A popular and effective exercise, the bench press is a compound movement that can work a number of upper body muscles including the pecs, shoulders and triceps. Whilst it’s a classic powerlifting movement, there are several ways of executing the lift such as the incline bench press and decline bench press as well as the regular flat bench press.
Aside from the exercise itself, have you ever noticed features on your bench press bench that you’re not too familiar with, or indeed how to use them? Well, you wouldn’t be alone. In this article we cover a number of regular features on a standard bench press bench.
The bench utilised by powerlifters is likely to be manufactured to competition specification. This means it will conform to specific dimensions applicable in a competition environment. However, not all bench press benches will adhere to such conditions, but they do enable the user to bench press safely thanks to additions such as safety bars.
So, what else may you find on your bench press? Let’s look at each feature in more detail.
Band pegs on a bench press bench are located at the bottom and either side of the frame. They enable the lifter to incorporate resistance bands to their workout. Simple to use, you hook a band around the band peg and up over the barbells.
A banded bench press exercise is suitable for those who wish to make the exercise more difficult and to aid with breaking through any lifting plateaus. They work by creating more gravitational pull on the eccentric part of the movement and increase the acceleration of the barbell.
Resistance bands usually come in a variety of colours with each colour representing a different level of resistance. For example, a red band typically signifies a light degree of resistance. By adding one either side of your bench, you could be increasing the tension by around 40kg per side.
J HOOKS / J CUPS
J-Hooks, sometimes to referred to as J-Cups, are so called due to them taking the shape of the letter ‘J’. Located either side of a bench press or power rack, they can be height adjusted to suit, and are designed to hold your barbell ready for un-racking and re-racking.
The set-up of your J-Cups will depend on the individual. To determine the best set up for you, lie down on the bench and raise your arms as though you are about to un-rack your barbell. Your arms should be slightly bent at the elbow, and wherever your hands are, this is the ideal position for the bottom part of the J-Cup.
J-Cups come in three different styles, standard, sandwich, and roller. A standard J-Cup is a no-frills design made from heavy gauge steel. A sandwich J-Hook is typically made from thick UHM plastic which is sandwiched either side with steel, hence its name. A roller J-Cup encompasses a roller, usually made from nylon or stainless.
Whilst regular J-Hooks are more cost effective, if you have an expensive barbell then you may want to consider upgrading to a sandwich style J-Cup. This is because, the barbell will rest directly on the plastic providing protection against wear and scratches.
The roller on a roller J-Cup, will allow a user to adjust their barbell, even when it’s fully loaded. If a lifter is positioned under their bar but it’s not as straight as it should be, then the rollers provide a swift and safe way of moving the bar into its correct position. They are usually available in either plastic or stainless steel. As with the J-Hooks, the plastic offers protection to bars against scratches and scuffs.
BARBELL HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT LEVERS
Ever noticed a pair of levers with hooks located to the rear of the bench press bench and wondered what they are?
Barbell height adjustment levers, sometimes referred to as weight levers, allow a user to alter the height position of a barbell whilst it’s loaded up with weight plates. These are commonly seen in a powerlifting competition environment as they allow for quick height adjustment without having to unload the barbell.
You are more likely to see weight levers on a bench that is used in competitions or at gyms where a lot of group training takes place and wouldn’t have much use to a solo lifter. Aside from finding them on a competition bench, you’ll also notice them on combination racks. A combination rack is a dual-purpose rack that allows a user to set up for squatting or bench pressing.
Safety bars, sometimes called `spotter arms’, are an essential feature on a bench press or power rack that prevent a user from becoming crushed under a loaded barbell in the event of a failed lift.
If you happen to be bench pressing without the assistance of a spotter, then be sure to make use of the safety bars.
Safety bars should be positioned high enough to protect a lifter from a dropped barbell, but low enough that they can obtain full range of motion during the bench press. In a competition, the barbell must touch the lifters chest for a successful lift to be achieved.
The best way of setting up, is to lie back on the bench and arch your back, the safety bars should be positioned around one to two inches below chest height. If you were to drop a loaded bar, it cannot reach your face or throat and you should be able to easily get out from under the bar.
If you are only benching with partial reps, then you could of course set the safety bars a little higher. Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of safety bars as they could protect you from serious injury, especially if you’re training at home or alone.
A spotter is a person who will provide assistance to a lifter during their lift. They do this by offering help with un-racking or re-racking a barbell. However, in a powerlifting competition they are solely on hand to help out in the event of a failed lift.
If there are footplates positioned to the rear of your bench press bench, these are there for the spotter. They simply provide a means of elevation so that they are better positioned to aid the person bench pressing.
If you are considering investing in a bench press bench, or simply make use of one at your local gym, be sure to consider the features it has and make use of them. As discussed, whilst some simply make training that little bit more convenient, some are vital to health and safety during training.