13 Bench Press Cues For Max Strength (With Pictures)

When teaching the bench press, I always instruct my athletes to have 1-2 cues in mind. These bench press cues draw lifters’ attention to important elements of their technique, which help them execute the movement more effectively. The result? A stronger bench press.

In my experience coaching both National and World Champion powerlifters, the 13 most effective bench press cues are:

  • Eyes Under The Barbell
  • Get High On The Traps
  • Let The Shoulders Fall Back
  • Push The Floor Away
  • Set Your Arch
  • Leave Fingerprints On The Barbell
  • Pull The Barbell Out
  • Bend The Barbell
  • Meet The Barbell With Your Chest
  • Pull The Barbell Down
  • Stop The Barbell On Command
  • Drive Up And Back
  • Press Through The Mid-Range

In this article, we’ll go over each of these cues step-by-step from how you’re supposed to set up your body on the bench press, to how you bring the barbell down to your chest, and ultimately, to how you lock the weight out.

What Is a Bench Press Cue?

A bench press cue is a short, meaningful phrase that reminds a lifter of a specific movement outcome.

This could be anything from maintaining tension on your muscles to how you position your body/limbs throughout the movement.

You don’t want to implement every bench press cue mentioned in this article at the same time though because the brain can only focus on one (maybe two) cues at once.

Therefore, you need to address your most pressing technique issue, and then select a cue that is going to help you refine your form. Also, just because one cue works for another lifter, doesn’t mean it will work for you. It’s important to experiment with cues to see what works for you, not anybody else.

One more thing to know is that a single cue will work indirectly with others. So if you focus on one, you will intuitively practice another. For example, you’ll learn that ‘ leg drive’, will help you maintain your arch and shoulder position. As such, it’s not necessary to cue multiple parts of your technique.

Let’s get started!

Bench Press Cue #1: Eyes Under The Barbell

Bench press cue showing eyes behind the barbell
Eyes should be in line or slightly behind the barbell

Movement goal:

The goal of placing your “eyes under the barbell” is to ensure that when you unrack the barbell the distance from where you take the barbell off the rack to your start position is minimized.

The shorter the distance you need to unrack the barbell, the easier it will be to maintain your shoulder position and keep tension on your muscles.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Face under the bar
  • Slide back on the bench
  • Set-up behind the bar

How to implement:

  • As you position your body on the bench press, line up so that your eyes are directly under the barbell
  • Avoid having your eyes in front of the barbell, which will create a longer distance for the weight to travel to get into your start position

When to use:

Setting up your eyes under the barbell is an important step in your technique because it will impact how much energy you spend unracking the weight.

You should use this cue when you’re first starting to learn how to bench press or if you are purposely trying to reduce the distance the bar needs to travel from the rack to the start position., which should be every lifter’s goal

Bench Press Cue #2: Get High On The Traps

Bench press cue showing getting high on the traps
Position your body high on the traps before taking the barbell out of the rack

Movement goal:

The goal of “getting high on your traps” is to set the top part of your bench press arch, which I’ll explain in bench cue #5, and to make it easier for you to retract and depress your shoulder blades.

Having a strong arch will reduce the range of motion of the press (making it easier), and retracting and depressing your scapular will take unnecessary stress off the shoulders.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Upper back on the bench
  • Push your traps back

How to implement:

  • Lie on the bench with your eyes under the barbell
  • Put your feet on the bench press and lift your hips in the air
  • Your body will be in a decline/inverted position
  • Push into your feet to try and get higher on your traps
  • You may also find “wiggling” your body will allow you to push your traps higher

When to use:

Use this bench press cue every time you lift until it feels natural. The key part in getting high on your traps is not to lose this position when you bring your feet to the floor, when you unrack the barbell, or when you’re repping out the weight.

You might be able to start in a high trap position, but the best lifters in the world can maintain this position throughout the entire movement.

Furthermore, getting high on your traps will require you to have solid mobility in your hips and thoracic spine. Read my warm-up guide for bench press to implement drills that will help you improve your mobility.

Bench Press Cue #3: Let The Shoulders Fall Back

Bench press cue showing the shoulder position being down and back not pushing forward
The shoulders should be retracted and depressed as you set up the bench press

Movement goal:

The goal of “let the shoulders fall back” is to maximally retract and depress your shoulder blades. This position will allow you to place your scapular on the rib cage. As such, your shoulders will use the rib cage for additional stability while benching.

As well, retracting your shoulders will reduce the overall range of motion that the barbell needs to travel, ultimately making the lift easier and more efficient. It will also activate your lats, which will help make the touch on your chest more controlled. Your lats help decelerate the barbell on the way down.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Set your shoulder blades
  • Pull the scaps into your back pocket
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together

How to implement:

  • As you’re setting your high trap position (discussed in bench cue #2), think about pulling your shoulder blades back
  • You should feel that your shoulder blades are together, and the surrounding muscles are tight
  • Setting your shoulders is the opposite of having your shoulders rounding forward
  • Think about having your chest puffed up and your arms sucking back into the bench

To learn how to properly set the shoulders further, I like to perform a ‘scapular push up’, which you can learn about in my article on teaching scapular control.

