The barbell bench press might feel like a simple exercise, especially if you’ve been training for a long time. There’s more to the movement than just laying on a bench and pushing weight off your chest though, especially considering what your goals are in the weight room. Legendary powerlifter Mark Bell demonstrates how he teaches the staple chest day exercise.
The bench press is an all-time great exercise to build chest size, but it’s also an important (ahem) benchmark strength movement, one of three events in the world of powerlifting competitions (along with the deadlift and barbell back squat). Working your way to pushing as much weight as possible isn’t just for growth if you’re a powerlifter. If you can’t get your bench up, you’re never going to compete.
So, some trainers might teach you how to bench press with a focus on hypertrophy to build as much muscle as possible. For others, like a legendary powerlifter and coach Mark Bell, who boasts a 578-pound raw bench press PR, the goal is to push weight. Bell recently shared a long YouTube tutorial about the exercise, really taking the time to break down what he believes are the most important aspects of the bench press. He’s teaching neuroscientist and podcaster Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. the move with an assist from coach Nsima Inyang—but if you’re interested on learning some more details about this school of thought, his tips will work for you, too.
How Mark Bell Teaches the Bench Press
For Bell, it all starts with the hand placement on the bar. He’s not set on one particular spot—it depends on what feels comfortable for the person doing the exercise. “Just make sure you have an even grip,” he says. Just make sure to squeeze the bar firmly. “When we squeeze a barbell, we want to squeeze it with everything that we’ve got because we’re trying to initiate from our fingers all the way down to our toes. We want everything to be involved in a bench press.”
Once you lay back on the bench, Bell stresses that it’s important that your chest is in an upright position to help maintain a neutral spine. “When our back is in a neutral position and our head is in a neutral position—it’s not too far down, it’s not too far up—we’re able to express the most amount of strength through our extremities, in this case our arms.”