May 1, 2011
May 6, 2011
Like Trying to Sweep Sweat Off the Bench

It’s been nearly two months since we last hit the bench, but the lifts we love never truly leave us.

Strength: 5 x 5 Bench Press

Back in September of last year, Tom posted a video by Coach Mark Rippetoe entitled “Intro to the Bench Press Pt. 1” (spend the 3 min. it takes to watch the video to reacquaint yourself). For our purposes today, we’re more interested in the second video (below), “Intro to the Bench Press Pt. 2,” and especially the second half of the video (~1:50 & onward) where he talks about proper positioning of the elbows and the overall impact that positioning has on the lift.

Correcting Elbow Flare

While there are a number of cues to help stop the elbows from flaring up during the bench press, most produce a similar result: engaging the lats. During the drive, or concentric, portion of the bench press, it is important to keep the lats engaged (pinching your shoulder blades together).

Sara from behind without her lats engaged, causing her elbows to flare up (Left pic), and with her lats engaged and the resulting 45 degree elbow position (Right pic).

Tom from above without his lats engaged and his elbows flared up (Left pic), and with his lats engaged keeping the elbows closer to the body (Right pic).

A good cue to engage your lats is to think about bending the bar, circus-strongman style (as Tom is actually doing with the yellow pipe in the above pic). This causes the elbows to drop down in tighter to the body while putting the focus of the cue in the lifters hands, which can be seen in front of them (as opposed to thinking about the lats which are out of sight behind a lifter).

At left, you can see Kenna during the 1st rep of her last set – her position is very good, with her forearms perpendicular to the floor and her elbows tucked. At right, you can see her on her 3rd rep of the last set – as she gets tired, she allows her lats to relax, which results in her elbows flaring up and out to the side, forcing more of the work onto her shoulders (rather than pecs, lats, and then triceps). After cuing Kenna about keeping her lats nice and tight and adjusting the weight, she hit the bench for 3 more presses, all with great form and looking like the picture at left.

Remember, often times its the simple things that result in big gains – more work and more weight are NOT always the answers.

Met-Con: Wall Walker Medley

For time, complete the following: 800m run followed by 5 wall walks, 15 DB push press, 60 sit-ups, 15 DB push press, & 5 wall walks.

wall walks – not quite dancing on the ceiling, but not quite bouncing off the walls…


Great work, especially in handling a new movement tossed into the met-con. Rest up, stay dry, and we’ll see everyone on Thursday.



  1. Maiko D. says:

    Appreciate the BP information and pics, especially since Youtube is blocked at the office. I wasn’t aware that flaring the elbows is not desirable so I’ve probably been doing my BPs that way. Learn something new everyday.

  2. Tom Brose says:

    With Chris having the ability to translate my ideas into cohesive posts, we’ll be providing more tutorials on the blog. Its a great way to follow up on the points we make in class, and make sure everyone is getting the info.

  3. SBV says:

    Traditionally, I’ve had considerable soreness in the front of my shoulders the days after bench press and push-ups. But, by focusing on keeping the shoulders back and down (and engaging the lats), my shoulders feel little to no soreness at all. That’s a good thing!

    I do have one question, though: why do we arch the lower back so hard on bench press but, on push-ups, work to maintain a neutral/flat lower back? Intuitively, it seem that the two exercises would be the same. What gives?

  4. Maiko D. says:

    ^^^ That’s actually an interesting question that I never thought about before. I did a quick Google search and found some people saying it’s strictly for upper body stability while others were actually advising against it because it supposedly is not good for the lower back. I look forward to what you (ie Tom or Tom through Salty) have to say!

  5. SaltyHat says:

    Maiko – a little flare on the concentric portion of the BP isn’t a horrible thing (the elbows dont need to stay flattened against the body obviously); just avoid excessive flare so as to not transfer the entire workload to your shoulders (delts in particular).

  6. SaltyHat says:

    Sebastian (and Maiko now – what timing!) – that is indeed a good question, and there are a few reasons to really concentrate on the arching. On the surface, both cues are paths to the same general goal: avoiding collapsing (regardless of direction) and thus maintaining your spine’s natural curve.

    In the PUp, the focus on tucking the pelvis and maintaining a neutral spine keeps the hips from dropping, which leads to an unsupported lower lumbar (lordotic) arch (unsupported because it’s simply drooping).

    In the BP, the slightly excessive lordotic arch is supported by the hips and shoulders, which should remain in contact with the bench at all times. But why arch? First, because without focusing on the arch, many allow their spines to flatten out, removing the arch all together. Second, because the arch allows us to better tighten the lats – next time your on the bench, try tightening the lats without the arch in your back, and you’ll notice that the bench surface actually acts as an inhibitor, keeping the scapula pushed out. The extra space created by the purposeful arch will allow you to better activate your lats before, and during, your BP. Finally, the arch minimizes the distance the bar has to travel.

    However, notice that I said “slightly excessive” at the beginning of the last paragraph. The arch shouldn’t be so severe that your ass comes off the bench. Also, while arching can reduce the distance the bar has to drop, don’t try to whittle it down even more by over-arching – we aren’t powerlifting for records.

    Again, great question; hope that helps tie things together.

  7. Tom Brose says:

    Great explanation Chris. A big part of it has to do with loading. The pushup done right is a great way to make the body stay in line, while placing very little load on the joint. We use full body tension to make sure that everything comes up together, not prying our chests away from the midsection. The Bench Press (again, when done correctly)is also about full body tension, but the loading on the joint can be extreme. Arching the back (while keeping hips down)allows us to put the ribcage in a position that is much more joint friendly. Not only is it possible to get the lats into play, but the bar path tends to be safer. It also allows for a better platform to press the feet into the floor.

    All this manifests itself in what Sebastian noted, he pressed heavy and isn’t sore in the joint. This makes training a lot less miserable, and more productive.

    Thanks for getting the discussion going.