Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific workout. This month I’ll be correcting a common gym myth: that you should be lowering the bar all the way down to the chest during a bench press.

How Far You Should Lower The Bar During A Bench Press

Not all gym advice is equal. I was recently told by someone who had a lot more of a muscular body than me, that I should be lowering the bar all the way to my chest when doing a bench press. While his advice might seem practical based off his more muscular stature, it’s a perfect example of why you should use caution from people giving you workout advice in the gym.

The other day I was at the gym. It was chest day and for my workout I was targeting strictly strength. For this workout in particular I was trying to reach and exceed my one rep max for the bench press. Whenever I’m pushing my one rep max I always pick out a lucky person in the gym to spot me. After the person was done spotting me he then wanted to give me his two cents on my movement. Generally, I’m always open ears to take suggestions on what people have to say, but not when gym advice is based off bro-science.

His bro-science advice: you should bring the bar all the way down to your chest.

I’d naturally think that this guy was telling good advice; after-all, he was ripped. However, I’m not about to injure myself because someone who has a bigger looking body told me how to do an exercise. This example, is a perfect reason why you should never take gym advice from people that have more muscular bodies. Not all gym advice is equal. Here is why you should use caution when bringing the bar all the way to the chest.

Two Significant Factors That Determine How Far You Should Lower The Bar During A Bench Press

Arm Length

Arm length plays a significant role in how far a person should lower the bar during a bench press. Aside from natural wear and tear, most injuries during the bench press involve muscle or tendon tears of the pectoralis major. These injuries most commonly occur during the negative phase of the moment. The negative phase is also known for the lowering of the bar movement.

An important part to note: while the bar becomes lower during a bench press, the part of the pectoralis that inserts into the top of the arm (humerous) becomes further and further stretched.

This concept is important because: the length of an arm differs in each and every person. Arm lengths can create problems for people lowering the bar to the chest in those people with longer arms and in particular long forearms. In order for a person to get the bar down to their chest, the arms have more distance to clear. Because of the greater distance, this can place the pectoralis under greater stretch. In fact, most bench press injuries occur in people with longer limbs.

Thickness of Rib Cage

Another major hurdle for people trying to get the bar to their chest is the diameter of their rib cage. Those people that have thicker torsos and a wider rib cage have less distance to move the bar down to their chest. Those people with more slender rib torsos have a greater distance to clear. Like I mentioned above, a greater distance to clear can place the pectoralis under greater stress and risk injury while attempting to lower the bar to the chest during a bench press.

Recapping: How Low Should The Bar Go During A Bench Press

You really have to take your individual body type into consideration with how low you should lower the bar during a bench press. As I mentioned, people with shorter limbs and barrel chests are at more of an advantage than the rest of us. Furthermore, don’t let some insanely huge guy at the gym tell you that you’re doing a bench press wrong. Bro science is bad since and puts you at risk for seriously hurting yourself. Will you be glad then that you can’t even get into the gym because someone told you that you’re not lowering the bar far enough during your bench press?

As for me, I have longer limbs and in particular, long forearms. Lowering the bar all the way down to the chest could potentially be risky. I’ll skip on this guy’s gym advice to me.

Sources:

1. Delavier, F. “Strength Training Anatomy.” Paris: Human Kinetics. 2010. Print. Strength Training Anatomy 70-71.