Are you Tucking or Flaring?

TAGS: upper body strength, tuck, flare, bigger bench, benching tips, bench technique, Beast Reality, erik eggers, athletes, technique, dave tate

To my seasoned powerlifter friends, this article is not for you. Please feel free to move along and dig into some of elitefts' more thoughtful fodder. I don’t want you cursing-me-out under your respective breaths when you reach the lesson—an important lesson which I’m sure is well understood amongst my seasoned brotherhood.

This is for the newbies, and more specifically, the super newbie benchers. I would suggest young footballers to also give it a read, just in case you want to learn something. Unfortunately, I have the luxury of knowing many of you are doing it wrong. Perhaps, and what is probably even worse, I know many of you can’t handle the truth.

Gina’s Story

"You have to tuck your elbows when you bench."

That was the first thing he said to Gina. She didn’t mind the unsolicited advice from across the gym, especially in this instance because he, Steve, turned out to be correct. He knew a little about bench pressing, and Gina got caught-up in his tattoos and thick beard—not to mention his deep baby blues.

I will never chase a man, but if he has tattoos and muscles, this bitch might power walk!

"Want to grab a post-training feed?"

Feed? That was Steve’s way of asking her to dinner. Gina was definitely interested, and she quickly agreed to meet him out for a little surf-and-turf at one of his favorite haunts in the city.

The dinner went well. They laughed frequently. She nearly laughed until wine came out of her nose. At the table, Steve was funny, polite, and attentive. He was even kind to the wait staff. He also reiterated some of the bench press technique adjustments they’d previously discussed in the gym. It actually wasn’t until they walked back to her car that the date went south.

While walking through a dark and imposing alleyway, Gina took his hand for comfort. When they reached her Cherokee, Gina opened the driver’s side door, turned to Steve, and said, “Thank you for such a nice evening. I really enjoyed myself. I guess I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”

“You’re welcome...but it doesn’t have to be over yet.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the mouth. It was a good kiss—assertive, but not too rough, and Gina was glad he took the initiative. His beard tickled her face and she liked its warmth. She thought Steve was a potential keeper and wanted to take things slowly, but at that moment, the kiss was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“Hmmmm,” Gina gently and involuntarily moaned. “That was nice. Thank you again. I hope we can do this again soon.” She moved to sit in the driver’s seat.

“The night doesn’t have to be over yet,” Steve repeated. “It looks like you’ve got some room back there.” He motioned to the back seat of the Cherokee and grabbed her arm, pulling her toward him and away from the jeep. “You’re so beautiful.”

“Thank you, Steve, but I have to get up in the morning. I’ve got the early shift at the hospital and I should get going.”

“Oh come on,” Steve said. He pulled her toward him more forcefully. He cupped a hand on her ass and gave it a hard squeeze.

How far do I let his go?

“Steve no,” she said. “We can go out again. Don’t spoil the evening.”

“Don’t spoil it,” he repeated. “I don’t want you to spoil it, Gina. Now that you’ve got me all worked-up.”

“Steve, stop,” she said.

“Come on Gina.” He reached around to the front of her jeans, simultaneously pulling her tighter as he tried to hastily unbutton them.

“Stop.”

“Come on. I want to be with you.”

Gina finally had enough. She tucked her elbows and forcefully shoved Steve in the chest. The force of her shove sent him pin-wheeling across the parking lot and effectively out of her life.

"Fuck off, Steve."

***

Man, I almost feel the need to shower after writing that story.

Young Steve is such a creep. It’s too bad because Gina is quite a catch. She’s beautiful and she loves to lift heavy. She has the glutes and a fantastically developed posterior chain to show for it. (I should know—it’s my story). She needs a little help with her form from time to time, but who doesn’t? She’s progressing and her training makes her feel alive, and that’s the important thing.

Of course, the Gina mentioned above is fictional. I used her to illustrate a point (in my own verbose way).

To generate maximal pushing force in a bench press, or when shoving a cretin away in a dark parking lot, tuck your elbows and explode through.

Borrowing from what is probably my favorite Bench Press article of all time, Dave Tate’s Bench Press 600lbs: A 12 Step Program:

[Step] 5 — Keep the elbows tucked and the bar directly over the wrists and elbows

This is probably the most important aspect of great pressing technique. The elbows must remain tucked to keep the bar in a straight line. Keeping the elbows tucked will also allow lifters to use their lats to drive the bar off the chest. Football players are taught to drive their opponents with their elbows tucked and then explode through. This is the same for bench pressing. Bench pressing is all about generating force. You can generate far more force with your elbows in a tucked position compared to an "elbows out" position.

***

Seasoned powerlifters (those who did not heed my warning at the beginning of this piece) are scoffing at me right now. Is there any other way to bench? Great article Eggers—massive insight here.

Really? When was the last time you watched a high school athlete perform the bench press? Based on my experience, most of the time these guys are training with their elbows out, like a bodybuilder trying to channel all muscular focus directly to their pectorals. Why? Because that’s how they are taught. I know that’s how I was taught. I was an “elbows out” bencher before I learned the error of my evil ways. It wasn’t easy to make the switch (at least at first). There was the ego issue (i.e. you may have to take a step backward in weight, at least initially), and old habits, as they say, certainly die hard.

Ultimately, after making the switch, I was rewarded with a bigger bench, far fewer pec problems, and significantly less shoulder discomfort.

Did I mention a bigger bench?

In my experience, particularly with male athletes, their egos make the switch in technique the most challenging to implement. The resistance to change is primarily driven by the fact that the weight they can handle on the bench may be temporarily reduced (and trust me, the reduction is temporary) until they fully learn the movement. This is a classic example of taking one small step backward in order to take a giant step forward in upper body strength gain.

We used to tell older athletes that tucked elbows were good for both the bench press and bar fights. (This was probably not the best analogy in retrospect, but it got their attention). If I were to get into your personal space and you needed to clear me out with a shove, I can damn well guarantee that you’re going to come up and under with those elbows tucked. Instinctively you know this position will generate the greatest amount of force.

At the surface, it seems like such a small change. However, I can tell you from experience that it was the single most important upper body technique change that I’ve ever implemented (both from force generation and longevity perspectives).

To my female powerlifting friends, if you’re not doing it already, please strongly consider tucking the elbows when benching.

Lastly, to any young Steves out there, please, just keep yourselves in check. Ginas are worth the wait.

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