How to Warm-Up, Part Two: The Bench Press

Today’s blog is Part Two of a three-part series on how to warm-up for the squat, bench press, and deadlift. This post is coauthored by Matt Skeffington and we’ll be showing you how to warm-up for the bench press. Enjoy!

In our previous installment, which you can read HERE, we gave you 8 proven reasons on why it’s important to warm-up before your strength training session. As a quick recap, warming up:

  • Decreases your risk of injury
  • Increases power
  • Increases speed
  • Increases strength
  • Increases body temperature
  • Increases motor unit recruitment (especially high-threshold MU’s)
  • Increases energy production
  • Increases flexibility

Today we’re going to show you how to properly warm-up for the bench press. Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is a full-body exercise. As such, our warm-up will cover the whole body. While there may be an upper body emphasis (as there was a lower body emphasis with the squat warm-up), we feel it’s imperative to get the whole body moving and prepared for exercise, not only as a benefit during the subsequent training session, but also to promote long-term movement quality and health.

Now let’s break down the bench press and see what we’ll be focusing on during our warm-up so you can set some new PRs in the gym!

Feet

Always, always, always have your feet flat on the floor during the bench press. Having your feet connected to the ground will give you stability, allow you to effectively transfer force from the ground to the bar, and allow you to activate your glutes. In other words, you will not only be safer, but stronger and able to lift more weight. So no feet in the air allowed while you’re benching!

Fail.

Position your feet outside your hips and slightly behind your knees. This provides you with a good foundation so you can get your whole body into the lift.

Knees

Your knees, much like a perfect squat, are in line with your toes (the second toe, to be specific). Since your knees will also be outside your hips, it’s important that you give your adductors some attention, ensuring their quality and length. Therefore, we’ll be addressing the adductors in the warm-up.

Glutes

Get those glutes tight! Besides being an external rotator of the hip, the glutes also serve as a powerful hip extensor. Your butt should remain on the bench when pressing, giving you a sturdy base, and by engaging them, they encourage that whole body tension that is necessary for a big bench. As a result, glute activation will be an integral part of our warm-up.

In order for the glutes to effectively extend the hip, you’ll need to have, among other things, adequate hip flexor length. That’s also something we’ll be incorporating into our warm-up.

Lumbar Spine

Your lower back should be in its natural, lordotic posture. There’s no need to hyperextend the lumbar spine here, as we’re not preparing you for a powerlifting meet!

Chest/Upper Back/Shoulder

Throughout performance of the bench press, your chest should remain “out” and scapulae depressed and retracted (down and back). To get into this position, you must have adequate pec major/minor length and the ability to activate the rhomboids, middle/lower traps, and lats.

This position will promote thoracic extension and centration of the humeral head (ball) in the glenoid fossa (socket). This will permit smooth horizontal adduction and internal rotation of the shoulder joint as you press that bar up to lockout. Furthermore, it will prevent too much humeral extension.

Another benefit of being in the “chest out, shoulder blades down and back” position is that the bar will not have to travel as far. This is a great advantage if you’re looking to get stronger and add pounds to your bench press (who wouldn’t be, anyway?).

If you’re someone who squats, benches, and deadlifts on a regular basis, you’ll be reinforcing this “down and back” posture quite a bit. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it’s important that you get your scapulae moving, specifically in elevation and upward rotation. This can be done by getting some upper trap and serratus anterior activation, and we’ll be attacking that in addition to promoting pec length, thoracic extension, and shoulder mobility in our warm-up.

Arms

At the bottom of your bench press, your elbows should be roughly 45 degrees from your sides, and your forearms should remain vertical through the whole duration of your press. With a 45 degree arm angle, the bar should touch your chest somewhere just below the nipple line, and your vertical forearms will allow for optimal force transmission into the bar.

Hands

The bar should be in tight to your thumb, on the heel of your hand, and your thumb should be wrapped around the bar (no thumbless grips!).

Not allowed!

As you press, think about spreading and twisting (like you’re closing a jar) the bar. This will get more of your back musculature involved and also place horizontal forces on the bar, in addition to the vertical forces inherent to the pushing motion, and ultimately allow you to bust through plateaus and lift more weight.

Bench Press Warm-up

After performing soft tissue work with a foam roller and lacrosse ball, proceed to the following warm-up:

1. Supine Bridge w/external rotation x 10

2. Half-kneeling Adductor Dips x 8/side

3. Bench T-spine Extension Mobilization x 10

4. Hip Flexor Stretch w/internal rotation x 20-30s/side

5. Scap Pushup to Yoga Pushup x 6

6. Split-stance PVC Pec Mobilization x 8/side

7. Standing Band Pulldown w/OH Shrug x 10

8. No Money Drill x 10

Pre-Work

A) Tall-kneeling Chest Pass w/hip extension – 3×5, rest 30-60s between sets

Here’s an example of what your warm-up with the barbell might look like if you plan on your first working set being at 225 lbs. for 5 reps:

Bar x 5

Bar x 5

95 lbs. x 5

135 lbs. x 5

185 lbs. x 3

225 lbs. x 5 (first working set)

Wrap-Up

This warm-up will keep you healthy and primed to hit some new PRs on the bench press. We hope you’ll give it a try before one of your next benching sessions!

Look out for our final installment on how to warm-up for the deadlift!

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4 thoughts on “How to Warm-Up, Part Two: The Bench Press

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    • Brian,

      I’m glad to hear you’ve been having great results with the warm-ups! Matt and I are working on the deadlift warm-up and it should be ready very soon. Thank you for your comment and for reading!

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