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Updated: May 6

The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the gym and together with squats and deadlifts it is considered a fundamental exercise. Loved above all by the male public for its contribution to the development of the pectoral muscles, it is not, however, free from risks.

In a previous article I talked about how to perform squats safely, in this article we see how to prevent unpleasant accidents while training on the bench press.

Bench Press

Like the squat, bench press is also considered a multi-joint exercise since it involves multiple joints (shoulders and elbows). To perform this exercise you need a flat bench and a barbell, however, to train safely, these two tools alone are not enough.

Racks, safety bars and clips

Usually the barbell bench press is performed using the Olympic bench, like the one in the picture below where, unfortunately, the safety bars are not present.

This type of bench is good when you train alone with loads that you know you can handle or if you have a spotter to help you in the case of heavier loads.

If you are alone and want to lift heavy loads, it would be better to prefer a rack like the one in the picture below.

Likely this type of rack is not very comfortable and using safety bars could limit your range of motion, but if you find yourself in a situation where you can't lift the barbell because it's too heavy, because you don't have any more strength left, or because you experience a sudden intercostal pain, you can just leave the barbell on the safety bars to stop the exercise.

Another important thing that I already talked about in the article about squat is the use of the barbell clips. These are used to block the plates so that, in the event of an imbalance, they do not come off.

Although everyone agrees on the use of clips during the squat, there are conflicting opinions on the bench press. Indeed, there are those who argue that the clips should not be used in the bench rack when you are alone. This is because if you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to push the barbell, resting it against your chest and tilting it to one side, not having the clips will allow the plates to slip off. This is true if the individual performs the bench press correctly while keeping the barbell stable and parallel to the floor.

Personally, for greater safety, I prefer the combination clip + spotter, or clip + safety bars especially if we are talking about loads higher than 70% 1RM.

A potential alternative

Another way to perform bench press, even without clips, is to use the Smith machine. The main difference is in the direction the barbell takes. The free barbell follows the direction you give it based on your pattern of movement and your physical structure, while with the Smith machine it is you who must follow the direction of the tracks.

The muscles involved in the movement are the same as per the free bench press, but the Smith machine forces you to follow its trajectory and also puts you at a greater risk of injury. Indeed, if you position the bench so that the movement occurs at neck level you won't be able to maintain the scapular stabilisation, while if you position the bench so that the movement is at the sternum level you will promote the internal rotation of the humerus (internal rotation of the shoulders).

What to do?

Although the Smith machine is an alternative to the bench press, given the risks to the shoulders and given the possibility of performing the exercise in other ways, I would advise you to prefer one of these options.

The better thing to do is having a spotter who can assist you while performing all the bench press sets you have in your program. If you don't have a training partner who can help you, ask the gym instructor to assist you. In the event that no one is available and you find yourself alone (which should never happen in a gym) get a rack and place the safety bars at a height that allows you to slide out once the barbell is placed on them.

If you have any doubts about how to perform bench presses correctly, want to review the technique and learn how to train safely, contact me and I will help you achieve your goals.

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