Perhaps you’re wondering why someone would lay down on a bench and lift before reading an explanation

My friend asked me to help him out with benching/coaching so I wrote this in an email to him. Justin suggested I post it on the site. It might help some of you so here it is. I was going to write an explanation like this for squat as well. Now’s not the time to write it though, that comes later.

Here is the video I made for the bench set-up. Mainly to give you a visual here.

I’ll run over bench first because that’s real easy.


Have the athlete lay down on the bench (obviously). From there have them reach and grab the posts (like in the video) in order to pull their scapula (shoulder blades) together. Having them grab the posts can give them a better “pinch” then they might be able to do otherwise. Pulling the shoulder blades or scapula together artificially shortens the bench ROM as well as changing the angle of contraction for the pecs. If the shoulders are rounded out or flat, the chest contracts at an inward angle because of the attachment points at the shoulder and the middle of the chest. This causes the force to be applied at an inward angle. “Pinching” or retracting the scapula changes the angle of contraction so the force is applied in a more vertical, linear, fashion.

Once that is discussed you can simply sum all of that up by cueing the word “Pinch” or w/e you like. Something that you talk to the athlete about. Some guys like to hear “Squeeze” instead.

From there the athlete can now settle into his arch. What helps me is when I arch I try to think about getting my hips as close to my shoulders as possible. This again artificially shortens the bench ROM and allows for a better bar bath to the sternum. As I mentioned in the video the arch and feet position can be done pretty much at the same time. There is literally no worry for risk of spinal injury from arching. Sometimes females can go into over-extension because they can be more mobile than a lot of guys. You might have to look for that if you coach any ladies. The only worry is cramping up at the low back and anterior hip, so proper mobility work can prevent that. Anyone who says otherwise is an idiot. There is no compression of the spine at any point in time during the bench. The heels provide extra “drive” into the bar. Having them flat is important so they can “drive” or “dig” their feet into the ground. Having plantar flexion is basically adding a weak point in the chain. If they are on the balls of their toes they can lose force production through the ankle. You just have to logically think “What can serve as a harder brace? My entire foot based on the floor? or the small surface area that I am pushing through with my calf.” The heels need to be slightly behind the knees. You can get a visual of that from the video I linked.Tell them to “imagine you’re extending your knee to make your body slide up the bench — it’s not driving them so that the butt drives up to the ceiling. This solidifies the pinched upper back onto the bench and prevents any variability due to instability. That last part is courtesy of Jenn Thompson. She mentions it in her video and it’s a good take-home point. She is a really nice lady and I think I have a crush on her.

After this is all discussed, like the first cue you are going to sum it up with “Arch” and “Heels”.

When your athlete is setting up remind them. You are a commanding presence so cue the set up. “Heels”, “Arch”, “Pinch”. “Nice and tight”. The more emphasis on the set up the easier the lift becomes. Justin likes to use the terms “Active Heel” and “Active Pinch”. Those are really good to cue because the set-up isn’t cemented. Guys can fall out of their arch and pinch so during the set you have to actively maintain that position.

Some other info/cues that are equally important are:

Grip. When they grip the bar it should be a full grip. None of that suicide thumbless grip shit. I don’t care if they have been benching like since they began. It’s horse shit and dangerous. From the coaches perspective (You) the forearm should be at a 90 degree angle with the bar when the bar is on the chest when implementing the proper set up from above (in other words, the forearms are vertical at the bottom of the rep). This puts the athlete at the most advantageous spot for longest distance travelled and the most musculature involved in the lift. Any wider the lift becomes less effective. Yes, the bar path is shortened even more, but you aren’t trying to get the kid to move 300 pounds 3 inches. It’s less musculature and a waste of an ATHLETES time. Wider grips also put a lot of stress on the elbows and shoulder and make it hard to stay externally rotated throughout the movement.

Elbows. This is very important. If they elbows “flare” out, which is called “Internal Rotation” THIS IS BAD. You can do external/internal rotation reading this right now. Reach out in front of you and rotate your arms in. Right hand rotates clockwise and left goes counter clockwise. Basically like tucking in the elbows. You are stronger during any pushing in external rotation. The cue to use is “Elbows to Ribs”. Now you can shorten that if you want to just “Elbows”, after you have explained it.

Whenever I coach people I try to make a point to tell them that the object is not to bounce the bar off your chest. It’s to lightly touch and “DRIVE” off.

^^^This link can help explain internal/external rotation for you.

I think I covered it all. If you have a question about any of that fire away. .

  1. williamlexcrawford

    Good post, it was easy to understand without a ton of visual aids so that should do a good job at helping your buddy out.

    I was hoping it could be easily understood. Thought it might help some of you guys.

  2. It helped me a lot to understand some of the cues. Benching since has been going a lot better. Bodyweight is still increasing (102 kg atm) btw. Deadlift not so much 🙁 Next week I’ll be going on a holiday, after that I hope I can better it.

    Some R&R might do you some good.

  3. Are your pinky fingers just inside the rings when you bench AC? I used to put my ring fingers on the rings, but I think I may have been going a bit too wide.

    My pinky finger is on the ring. I don’t know anyone that is outside of it.

  4. Absolutely loving the random Bane quotes you’ve been putting in all your posts.

    lol excellent.

  5. this is a solid explanation, thanks AC.

  6. Great video AC. You should do one for each of squat, press and deadlift as well. It helps more people than you know and once you’ve done them you can repost the link many times without having to go into detail.

  7. A.C.,

    Your bench video helped me a TON. One thing I’m having problems still getting though is proper grip. I used to grip the bar with my wrists bent back a lot but SS Ed. 3 says this is a no, no. The set-up in SS seems to have the wrist at an angle. I’ve tried to match SS’s picture with the bar by turning my right hand counter-clockwise and my left hand clockwise and it doesn’t feel quite right on my wrists. I’m probably doing something wrong.

    You have any tips?

    Try to place the bar directly over your forearm. It’s hard to do sometimes and the grip suggestion from SS has always been weird. Just place it a little lower down your palm. You may have weak ass wrists too, who knows. Try to fix it during your warm-ups every time you bench.

  8. I always had problems with my left shoulder when benching. When you made this video, I started setting up like this every time. Today I benched 300 for the first time. It went up so quick I went for a sencond rep and almost got it. My shoulder is totally pain free. Thanks for doing these writeups and videos. I want you inside me.(no homo)

    lol jesus. Glad to be able to help. If all I help is one person then I am happy.

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