Setting up the Bench

By Louie Simmons

In Powerlifting, Videos

January 25, 2010

Video Article

The bench press is the king of lifts for bar stars, Globo Gym thugs and weekend warriors, and you’re likely to see a chest-thumping bench-off go down every hour in every gym in the world. Despite the popularity of the bench press, most people don’t know how to do it with good technique.

Commonly known as a chest exercise, the bench is actually a full-body movement when performed correctly. Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell has coached 30 athletes to a bench of 700 lb. or more, and he shared a few secrets with CrossFitters at the first Powerlifting Cert, Dec. 18-29, 2009.

With Westside athlete Travis Bell (770-lb. PR) on the bench, Louie and A.J. Roberts explain how to set up for a press and use all parts of your body to get the best results. Heed Louie’s advice, and you’ll be well on your way to crushing Linda the next time you find her on the whiteboard.

Video by H5 Productions.

4min 48sec

Additional reading: The Holy Trinity of Strength Training by Bill Starr, published May 27, 2009.

Free Download


30 Comments on “Setting up the Bench”


wrote …

I'm happy to see a CrossFit video on bench pressing technique. An effective exercise that many people do incorrectly. Thank you CrossFit!


wrote …

"iron palm masters" gave a chuckle.


wrote …

I loved this. The way Louie and his lifters taught as a team was awesome. Wish I was there.


wrote …

more videos please, louie is an amzaing caoch and he explains everything very well.


wrote …

Fohhs on tha baaah. Wicked accent, bra.


wrote …

Lots of detailed technique pointers. Thank you!


wrote …

All these Louie videos are really good! Great tips and information


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wrote …

More Louie!


wrote …

Maybe I'm missing something. But these don't explain why the techniques he uses work. If his guys win every powerlifting competition then cool, but I don't think they have a flawless record, and second, where is the science like Rip or Coach Glassman give to explain the science behind what Louie is saying. Until then it seems like we are going backwards to the 21's or back n bi's chest n tri's shit that some big dude told another big dude and so on.

My suggestion, have coach or rip or some crossfit person who knows the science behind it and have them be a translator for Louie.


wrote …

You obviously missed the last videos on Westside barbell. Louie studies physics and applies that to powerlifting which is moving forward not backwards. Again it comes down to technique & more technique like Rip and Coach agree on, there's always little ques and technique suggestions that make this gym and other gyms successful. Let's be more open minded to new things, just like what CrossFit is all about.


replied to comment from Binnings Bent

check westside barbell's website for the science. its all there. Cheers to Matthew as well. Gotta love the added info on all this strength technique.


Jay Ashman wrote …


check the website and read Louie's articles.

Now Westside doesn't have a flawless record, no gym does... but he has produced a shitload of champions, top lifters and his methods are used worldwide to prepare powerlifters and athletes for competitions.

If you need science to back up his words, check his articles and writings.

Try incorporating some WSB methods into your own training and tell me how it works, it works well.

I train all my athletes/clients using the lifting techniques I learned from WSB from watching videos and reading about them, for maximal power/strength development they are unparalleled.


wrote …

In SS, Rip mentions that when bench pressing you should set up your body so that your eyes are looking up on the same side of the bar as the rest of your body...

This video shows them setup with the bar almost right over the neck.

Is it just preference or what?


replied to comment from Gregory Hamilton

Hi Gregory,

At Westside, they're always looking to push the bar straight up from a point determined by the highest part of the chest, or at least the highest part that will allow for functional pressing and a legal lift. With a large load on the bar, you'd want to set up in a position that allows you to get as close to this line right away. Moving a bar loaded with 800 lb. horizontally is difficult, dangerous and tiring, even with spotters.

As for the pressing movement and the line from the chest straight up, Louie has said that most people will push the bar over their faces to take advantage of delts that are stronger than triceps. At the cert, Louie explained that he wants stronger triceps that take shoulder rotation out of the exercise and thus prevent injuries to the shoulders. Using the triceps will allow the bar to be pushed straight up which, in powerlifting, has the added benefit of shortening the distance between the chest and lockout.

CrossFitters are, of course, less concerned about shortening the range of motion, but the idea of strengthening the triceps to prevent shoulder injuries is something that might merit exploring.

I'm taking my info from The Westside Barbell Book of Methods and Louie's article "How to Bench 500 Easy." If any of the Westside athletes want to clarify the bare-bones info I've given, that would be appreciated.

CrossFit Journal


wrote …

I like the shoulder safety aspect. Lots of the technique sounds great, and I look forward to trying it. To me the most important technique is technique that keeps me safe and injury free.


wrote …

When you say crossfitters are less concerned about range of motion I agree. But in WOD's that include the bench press which are very few and far between, decreasing the range of motion while keeping the bench legit is essential. Ass on bench, arched and shoulders tucked well help keep your body tight, and if you loose 2in on your press, over the amount of reps being performed will allow you to cut down some of your time, and shortening the bar bath will allow you to not use as much energy leaving more in the tank for the next movement and so on.


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To all the Louie haters out there, I hate to tell you, but Rip isn't coming back. Louie is the man that Coach has chosen to take his place. Now you can cry about how he doesn't make his speeches all sciencey, or that he takes steroids, or anything else, but he is now the SME for strength and the way Crossfit will be teaching it. Either deal with it, or keep using Rip's videos and articles from the journal, but I don't think things will be changing for a while.


replied to comment from Nicholas Carcerano

Strictly speaking, SMEs teach their expertise with no bearing on "the official CrossFit technique." I don't think that even exists, besides being "good technique."

