If you’re a coach, you should feel confident saying you’re an expert in teaching what you teach. If you can’t say that with confidence then you should start reading up on your craft some more. You don’t necessarily need to be the very best out there, but you should regard yourself as being one of the 0.1% in this world that’s best qualified to teach what you teach.

I specialize in teaching the bench press. If you’re a coach that teaches bench pressing in any capacity (from powerlifting coaches to personal trainers), I want to share with you how to do so even more effectively. In my experience as a coach, the most difficult thing is sometimes just simplifying the coaching process to the needs of the lifter. We have so much knowledge of the movement that we want to force-feed it to our lifters all at once. This strategy will not work. Beginners will take time and patience; you can’t feed them anything but the very basics. Elite lifters, on the other hand, require the utmost attention to details. They need to be reassured that things look good and need to be fed the most advanced cues and exercises you have. Heck, from shooting back and forth with advanced lifters, you can even learn a thing or two! Coaches need to be able to distinguish between the two and understand who needs what information.

RELATED: Nine Weeks of Linear Progress To A Bigger Bench

In this article I want to break things down into the very basics. I want to take a building and break it down into bricks so we can dissect what goes into a fundamentally sound bench press. When your foundation is strong, the end product will be strong. If your building is missing a brick, it will eventually crumble. As a coach, you can use this information and start applying it to your lifters. Focus on the basics and only feed them information piece by piece until they are ready to move on.

Let's start from ground zero. A brand new lifter just walked into your gym. It is their first time on the bench press. Where do you begin? You have all this knowledge, you perhaps just got done coaching an elite bencher with whom you shared your most advanced cues. How do you go from one extreme case to another? Take a quick mental survey of what you're dealing with. Understand that you’re now back to the very basics. I start by asking the same question: have you ever benched before? If yes, let them do a few reps but stay close. Just watch, don’t coach. If they say no, take them straight to the beginner’s checklist below.

Beginner's Bench Checklist

These steps are in order.

1. Are the shoulders in a safe position?

Positions that can possibly lead to injury always need to take front seat priority! Take a look at how they set up on the bench. Are they in a completely flat setup with their shoulders rolling forward? Are they shrugging to the point they have no neck? Start with this first. Make sure they get the shoulders tucked back into a good position and reinforce this with them every set. Demonstrate it for them so they can physically see how to pinch and tuck their shoulders. Tell them why this is important and that they want to get the chest as high to the bar as possible.

2. Where are the hands?

Working with more advanced lifters we often take this for granted, but brand new lifters have no idea where to place their hands. Remember the first time you ever benched a bar? You probably weren’t sure either. The grip should be outside shoulder width. I put their hands in a position so that when they touch on the chest they are able to keep their elbows 45 degrees away from the body and their elbows are aligned directly under their wrists. We always want joint alignment, especially with beginners. Perhaps the most important thing they need to learn is how to be consistent with the grip. Teach them how to measure their grip off the grooves of the bar. For most younger lifters and females, this equates to a thumb's length away from the smooth of the bar. For average adult size males this usually means pinky on the rings. There are exceptions but this is a good starting point for most.

3. Slow them down!

The number one issue you’ll run into with beginners is that they want to move at the speed of light. The faster the movement, the more error that occurs and the less learning that takes place. Make sure to have them hold the bar at the top until you say "bench", have them pause on the chest until you say "press", and have them hold again at the top until you say "rack." Tell them that they need to slowly lower the bar. When you slow the movement down, all the good habits you’re trying to instill start to take place.

4. Does the actual press look halfway decent and consistent?

Now that we have their shoulders in a good position, hands in the right spot and they’re slowing things down, how does the press look? Is it at least halfway decent? Obviously, it won’t look perfect; you probably won’t have the next Eric Spoto on your hands. Learning a movement is like riding a bike: at the end of the day, they just have to do a lot of it. If the bar is all over the place then you need to spend time on this step until it looks better and becomes consistent. This may take little time or it may take weeks. Everyone is different here, but you can’t move on until you can check this off.

5. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. 

Take as much time as needed and continue to reinforce these very simple concepts. How fast are they progressing? If they aren’t consistent set to set or even week to week, don’t give them anything more to think about. Keep it as simple as possible. Reinforce what we just went over and remind them of little things like keeping their feet down. Use cues that don't require too much thinking.

