By: Barbell Logic Team

The bench press bar path is set by two points: your lockout position at the top and your touch-point at the bottom. A consistent bench press will have you focusing your eye gaze on the ceiling to repeat the top end of the bar path consistently. At the bottom, you pay attention to where you touch your chest each rep, making sure to hit the same point every time. The top of the bar path uses the same hand-eye coordination you use to throw a ball at a target, the bottom uses the same proprioception you might use to touch your nose with your eyes closed while standing on one foot as a test of sobriety. It is crucial to set the touch-point early and accurately.

Finding the Touch-Point for Your Bench Press

Bar path is the key to a strong bench press. For the other main lifts, the bar path is the product of efficient movement—eliminating moment arms acting on the midfoot balance point or between the bar and moving joints—but for the bench press, the bar path is set by you, by how low or high you touch on your chest at the bottom. When so much of lifting form is dictated by physics, efficient movement, and just trying not to fall over, having part of a lift as varied as the bottom of the bench press can be unsettling. The touch-point on the bench press is a cue, a signal that you are benching with a consistent (or inconsistent) form. You can feel changes from rep to rep, and the pressure of the bar on your chest gives you something to aim for at the bottom. The correct position depends on several related factors, such as your grip width, wrist position, and where you put your elbows at the bottom. 

The bench press bar path is set by two points: your lockout position at the top and your touch-point at the bottom. A consistent bench press will have you focusing your eye gaze on the ceiling to repeat the top end of the bar path consistently. At the bottom, you pay attention to where you touch your chest each rep, making sure to hit the same point every time. The top of the bar path uses the same hand-eye coordination you use to throw a ball at a target, the bottom uses the same proprioception you might use to touch your nose with your eyes closed while standing on one foot as a test of sobriety. It is crucial to set the touch-point early and accurately.  

Shoulders, Elbows, and Wrists

 

With the bench press, we are intentionally introducing moment arms for the safety and health of our shoulder joints. Imagine viewing the bench press from the side of the lifter. The lockout position or resting place at the top is directly over the glenohumeral joint (the shoulder joint), and there is no horizontal distance between the bar in the hands and the shoulder. (A top-down view of the lifter would show a moment arm between the lifter’s hand and the shoulder joint, determined entirely by grip placement.) From here, the most efficient bar path would be a straight vertical line, down then up. The bar would touch the chest in line with the shoulder joints, with the elbows at 90-degrees of shoulder abduction from your body. In this position, the humerus may scrape the bony processes of your shoulder blade (the coracoid and acromion processes), damaging the rotator cuff muscles, causing impingement syndrome and longterm damage to the shoulder.

Thus the first determinant of where to touch your chest when you bench press is shoulder safety. At 90-degrees of shoulder abduction, your humerus is perpendicular to your torso. As you decrease the angle between the humerus and your body, the humerus moves away from the bony processes of your shoulder, opening space for the soft tissues between those two bony structures. Changing that angle, bringing your elbows closer to your body, moves the touch-point on your chest down (toward your feet). How far will depend on your individual anthropometry and the position of your elbows. Everyone is a little bit different, but your elbows should end up somewhere between 45 degrees from your body and 75 degrees. This may seem somewhat arbitrary, but the test is whether you can bench press without causing pain or damage to your shoulder.

The second factor of bar position is your forearm angle when viewed from the side. This angle tells you the relationship between the bar in your hands and your elbow joint. If you were to draw a line from your elbow to the bar, the angle of your forearm should never be such that this line extends away from your shoulder. At the bottom of the bench press, the bony process of your elbow will be slightly in front of the bar. Some lifters will have vertical forearms at the bottom of the bench press, while others will have forearms angled backward, pointing toward the lockout position. The exact angle of your forearm varies with the touch-point, the lower you touch on your chest (in a close grip bench press, for example) the steeper your forearm angle. We tend to prefer a forearm angle that points in the same direction as your bar path, a straight but non-vertical line from the sternum to a position directly over your shoulder joint.

The third determining factor of your bench press touch-point is your wrist position. The bar should be carried in your hand such that the bar is directly over the radius of your forearm, putting the bones of your wrist in compression. Your wrist will be held in slight extension, neither rolling forward nor motorcycling backward too much. This is the same amount of extension in your wrist you would have if you point your fingers straight up, then make a fist. Squeeze the bar hard, so that your wrist position doesn’t change. 

If your wrist bends, then the bar moves. Assuming that you kept the same elbow position, a moving wrist would change your touch-point, signaling to you, the lifter to make a change on the next rep. The touch-point is your tactile cue, telling you whether your bar path needs to change since you cannot watch the bar going up and down the way your coach or spotter can. A flexed or extended wrists is not only inefficient, but it is also bad information causing you to make unnecessary changes to your form mid-set.  

Ultimately, the touch-point comes from your elbow position and the angle of your arm that makes the bench press safe for your shoulder, from your forearm angle, and from your maintaining a stable wrist position throughout the lift. The touch-point is not, itself, narrowly defined. Instead, it is a cue or signal to you that each rep is (or isn’t) being consistently performed. So, you need to set it correctly to start with and then repeat it, feeling the same position of the bar on your chest on every rep.

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