Christmas isn’t quite here yet, but Move of the Week is! Check out the Pause Bench Press below.
THE MOVE: Pause Bench Press
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Horizontal push: chest, shoulders, triceps, lats, upper back.
WHY DO IT: Ah, yes. The bench press, a powerlifting staple and as such, one of the most ubiquitous exercises in the gym. Done correctly, the bench press develops upper body strength and muscle mass like few other exercises can. We’ve featured variations like the barbell floor press and close-grip neutral-grip bench press. It’s about time we featured a legit barbell version here today.
Using a full range of motion, from full elbow lockout to the barbell touching the mid torso, is standard. The pause at the chest is also standard, too. We’ve seen lifters use a touch-and-go style with the bench press before, and there is certainly a time and place for that. However, the Pause Bench Press today is perhaps as close to competition-style as there is. Most if not all powerlifting federations require the lifter to touch the chest, pause there, and press the bar all the way up only after a vocal command is given by the head judge.
Without a doubt, the pause effectively eliminates the ability to cheat on a bench press. It’s no wonder a pause in the bench press is required in a powerlifting competition. But that’s why it’s also great for most gym-goers. Like the pause back squat, the Pause Bench Press will keep you honest. It’ll increase your time under tension and eliminate the stretch reflex that allows you to “bounce” out of the bottom of the rep. By eliminating the momentum of this stretch reflex, the pause helps you build starting strength out of the bottom. As we like to say, this is harder, but better.
HOW TO DO IT: I kid you not, we can write an entire article and then some just about bench press technique; we already did that for the back squat here. Instead of that, today we’re going to outline some general guidelines that should put most people on the right path.
Set up on a bench underneath a loaded barbell. Ideally, you want to create a stable base with you feet, just like you would in a squat. The feet should be directly under your knees and you hips should be fully extended, with your glutes touching the bench. It should feel like your feet are driving into the floor–thereby creating a stable base.
The back should be slightly arched and your shoulder blades should be glued to the bench. This creates a stable base for you to press from.
As far as grip width is concerned, a good rule of thumb here is to use a grip width that allows you to keep your forearms perpendicular to the ground throughout the entire range of motion. Be sure to keep the wrists straight throughout the lift as well.
Grip the bar tight like you mean it, and unrack the bar. Walk it out until your arms are perpendicular to the floor. Brace your core to stabilize, and think about actively pulling the bar down to your chest, under control and with intent. Control is important here; you want to be as stable as possible once your reach your chest so that you’re not wasting any extra effort keeping the bar steady during the pause. This could affect your ability to finish the lift. The elbows should come down at a 45-degree angle.
Pause at the bottom for around 2-seconds. Stay tight! Finish the rep by pushing away from the floor hard, and locking out at the top.
As you can see in the video. the ideal bar path for the bench press isn’t exactly straight. It is almost J-shaped. The bar should come down in a straight line, but towards the end there is a slight curve to meet the mid-torso. The way up is the reverse of this. You want to press up, but you should also press slightly towards your chin to initiate the ascent.
The Pause Bench Press should absolutely be one the first exercises you attack in a training section, as it is one of the most demanding exercises. It’s a great way to kick off an upper body day. I’d recommend incorporating it for 4 sets of 4-5 reps. This is definitely an exercise that falls into the “high-intensity, low reps” category of exercises. If you’re looking to bench press the right way, or better yet, if you’re preparing for a powerlifting meet, be sure to make use of today’s move. Let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram @halevylife !
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.