Also, I actually saw a lot of carryover between what Louie was talking about and what Rip talks about in SS:BBT, such as the placement of the bar in the hand.


Zach Even - Esh wrote …


A few other things I am learning in the world of powerlifting and benching in particular.

Wanna bench big? Train with people stronger than you. Atmosphere is a HUGE part of your success.

#2 ==> Technique: lots of peeps bench with NO leg drive, as Louie said, the bench is a full body exercise, not just upper body.

Many have suggested to purchase Louie's books...

I have every DVD and both his books.

The Bench Manual is an awesome, fast read and loaded w/killer info.



wrote …

If you want to learn how to bench from Rip you can buy Starting Strength vol2 and the accompanying DVD, or attend one of his SS seminars. I think the book is the way to go for rank novices with no idea about technique since it starts very very basic. This vid and Louie's stuff is awesome, but you need half a clue to appreciate it.


wrote …

Great video loved it and the teaching style.
As a qualified Physical Therapist I find I need to understand the biomechanics of movements but sometimes this can be too much for a fledgling audience.


wrote …

More Louie videos, the man is a master at his craft, I love this guy.


wrote …

Sorry, my computer was on and a friend got on and made that comment. All videos produced through the Journal are fantastic. I don't know what my friend was thinking, that was uncalled for.


replied to comment from Binnings Bent

I just wanted to post a couple of thoughts on what people had said. And to give some of my own observations of lifting. The reason the bar is not over the eyes is because when you are handling a lot of weight, you want to "set" the weight into your upper back. Meaning, the weight goes through your arms and into your back. It is hard to describe, but when your lifting anywhere over 350 or so, it really become noticeable. Also, I wanted to point out that the goal of powerlifting is to lift the most amount of weight, how do they do that? They recruit the most amount of muscle! That is why leg drive and staying tight make such a huge difference. If something gets loose on a 200lbs bench, your probably not going to notice it. But, if you are doing board work with 500 and something gets loose, you just loose the weight. It is like the weight attacks the weakest link in your muscular armor. Some of these things need to literally be "felt" in order to get the light bulb to go on.

And Binnings you said something about 21's and bi's and tri's bodybuilder splits etc. The fact is, if you want to lift an elite amount of weight, you have to do accessory exercises to keep the muscles healthy and to strengthen them. That is why powerlifters do isolated movements. Read Louie, he says it clearly, you cannot get stronger on the bench press, by bench pressing. You have to do a lot other stuff, that keeps your body adapting and raises your bench, without actually having to bench full range. It is called the conjugated method, check it out.

BTW, I have benched 418.5 in competition and am working on 500, which is by no means exceptional, but I do know a little bit about this stuff. And I can tell you, as the weight goes up, it is absolutely critical to get your technique dialed in, otherwise you will suffer. Here are some videos of the guys I train with and our workouts.


wrote …

Love it!

I started out reading Louie Simmons and Dave Tate so this is great that they are SME's. Learning how to bench from professional benchers is awesome. How it applies to crossfitters? Who would want to waste energy on a snatch or OH squat? Coach B teaches you to be efficient and get the most power, same applies here with Louie's methods.

"Rip the bar in half" "Leg Drive" "straight bar path" "pinch the shoulder blades to create a shelf" "high arch,big belly" etc.

all bullet points that go through my mind on set up and it allows me to minimize wasted movement and bench effectively.

I think some CF'ers have trouble with Louie because he doesn't explain in a methodical science'y manner but if you listen to him, you'll see he has so much info trying to come out at the same time. Take your time and study his stuff and you'll see all the science behind it.


wrote …

Mike, you summed it up very nicely.

For the fellow looking for the "science", I think you are missing things entirely. First, someone using anatomical terms to describe a movement doesn't make it science. The use of "big" words doesn't automatically make something valid or truly scientific. All of Louie's methods are based upon the science of some of the best minds from the former USSR and Bulgaria. In addition, what he teaches is proven in the trenches. Science relative to human performance is FAR from exacting, and those who try to pretend it is are really just pseudo intellectuals trying to elevate themselves in the eyes of others by presenting things as facts when they are really little more than conjecture not proven out in the real world.

Here is what I know, Louie's stuff works, period. Louie consistently makes good athletes better.



wrote …

I thought there was quite a bit science in these vids. He just uses everyday examples and analogies to describe what your body is doing. And his % work and rep set up is in itself a science, obviously tested, assessed and duplicated for world class results. Seems like science to me.


wrote …

For those who question the 'science,' remember that science is a method. It doesn't require a lab coat, just an ability to think critically about what you're doing. The method is simple: 1) Start with an hypothesis, 2) test it, 3) refine your hypothesis and test again. By Simmons' own admission, he's tried a huge number of methods that didn't work. He's found methods that work amazingly well through test and retest. Science in a nutshell.


wrote …

What are the guidelines for hand placement?

Jim Wendler says that he now benches with a narrower grip because he's observed in lifter who trained for a long career tended to do that.

I typically try to keep the forearms perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the lift. I'm not sure if that would be classified as wide grip or not.

My primary concern long term safety.

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