bench press.
In my seminars, I always say, “The easiest way to die in this room is by getting caught under a bar while benching.” And, no shit, you can literally fucking die. The fella in the video is lucky he wiggled out from under the bar.
How You’ll Die
The bar can fall in one of several ways: 1) it can easily slip out of your hands with a false grip, 2) it can fall during the hand-off, or 3) the lifter can get pinned under the bar because of mechanics or strength fails. The bar can either fall on your sternum, neck, or face.
A fractured sternum can irritate a lot of important organs and structures like the lungs, heart, and major blood vessels like the ascending aorta (a thick artery pumping blood) and the superior vena cava (returning blood to the heart). Destroying your heart or bleeding into your thorax would make for a bad afternoon.
If the bar falls on your neck it can destroy the trachea resulting in a damaged airway, an injury that can kill. This happened to a USC football player a few years ago, and luckily he lived after surgery. You may not be so lucky.
If the bar falls on your face, then you’ll likely fracture whatever bone it hits as well as knocking plenty of teeth out. You could aspirate on the teeth and have an airway obstruction, and I don’t think you’re fellow gym goers know how to do an emergency cricothyrotomy. Face fractures don’t sound like fun.
How Not To Die
1. Always have a spotter. They can’t stop the bar from falling on your chest, neck, or face, but they can get it off of you. The guy in the video above almost didn’t, and if he was no-shit pinned, then he could have died flailing on the bench. The spotter can also help with the lift-off and re-rack, which leads us into…
2. Keep the elbows extended when the bar moves over the face. A spotter can help control the bar through this range of motion. When you’re finishing a set, especially when you’re fatigued, you should keep the elbows extended and push the bar back above your head until it hits the J-hooks of your rack. This is critical when lifting without a spotter.
3. When alone, do not use collars. The guy in the video didn’t use them, but bumper plates have a tendency to stick to a bar a little better than iron plates (as you can observe in the video). By not using collars, you can try and push the bar to the side to let some plates fall off, which will cantilever the opposite side off of you.
4. Don’t use a false grip AKA a grip in which the thumbs are not wrapped around the bar. False gripping doesn’t secure the bar with the thumb and leaves an easy angle for the bar to fall right off the heel of the hand. People use them because they don’t know how to hold a bar correctly (overhead or for a bench) while keeping the wrists in a neutral position. You’ll see strong-ass mofos using a false grip, especially in YouTube videos, but if they changed their hand position and maybe improved their shoulder mobility a smidge, they wouldn’t need it. False gripping is like holding a pencil in your fist; stupid as hell.
Am I exaggerating this?
I might be going overboard in explaining how you can fucking die, but that doesn’t mean the risk isn’t there. Benching, especially benching alone, is by far the most dangerous activity in a gym. Practice and teach good benching habits like using a good spotter, keeping the elbows extended when the bar moves over the face, not using collars when lifting alone, and not using a false grip. Your mother will thank me.