Bench Press Cover Photo

The Best Bench Press Setup For Making Incredible Gains

When it comes to the weight room, one of the most talked about and performed lifts is the bench press. Hype aside, many lifters feel that their bench press could improve but just do not quite know how to bust through the dreaded plateau.

On the other hand, consistent strength gains are struggled-after, yet shoulder pain is stopping them in their tracks.

One way to approach the bench press is through the powerlifting setup – a solution for engaging your lats for a more complete compound movement, while protecting your shoulders.

While there are many types of bench press setups to choose from, the powerlifting setup is one worthy of testing out for yourself. 

**Note** This article is the first of three in a bench press series, click here to read part 2. 

Bench Press Myths Busted

Before we dive in to the nitty-gritty of the technique, certain myths need to be cleaned out.

  • Feet on the Bench or in the Air – Always perform any type of bench press exercise with your feet driving into the ground or floor. There are myths floating around stating “more stabilization” occurs when you bend your knees and put your feet on the bench or in mid-air. This could not be farther from the truth. This will engage your core for a heavy portion of the work while benching. Indeed, core muscles are light stabilizers for this compound lift, but they are not supposed to the stars of the show carrying a large burden.
  • No Arch in the Back – Countless times have we heard to always keep your back in a straight line in order to prevent injury. Only if the glutes are raised up into the air can this be worrisome. If your shoulders and butt are pressed into the bench and there is a curve in your back, that is completely safe. Specifically, for the powerlifting setup, the appropriate curve in your lower back is a must.

Muscles Involved

Although the bench press is commonly known as a chest exercise, this compound movement includes much more than solely the pectorals.

Second to the pecs, all three heads of the deltoids, with an emphasis on the front delt, latissimus dorsi, subscapularis (rotator cuff), and triceps come in close behind as supporting units.

After that, a plethora of smaller muscles throughout the torso, arms, and legs including the biceps, traps, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, forearms, and core form the compound bench press lift.

Explicitly, the lats play a key role in the bench press.

Latissimus Dorsi

Do not feed into the misconception of the bench press only using chest and arm muscles. Since the top of the lats are connected to the anterior part of the humerus, the lats are vital for the final extension of straightening out the arms on the end of the movement.

Moreover, bringing the bar down in a controlled state requires latissimus dorsi activation by squeezing. 

Powerlifting Bench Press Setup

Bench Press Powerlifting

Take note, this powerlifting technique is quite different in comparison to the bodybuilding approach.  Do not jump to any conclusions before you have read through all the steps.

  1. Position yourself under the bar so it is eye-level. Once you are lying down at the correct length of the bench, place your feet on the floor. Do not neglect this step – every part of the setup builds upon the last.
  2. Engage your shoulder blades backward into the bench. Make sure your shoulders are against the bench throughout the entire movement.
  3. Grip the bar with a tightening and bending feel – this activates your upper back and forms a stable shoulder mount. Drive and flex your glutes the bench. Act as if you are digging your feet into the ground for even greater stability by slightly pushing your knees outward.
  4. You will notice a slight curvature in your back from your shoulder and butt pressing into the bench – this is perfect and safe.
  5. Lift the weight and bar up and out over your shoulders. Double-check your grip before attempting to go down with it or put it back in the rack if necessary.
  6. Remember to maintain squeezed shoulders blades – a tight upper back is crucial to the powerlifting setup. At first, retracting your scapula during the movement may feel weird, but keep at it.
  7. Once you touch the bar to your chest, extend the arms to raise the weight back up. Do not bounce the weight up off your chest. Build your speed and strength off proper form, not momentum – your ligaments and tendons will thank you greatly in the long-run. 

Why Is This Setup Important? 

Staying injury-free is the main reason for perfecting the powerlifting bench press form.

Besides, aggravating old shoulder injuries from poor-form pressing is the last situation you want to be banging on your door.

Keeping your shoulders and butt glued to the bench is especially highlighted because if you mess up this, your upcoming weeks for presses exercises could end abruptly. 

Key Takeaways

Providing your lats the attention they deserve during the bench press can take you from being frustrated to breaking through weight barriers in your approaching workouts.

Plus, it is always handy to know more variations of classic exercises that may seem black-and-white at first.

On your way out to the gym, here are some key points to leave with. 

Strong Lats Equal Strong Overall Lifts

They may not be the main force pushing the bar off your chest , but every contribution counts. 

For any lift, strong lats and a solid back translates to developing the rest of your body with greater athletic power.

Bench Press grip

Of course, know your safety limits, but strive to take the chance to incorporate your lats when the opportunity comes. 

Consider the Powerlifting Bench Press Setup

The next day you bench press, consider taking a practice set to introduce this powerlifting technique.

You might just be able to put on 10 lbs. of weight simply by changing your form in one session.

Keep your upper back and shoulder blades tight. Plus, keep your shoulders, butt, and feet driving down, and you will be off to new races. 


Tony G
Tony G

Anthony is a fan of all things gym related. Growing up very overweight and out of shape, Anthony whipped himself into shape and stunned his entire community becoming a "fitness guru". Tony then set his sights on strength sports (Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman) and learned all about body mechanics, mobility work and injury prevention. Tony found his true love in the strength sports, particularly Olympic Weightlifting. He earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Fitchburg State University in Exercise and Sports Science. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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