Today you can walk into any commercial gym and get asked the famous question “How much can you bench?” While many believe this to be just another “meathead” question, the bench press is a great indicator of upper body strength. We see NFL teams at the combine look at how many times a potential rookie can bench press 225 pounds. Why? There are little to no opportunities on a football field that a player will be laying on their back lifting something or someone off their chest. The reason behind this test is to assess upper body strength for pushing off a defender or from blocking a pass rusher. While not everyone considers themselves an athlete, everyone can benefit from a strong upper body. However, we see it time and time again in the gym; people not pressing to their best ability. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Unfortunately, the wrist is often that weak link. But how can we fix this?
Bench pressing and proper wrist position all comes down to the simple concept of support and gravity. With a neutral wrist and the bar lined up at the base of the palm, you have the entire forearm (and upper arm at full extension) to support the load. If you are flexing or extending the wrist; you put yourself at risk for injury or even losing grip and dropping the bar by putting too much stress on the wrist.
Our setup is extremely important. At this stage of the lift we are making sure our feet are set, our back is tight, our arch is set, and now that our hands and grip are set correctly. Line up the bar at the base of the palm at a slight angle. Wrap your fingers around the bar followed by the thumb. Body Elite clients hear it all the time, “grip it tight.” We aren’t just saying that for our own amusement. Gripping the bar tight can help if one side is lagging on the press upwards as well as keeping the bar in place.
Wrist wraps can also be utilized but use caution. Personally, I would only use wrist wraps when approaching 75% or more of your max bench press. Should this criteria be met, wrap the actual wrist joint and not below. It should be difficult to move your wrist in the wraps. This will help prevent flexion and extension. Setup and your grip on the bar should be neutral with wrist wraps. They are not a crutch and will not absolutely eliminate any flexion or extension.
In conclusion, we can’t really see how strong we are until we correct our weaknesses and utilize proper form. The bench press is no exception. Your form could be absolutely perfect but if your wrists are not, you aren’t getting the most benefit out of your training. Taking the time to properly set up and execute a bench press will pay for itself in the long run. You will stay injury free and press more. Now the next time someone asks how much you can bench, you can answer them with confidence.
Sean graduated from Kutztown University in December 2015 with a degree in Sport Management and is a CPT through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He is a competitive powerlifter and record holder in the state of PA. Sean loves to share his knowledge with clients and helps to push them. He believes that everyone is capable of greatness and that as long as someone creates goals and stays committed to them, they can be achieved. He states that the reason he got involved with personal training is, “The fact that I’ve been able to achieve my own goals and see progress in my own life inspired me to be a personal trainer. Seeing my client’s lives change is what pushes me forward. I want to see my clients succeed. When they do, so do I. I will do anything to help them out.”