Back to Basic Benching: What Style Suits Your Needs?

One of the questions that I always ask my clients is, “What are your training goals?” I don’t accept general answers like “I want to be big and strong” or “I want to lose weight.” I ask my clients to be VERY specific in what they want. For example, here’s a very specific goal: “I want to look like a classical bodybuilder with a V-taper: broad shoulders, small waist, and muscle tone.” That’s specific. If you have a specific goal, then you can establish a specific game plan (i.e. your workout). If you know what you want, then you don’t have to waste your time and energy doing something that doesn’t help you achieve your goal.

Let’s use the bench press as an example. Many people think that lifting for size and lifting for strength are one and the same. To a certain extent, this is true. You can lift heavy on the bench press and develop enormous pecs. You’ll get a bad case of man-boobs (or as one client of mine termed it, “fat-boy titties”) but hey, you got size and strength, right? When it comes to the bench press, you have to ask yourself, “What’s my goal? Why am I using this exercise? Do I want to look good? Do I want to be strong?” So ask yourself: do you want to be a bodybuilder, or do you want to be a powerlifter? Bodybuilders develop muscle with strength as a by-product, while powerlifters develop strength with size as a by-product. That’s why bodybuilders and powerlifters perform the bench press in very different ways. Bodybuilders perform a variation of the bench press called the Neck Press, also known as the Guillotine Press. It looks like the bench press, but with one important difference: you lower the bar as close to your clavicles as you possibly can. When most lifters (powerlifters and others) perform the bench press, they tend to lower the bar down on their nipples. While this may be the best way to lift the most weight, the Guillotine press is a far superior mass-builder than the conventional bench press. By simply lowering the bar closer to your clavicles and keeping your elbows as far from your torso as possible, you give your pectorals a greater stretch, which induces greater muscle growth. This variation also induces more growth in the upper pecs and helps you avoid the man-boobs.

Two conditions before you attempt this variation: When performing the Guillotine press, you should use less weight than you would normally use on the conventional bench press. Experiment first with lighter weight and add more weight when you feel comfortable. Don’t perform this movement if you have shoulder problems.

How do powerlifters perform the bench press? Powerlifters want to safely lift the most weight by any means necessary. That means getting the whole body into the movement, not just the chest. It also means shortening the distance in which you push. They have a whole checklist of proper body mechanics for the lift from start to finish: Your feet should dig into the floor and your hamstrings should be flexed at a 45? angle. Grip the bar as hard as you can with a straight wrist “boxer’s grip.” Use a wide grip to shorten the distance of the lift. Squeeze your shoulder blades as hard you can as you bring the bar down. Lower to your nipple line to shorten the distance of the lift. Flex your “lats” as hard as you can and press the bar up. Don’t just think of pressing the weight. Think of pushing yourself away from the bar and pushing your body into the bench. Press the bar off at a slight angle (away from the head and towards your waist) to shorten the distance of the lift.

Think you got all that? Most people have a hard time implementing just one of these pointers. That’s why it’s a good idea to hire a qualified personal trainer to help you with the fine points of a lift, whether it’s the Guillotine Press or the Powerlifter’s Bench Press.

About the Author

James Chan works full-time as a police officer for the University of California Police Department in San Francisco. In addition to his patrol duties, James is also a defensive tactics instructor for the department. James is also a NSCA certified personal trainer, specializing in strength and physique enhancement. For more insights into strength training and bodybuilding, visit his blog His book “Strength and Physique, Volume One: The Articles” is available at

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