Positioning the Bar for a Bigger Bench Press

Although it appears a very simple exercise, there is a lot more to the bench press than lowering the bar to your chest and pressing it back up. Applied correctly, small tweaks in your lifting technique can have a much greater impact on your bench than the workout routine you follow. Often overlooked during the bench press is the bar position.

Notice two problems with the bench press shown in this photo?

If you said the issues are that I couldn’t get the spotter to get his dang hands off the bar during the lift, and there is a world class powerlifter training in a flashy ‘fitness center’ (Beverly Crawford, two time high school national powerlifting champion, two time USA Powerlifting national champion and silver medalist at the International Powerlifting Federation world championships), you are correct…however not what I was going for.

Notice her right hand, circled in red. It appears that her wrist is bent sharply backwards. This is something I see done by the vast majority of bench pressers in the gym. To improve your grip on the bar, you want the bar to rest directly over your wrist and forearm. You do this by rolling your wrists forward, and letting the bar rest in the base of your palm, not up in the middle of your palm. The weight from the bar should travel directly down through your wrists and forearm, not suspended over…air.

If you use wrist wraps when you bench, use them to improve the stability of your hold on the bar. When you’re wrapping them, bring the wrap up around the base of your hand. When done right and tight, they act like a cast, and make it difficult to bend your hand backwards. This forces you to support the weight over your wrist and forearm.

If you look at Beverly’s left arm, circled in blue, look at the way her forearm is angled downward toward her feet. To get the most power, as mentioned above the bar should be positioned directly over your forearm. Now that we’ve fixed your grip on the bar, move the bar position up your chest so that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor as the bar touches the chest. You can also tuck your elbows in tighter to your body. This will allow you to bring the bar down lower on your chest and still keep the weight over your arms.

By making these two changes, you keep the weight of the bar directly over the supporting structure of your arms and chest. This should reduce strain on your wrists, elbows and shoulders, and also allow you to add lbs. to your bench press.

If you’d like more tips on bench pressing, check out my article, Powerlifting Basics: Tips to Increase Your Bench Press.

Adding Box Squats to your Strength Training

I was at the gym yesterday and watched a kid doing box squats. For the box, although the gym has a full set of plyo boxes, he was using a flat bench and doing touch and goes. Now unless you’re about seven feet tall, a bench is likely too high for box squats. In this case, his squats ended about three inches above parallel when he hit the bench.

There are actually several reasons to add box squats to your strength training, and your technique will differ slightly for each. When considering whether to use box squats in your training routine, you need to understand the purpose, and select the right technique.

    1. Learning to squat: If you’ve never squatted before, performing box squats can help you get comfortable sitting into your squat. To squat properly, you need to learn to sit into it just like you would sit into a chair. Using a box can give you a sense of security as you learn to sit back into the squat. When using the box squat to learn squat technique you should use little or no weight, and concentrate on controlling your descent so you land on the box lightly. Come to a full rest on the box before standing back up. Once you’re comfortable sitting into your squat you can move on to normal squats and work on loading up the bar.
    2. Touch and Go: The touch and go is used to help ‘find depth’. This form of box squats helps you find proper squat depth (thigh is below parallel). You do not come to full rest on the box when performing touch and goes. Descend until you feel the box then immediately drive back up. Once your comfortable hitting depth remove the box perform normal squats.
    3. Full Box Squats: Full box squats are a tool that can help build explosive power out of the bottom. When performing full box squats, descend until you come to a full rest on the box then drive explosively up off the box. Avoid leaning forward to begin the ascent as this can reduce the emphasis on your glutes and hams. As opposed to touch and goes full box squats can be used at any time as an alternative to normal squats. They are a great training tool to create strength at the bottom of your squat and build explosiveness out of the hole.

General Tips for Box Squats:

    1. Use a box that is the right height for appropriate squat depth. Do you really need a box to tell you your squats are high? I’ll help with that: “your squats are high”. Now suck it up and drop your squats into the hole.
    2. Never anticipate the box. Don’t squat to sit onto the box. Keep descending with proper squat technique until you hit the box then drive back up. If you are slightly surprised by hitting the box then you’re doing it right.
    3. Land lightly on the box. Descend in a controlled manner and land lightly on the box. Plopping down hard on the box with a loaded bar on your back is a sure way to end your lifting career.
  1. Unless you’re doing full box squats, once your squatting issue is resolved, move on to regular squats.

If you’re using the box squat because it’s in the latest edition of the Spartacus Leg Mauling training program, step back and assess why you’re using the box. If it’s a fit with your training goals, select the appropriate method and a box that will drop you into the hole.

Go Slow – Train Yourself to be Weak

I picked up a little flyer at one of the major gym chains the other day. It appears to be noob training advice for their 2012 Fitness Challenge. If I may quote:



Get the most out of each rep by contracting and releasing slowly. Aim for a 5-second count in each direction.

In which sport exactly do you train to function slowly? As a football coach are you going to train your offensive linemen to aim for five seconds to come off the line when the ball is snapped? The play will be over by the time he makes it out of his three point stance! Ok, that’s a bit generous, he’ll be flat on his CENSORED before he gets to 3…

Now, there are times and places to include slow-count work in your training program, but if you don’t know why you’re doing it, do yourself a huge favor – just don’t. This flyer spews one of the single worst pieces of training advice I’ve ever read (IMHBCO). I already spend far too much time training new lifters to speed up their lifts, and complete them explosively.

If I were to give advice to new lifters without knowing their training goals, I would go in the opposite direction:

  • When learning a new exercise, perform it in a deliberate manner until you can perform it properly – deliberate does not mean SLOW, perform the movements only as slowly as needed to complete the exercise properly
  • Control the bar throughout the range of motion on both the eccentric (downward portion of the lift) and concentric (upward portion of the lift) movements
  • Lower the bar in a quick but controlled manner
  • Raise the bar explosively, try to complete the concentric portion of the lift as powerfully as possible
What is power – work divided by time. If I’m lifting the bar in half a second, and you’re aiming for a 5-second count, I am generating 10 times as much power as you are.