“If you’re not purple when you set up for the bench press, you’re not doing it right. Hell, you should be purple on your way to the gym!” - Dave Tate

I thought I knew how to bench. I thought I had a good setup. I thought I knew what I was doing. Well...I thought wrong! This article covers bench press tips Dave gave to me and my powerlifting team on the final day of his vacation in Myrtle Beach.

In general, I do all of the right things when I bench press. I pull my shoulder blades together, I arch my back, and I use my legs to drive my back through the bench. What Dave taught me, however, was that you have to do them right each and every time and with 100% effort.

Here are a few bench tips I picked up from Dave that I think will help others out:

1. Learn two separate bench setups.

One setup should be with your feet tucked under you, and another should be with your feet out in front of you. Learn and become comfortable with both. That way, if you have an injury and are forced to change your setup during or near a meet, then you’ll be able to default to something that you've at least practiced.

2. Learn to bench with your butt on the bench.

You might have to adjust your setup to make this happen. There’s nothing worse than getting red lighted on a bench because your butt came up. Find a bench setup that not only allows for maximum tightness and leg drive, but also eliminates the opportunity for your butt to come up. If you can get an extreme arch, then you should be able to get your upper hamstrings and lower glutes on the bench. If you can’t get into this position, then go to the feet-out-in-front stance. In either stance, the objective is to have your knees below your hips. It’s very hard to drive your butt off the bench when your knees are below your hips.

3. Throw crazy plate variations on the bar.

This way, you have no idea what you’re lifting. I say this one in jest, but for some lifters it really works! We had a lifter finally hit a 315-pound bench press because he had no idea what was on the bar. He simply focused on technique and smashed the weight.

4. Warm up with standing ab pull downs and glute ham raises.

This warms up the entire lower half of the body and stretches out the hip flexors and abs. If you’re benching correctly, this warm-up will be insanely helpful. Do four sets of ten on each exercise as your warm-up.

5. When performing the main lift of your training session, never do more than three reps, even when warming up.

If you’re setting up correctly, then you shouldn’t be able to do more than three anyway. If you have to do eight sets of three with the bar to warm up, then do eight sets of three to warm up! This also gives you eight times to work and perfect your setup. It also gives you more first reps, and we all know that powerlifting is all about the first rep. (This tip actually came through Dave from Steve Goggins. Steve told Dave that he never had a major injury through the bulk of his career, and when asked why, this was one of his reasons).

6. If you’re bench pressing and you feel comfortable, then you’re doing it wrong.

You should feel extreme tightness in your feet, calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hips, abs, low back...all the way through your freaking skull! And I don’t mean a little tightness. I mean so tight that it hurts, causes you to sweat, turn purple, and breathe heavy—and that’s before you even take the bar out of the rack! Keep that tightness throughout the entire lift and you’ll be well on your way to a better bench press.

Dave threw an insane amount of information at us this day, but these were the things that stuck with me and seem to be helping me going forward. The final tip is the best. My setup was pretty good in general, but I simply wasn't tight enough.  Tighten up and put some real effort into your setup. It will cut down your bench stroke, take pressure off your shoulders, and help you break through to new PRs.