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Starting Strength in the Real World


Keep Your Butt on the Bench

by Mark Rippetoe | April 28, 2020

butt should be on bench

Why? you will ask. Standards, I respond. The bench press is enough trouble already, given that it is the only one of the five main lifts we use that is not performed standing in balance on the floor. It has a shorter range of motion and a much shorter kinetic chain that the other lifts, and a lot of people regard it as almost unnecessary anyway. Let's not compound the problem by bridging your ass up off the bench, introducing a new variable when a little discipline can keep it down. 

The bench press is an important exercise, and for simple upper-body strength in the chest and arms, it has no equal. You may have noticed that a big bench-presser can press more than you can, even if your form is better than his. Strength, like size, matters. But I'll admit that the bench press starts off behind the other major barbell exercises since bodybuilders, gym bros, and fools consider it to be more important than the squat. We over-react to this sometimes, to the extent that it becomes a badge of honor to not bench. You need to bench, if your shoulder health permits it, even if your lofty sense of propriety has relegated it to the exercise trailer park. 

The bench presser works with several variables: arm length, leg length, forearm/upper arm ratio, chest geometry, chest height (boobs), and spinal flexibility. These variables in anthropometry can create serious advantages for the blessed lifter, and serious problems for those of us not quite so blessed. Small female lifters with very flexible upper backs and short arms can take advantage of the 32-inch grip rule to turn the bench press into a very short shrug of the shoulders – we've all seen the videos. 

But everybody can benefit from raising their ass up off the bench. Doing so raises the chest relative to the bar and shoulders, and shortens the range of motion over the already-short kinetic chain. The complete movement from lockout to touch-the-chest and back to lockout becomes easier in terms of foot-pounds of work, and in terms of the angle around both the shoulder and elbow. A lifter with long legs can bridge his ass off the bench to the extent of cutting several inches off the ROM. 

In a futile attempt to equalize the performance across the weight (essentially height) classes, bridging is not allowed in competition. Standards of performance are useful, especially since the use of supportive equipment has turned the bench press into a circus performance in those federations. Being primarily concerned with strength training and not competition, we're less concerned with standardization of performance than we are with standardizing the exercise as a strength development tool. We want the longer ROM so we can strengthen the longer ROM. So we coach the lifter to keep the butt planted on the bench for the whole rep. 

Bridging is a bad habit an uncoached or bro-coached lifter can get into, and it can be hard to correct. If you're coaching a kid that bridges, fix his stance so that he can't heave the hips off the board, and don't count his bridged reps – he'll figure out how to stop pretty quick.


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