6. Move onto the three phases. 

Your lifter now looks consistent and, dare I say, the potential is starting to show through! You’ve been reinforcing the basics and they've been nailing it. What’s the next step to take without overwhelming them and throwing them back into this beginner stage? The next step is what this article is all about: the three phases of bench pressing. A tool coaches can use to guide their coaching process

Three Phases of The Bench Press

The three phases is a system I use to break the bench press down into parts. Each part is unique from the next and deserves its own attention. What makes this system so great for coaching? It breaks things down so you can cue multiple things and allow the lifter to practice the movement more easily. Everything needs to be coached in order to build the foundation for a big bench press.

It starts with the setup! This lays the groundwork to build the house. Without a good setup everything else is a moot point. You could have a have a great pressing motion but without the right setup you’ll never reach your full ability. The next phase we’ll look at is the take-out. You mean I dedicated a whole phase just to taking the bar out of the rack? Yes, I did! It’s that important and the one thing that gets overlooked easily. Then finally, in the last phase after all else is accounted for, we delve into the actual pressing motion.

Note: Teach in the order written! Skipping a step is like building over a foundation with missing bricks!

The Setup

Now your beginning lifter is ready to learn some more! This is where you start. I consider the setup to be the most important piece of the puzzle regarding the bench. This is where you need to begin teaching next. Setting up is the framework to build all other things from.


  • Create a safe position
  • Gain positioning and cut range of motion
  • Secure butt on the bench
  • Create a stable position
  • Get feet in a position to create leg drive in the press

1. The Pinch and Tuck

Teach the "pinch and tuck” of the shoulders and demonstrate it. That’s your first move. I’m a big fan of setting your shoulders first on the bench and then placing your feet. Shoulders take priority, and using your feet as a tool to help set your shoulders is extremely valuable. Have your lifter set up three quarters of the way down the bench and execute the “pinch and tuck.” Cue them to then use their feet as tools to drive their body back until they’re in position under the bar. While doing so, they’re letting their shoulders fold underneath their body, stretching their chest to the bar, and allowing the back of their neck to get long.

2. Setting the Feet

Once the shoulders are set and your lifter has slid themselves back under the bar, the next step is getting their feet into position. Carefully have them drop their butt to the bench as close to the shoulders as possible as to not release any of that tension developed. Once the butt is down, have them wiggle their feet into the position they want. There are two distinct styles of foot placement on the bench. Lifters can either adopt a feet-flat or a toes-back style. For feet out flat, have them find the position that they feel will allow them to get the greatest drive back while keeping their butt down. Then have them turn the toes out 45 degrees so they have more surface area to push against the floor with. For a toe-back bencher, have them wiggle their feet back underneath their butt until their quads are screaming with tightness. Make sure they are on the balls of their feet and not the tippy toes.

3. Leg Drive

Next is to teach how to set and initiate a leg drive. For the feet-flat bencher, coach them to “slide their body off the bench aggressively.” It’s more of a skimming the pad than driving into the pad. For a toes-back bencher, coach them to drive their heels into the floor aggressively. It’s important to note that leg drive should never be let up on. Constantly drive off the bench or slam heels to floor throughout the set. Doing so maintains your position and ensures you won’t rely on momentum to lift the weight. Before your lifter is even ready to take the bar out of the rack, have them lightly initiate some leg drive just to keep their set up tightness and position.

The Take-Out

Many coaches may be surprised that I dedicate an entire phase to the process of taking the bar out. This is easily the most overlooked phase to the bench! So much emphasis gets placed on the setup and the actual press that no one takes a look at what’s happening between them both! An excellent setup can easily go to waste before you even press the bar. You can get into your best setup ever, but if your shoulders untuck during the unrack and you set yourself right back in the shoulders, what was the point of setting up at all? Let's take a look at what we’re trying to accomplish with our lifters in this phase 


  • Good communication with hand-off person
  • Create tightness to bar via lat activation
  • Initiate with the lats and eliminate the shoulders
  • Take the bar strong (arms locked out)
  • Pull bar into proper placement
  • Eliminate bar momentum before press

1. Communication and Responsibilities 

It all starts with teaching your lifter the importance of getting someone, anyone, to hand off, as well as proper communication with whoever is providing the hand-off. The important things to cover is when you’re expecting the hand-off, making sure they don't pull your shoulders out of position, and guiding you to the correct spot. I teach my lifters the 3, 2, 1, and breathe strategy. However you decide to spin the communication, the important thing is making sure you have time to breathe in deeply and fully before that bar gets handed out. It’s always easier to fully expand before the bar comes out and you have all that weight in your hands. Also make sure your hand-off person understands that their job is just to help you clear the rack. If they pull the bar up too much then your shoulders get pulled out from a tucked position. The hand off does most of the initial work and then gradually releases the weight as they guide you into your starting position.

