The Best Bar Path for your Bench Press
Written by Keith Hansen
February 13, 2018
One of the first things I learned after becoming a strength coach is that strength training is art. That is to say that each person can express it in a different way and it can still be right.
This was a lesson I learned when I started actually paying attention to what others in the gym were doing.
I used to think that any time an exercise was done differently than the way I executed the movement it was wrong.
I confirmed later that is usually true.
But not always.
It's easy to see a guy benching half reps and assume he is cheating, or he doesn't know what he is doing. You might be right, but he might also be recovering from a shoulder surgery and that is his surgeon's recommended range of motion.
A lesson I learned when I became a better strength coach is that lifting evolves. The technique you use as a beginner is not the same technique you will use as an advanced athlete.
Let's talk about bench press technique.
Elite Bar Path
Greg Nuckols runs a great site for strength training theory & technique called Stronger by Science (formally known as Strength Theory). The articles are well-written, thorough, and accurate.
He posted an article that compares a novice bench path (245lbs is considered novice in his article. I don't agree, but whatever), the bar path of a 463lb bench (Mike Bridges), and the bar path of a 605lb bench press (Bill Kazmaier).
The key takeaway of the post is this:
Move the bar towards your head on the ascent and then press straight up instead of pressing straight up and then towards your head. A more advanced lifter has more lateral movement in the beginning of the lift.
Good. I agree. That is the most efficient & strongest bar path for an elite powerlifter to use in competition.
But what if you aren't in a powerlifting competition?
What if you are doing more than just one rep?
What if you're brand new to bench pressing?
Is it still the most appropriate bar path for you?
Efficient Beginner Bar path
When you are first learning the bench press setup there is a lot to focus on.
Adding a complex bar path isn't something to work on just yet.
Instead what I want you to focus on is your setup, safety, control over the bar, and leave the bar path wizardry for later.
Efficient bar path for a beginner is more linear, and since we will be performing multiple reps in a set you will not be going to complete lockout.
This is a key difference between your training bench press repetitions and a powerlifter's competition rep. This elbow lockout largely disengages the biceps/triceps groups and requires the shoulder joint to stabilize the load all by it's lonesome. In competition, lockout is required to set a standard by which to judge competitors.
But when you're training in the gym there are better ways to bench press. Safer ways.
In training you want to maintain soft elbows between reps so you have the most control over the load. This will create smoother reps through consistent muscle engagement, more time under tension, and more hypertrophy.
The right time to use AN elite bar path
Using elite bar path is something to begin gravitating towards after you have perfected your bench press setup and you don't give it a conscious thought anymore.
Do this on single repetitions only, and when you are beginning to peak for a PR or competition.
Most of your training reps should stick to the simple vertical bar path seen in the above video.
Check out The Serious Guide to the Bench Press for more information that covers everything bench press related.
Check out The Seriously Strong Beginner Program for the best program to start your strength training journey.