2. Creating Tightness to the Bar

After communication and responsibilities are in check, the next step is creating tightness to the bar. Have your lifter wedge the bar deep into the palm of the hand, right above the meat of the thumb. They should already begin “bending” the bar at this point. The lats should be assisting with this process and should be tight. A good sign of this is the elbows getting turned in and the armpits closed. If those two things are happening visually then you know your lifter is properly activated and tight to the bar.

 3. Pulling the Bar into Position

This step is the bread and butter to a successful take out! Study this step carefully. Instead of the usual “up and over” take-out, you want your lifters to think about “pulling” the bar into position. If your lifter feels his or her shoulders involved in this process then it’s back to the drawing board. Cue them to pull the bar into position as if it were a lat pullover motion. A tool I use with my lifters is I attach a light band to the bar and pull from behind. Now if the lifter wants to take the bar out, they need to pull against the band tension. This usually gets them into the right state of mind. When they feel it, they can usually execute it thereafter.

4. Taking the Bar Strong

Make sure as you’re cueing your lifter to pull the bar into position, their arms are staying locked out. I call this “taking the bar strong.” If they pull the bar out but their elbows aren’t fully locked out, they will be putting undo stress and fatigue on their system. Their triceps will begin fatiguing early and so will the rest of the stabilizing muscles. The only thing they should be feeling is their lats bending that bar!

5. Take the Bar Out Further 

Most lifters will want to stop the takeout around shoulder level but stress to them the importance of taking the bar out further. It’s ideal to have them bring the bar out to around where they will touch the bar to the sternum. This ensures the bar travels in a straight path down and there’s little variance for error. A good tool to teach this is something I credit to Brandon Lilly. Have them close their eyes and move the bar head to belly a few times. Tell them to stop the bar where it feels weightless in their hands. This is the point to which you want to take the bar out to.

6. Pause Before Beginning

Stress to your lifter that they should pause the bar before they begin! This is regular protocol in most powerlifting meets but something that often gets left out in training. Practice how you play. Besides the importance of replicating the movement as it's performed in competition, you want to eliminate the bar’s momentum. Often times when a lifter takes the bar out quickly it is still carrying momentum. When they go to descend towards the chest, it makes for a less than ideal bar path and often times the bar begins to swing. With heavy enough weight it is too much to correct. Make sure before they begin the press that the bar is still and they have full control over it.

The Press 

This is the last order of business. Note how much we already covered before we even got into the actual movement. It’s important to build from the ground up. This phase is the top floor. This is the rooftop bar and pool; it’s what makes the building look good from afar. The top floor doesn't matter if its foundation is crumbling. That is why we need to teach our lifters how to set up and take the bar out properly. With that, we begin the press! 


  • Continue creating tightness, mainly via the lats
  • Lower the bar with the back
  • Touch the perfect spot on the chest
  • Correct bar path

1. Reinforce Tightness by Bending the Bar

As this phase begins, reinforce tightness to your lifters. One of the first cues I shout at lifters once the bar is in position is “bend it!" This helps them stay conscious of being tight to the bar. This comes from the lats, as stated earlier, but also requires a tight grip to the bar. A cue I learned from IPF benching queen Jen Thompson is “pinky crush” the bar. It’s a great cue that really drives home crushing the bar with an iron grip. Boy can that cue be a game-changer for your lifters! Don’t be afraid to use it.

2. Lower into Lats

When your lifter descends with the bar, teach them to try to lower into their lats. This is perhaps the most difficult concept to teach and understand as a lifter. When it clicks, however, it is an instant game-changer. The cue I have had the most success with is telling a lifter to catch the bar with their back. When you think of it this way, you start to get a feel for it. The back acts as a platform for the weight to land on and spring off. Not only that, but it spares the arms and pressing muscles from fatigue while keeping you stable. In powerlifting you will never hear of anyone with an overdeveloped back. Have your lifters train back every day!

3. Touch Point: Precision Beats Power

The key to getting your lifter to have a perfect pressing motion is nailing the touch point. You have to hit your spots on the bench. That’s where I adopt the phrase “precision beats power.” This is where a smaller technician can out-bench a larger athlete. What makes the perfect touch point? Take a look at how the lifter is aligned. Are their arms 45 degrees away from the body? Are their wrists stacked over their elbows? Are their forearms vertical and ready to press the bar back over the shoulders? These should all be checked off. If not then take a look again at the basics or adjust the touch point. Most will touch low sternum, lower than the nipple line. Make sure your lifter nails this spot every time from the empty bar to max effort weight.

4. Bar Path

Bar path is the icing on the cake. After all other things are in place, if this doesn’t fall into place naturally for your lifter (which it might) then it’s the last piece of coaching. A good bar path almost looks like a half V and is consistent rep to rep. The bar should come as straight downward as possible and then should shoot off the chest toward the shoulders at a slight angle. This slight angle is critically important because if the lifter doesn't start pressing back soon enough off the chest, they will get lost in no man's land with no leverage under the barbell. All their momentum is traveling backward and their bar path is not reflecting that. This is one of the biggest reasons I see lifters fail attempts. Reinforce the half V bar path with your lifter and make sure they start pressing back right off the chest.

How To Apply This Information

Now you have all the bricks available to construct a solid building! What’s the next step here? It’s awesome that you took the time to educate yourself on how to coach the bench more efficiently but I don’t want you to just read this and do nothing with it. Print this article out! Save it to your bookmarks! Place it somewhere where you can easily access it. Practice using this information on yourself. Use it as a guide and put it into practice in your next coaching encounter. Share it with staff and friends! There’s a lot of information here, and if you actually learn how to coach the bench with this systematic approach, you will see your lifters experience big changes!

Let's recap for a second:

  • Go through the beginner’s checklist. If the lifter has dotted their I's and crossed their T's rather quickly here or is past this stage, skip it. If they are missing a piece or two (and some advanced lifters are) then reinforce the basics first. This is your first step no matter the skill level.
  • Attack the setup. I preach it over and over again but the setup is truly so critical to success on the bench press. The majority of your time coaching needs to be spent before the actual movement occurs. Go through the setup checklist I have laid out for you and make sure your lifter is accounting for it all.
  • Take a look at the take-out process. Is there any attention to detail being placed here? Does your lifter know how to communicate with their hand-off appropriately? Coach them to be able to coach a random person on how to properly execute a hand-off. A good coach should be able to teach their lifters how to teach as well. Make sure they understand how a proper takeout should feel.
  • Finally, you can start breaking down their pressing motion. Most coaches start here but not you! Now you have a newfound respect for the intricacies of the movement. You no longer place as much emphasis on this phase. You understand that what happens beforehand is what ultimately sets this phase of the movement up for success.

When you become more familiar and confident with this approach, you can begin picking apart the phases all at once. This is what makes the breakdown so valuable! Usually, a lifter will become overwhelmed when you cue them in multiple fashion, but when you break it down into phases they can think about more than one cue at once because they don’t run into each other at the same time. Your lifter will be able to think, “Okay, this is what I need to do while setting up. Okay, I need to do this now while taking the bar out. Okay, this phase is done, now I need to be precise with this bar path.” See how they aren’t quite thinking about more than one thing at once? It’s all sequential! They aren’t worried about how they’re going to press the bar back before they even hit the right spot on their chest. This is a more advanced strategy that I hope you all utilize at some point.

This is literally a step-by-step guide. The order is there, you just need to apply it now. I made it super simple and easy for you as a coach to utilize these cues. You also now have the knowledge on how to assist a complete beginner, to a seasoned lifter. You should now feel more confident in filling in the missing bricks to a lifter’s building.

My website www.bigbenchas.com and my YouTube channel Big Benchas is dedicated to providing all the content you need to take your bench to the next level. I cover every aspect of how to perfect the technical side of bench pressing. I encourage you all to reach out to me for additional training help. You can reach me at coachben@bigbenchas.com.