When to use:

Use this cue if you find that your shoulders are unstable throughout the bench press or if you want to continually decrease the distance the barbell travels. Even the best lifters in the world can think about optimizing their shoulder position.

If you find that it’s hard to keep this position under heavy weight or as you get fatigued, then you might need to strengthen the muscles responsible for retracting and depressing your shoulder blades. These include your rhomboids, lower traps, serratus anterior, and lats.

Bench Press Cue #4: Push The Floor Away

Bench press cue showing pushing the floor away
Driving into the legs will help maintain your torso and shoulder position

Movement goal:

The goal of “pushing the floor away” is to activate the leg drive portion of the bench press. Driving into your legs will help you maintain your upper back position, push your chest up higher (further reducing the range of motion the barbell needs to travel), and increase the stability and stiffness of the torso.

You can read all about this bench press cue in my article on The Proper Way To Use Leg Drive For Bench Press. You’ll learn how this one cue can impact several other parts of your technique.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Drive your heels into the ground
  • Pull the feet toward the glutes
  • Ground the feet
  • Keep your feet flat
  • Drive your legs down and away

How to implement:

  • Find a comfortable foot placement, which will depend on your level of hip and ankle mobility
  • Aim to have your feet directly stacked underneath of your knee or either slightly pulled back or in front of this position (but not by much)
  • Drive your feet into the floor by thinking about pushing “away from you”
  • Keep your feet flat so you can use the entire surface of your foot to displace force into the ground
  • Think about creating extra pressure on the outer part of your heel
  • As you drive into the floor, your upper traps push back into the bench more

When to use:

Use this cue prior to unracking the barbell. Then, as you bring the barbell down to your chest, you still want to be cueing your feet to push into the floor. This is because you want your chest to be as high as possible while benching, and without leg drive, it’s impossible to maintain your torso position.

If you find your chest flattening out as you cycle through your reps, it’s most likely because you’re not driving into your feet strong enough from the start of the movement, or you forgot to keep pushing on the floor as you brought the barbell down to your chest.

Bench Press Cue #5: Set Your Arch

Bench press cue set your arch
The bench press arch should be supported by your hips and shoulder blades on the bench

Movement goal:

The goal of “setting your arch” is to reduce the range of motion of the movement, recruit the muscle fibers in the lower pec, and to put the shoulders in an advantageous position.

You can learn more about what is a bench press arch, whether it’s safe or not, the benefits, how to set it up, and how to improve it in my Ultimate Bench Press Arch Guide.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Pull your legs back
  • Push your chest high
  • Push your traps back
  • Drive your legs into the floor
  • Arch your back

How to implement:

  • Start with your feet on the bench
  • Bring your hips into the air so that the majority of your body weight is on your upper traps
  • Retract and depress your shoulder blades
  • Bring your feet to the floor and set your stance
  • Push aggressively into the floor so that you’re maintaining the tension on your upper traps
  • The hips should still be off the bench while you unrack the barbell
  • Once the barbell is in the start position, drop your hips to the bench and begin the movement

When to use:

Use this cue to continue to optimize for a shorter range of motion. This is important if you want to lift more weight. If you can arch your back another half-inch, then that’s another half-inch that the barbell doesn’t need to travel.

Because you’ll need to work on your hip and thoracic mobility to improve your arch, this bench press cue is something that you’ll need to practice long-term as the reward isn’t immediate.

This cue also works in tandem with other bench press cues, like “getting high on the traps”, “letting the shoulders fall back”, and “pushing the floor away”.

Bench Press Cue #6: Leave Fingerprints On The Barbell

Bench press cue showing one hand relaxed and one hand squeezing strong on the barbell
Always have your hand squeezing the barbell strong even under light weights

Movement goal:

The goal of “leaving fingerprints on the barbell” is to squeeze your hands as hard as possible before you take the barbell off the rack. Having your hands tight around the barbell is important because it will make the barbell feel ‘lighter’ in your hands, as well as stabilize your wrist position.

If you’re interested in reading about grip more generally, then read my guide on Is Wide Grip Bench Pressing Better?. You’ll learn about how to optimize your grip-width distance, which will be different for everyone.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Grip the bar strong
  • Squeeze hard
  • Break the bar in half

How to implement:

  • Find the optimal grip width
  • Wrap the thumb underneath of the barbell
  • Ensure the barbell is on the base of the palm
  • Squeeze every finger as hard as possible (don’t forget the pinky)
  • Engage your entire hand before lifting the barbell from the rack

When to use:

While it’s important to use this bench press cue prior to taking the barbell out of the rack, it’s also critical that you implement it for all your sets, not just the heavy ones.

The biggest mistake I see with a lifter’s grip is using a ‘relaxed’ hand when the weight is lighter, like during a warm-up set. This is not helpful because it’s reinforcing poor mechanics. If you can squeeze hard under lighter weights, then it will be second nature by the time you get to the heavier weights.

Bench Press Cue #7: Pull The Barbell Out

Movement goal:

The goal of “pulling the barbell out” is to engage your serratus anterior muscles (the muscles that wrap around your rib cage) while you unrack the barbell. This will provide additional stability and prevent any unnecessary movement of the barbell when lifting the barbell from the rack to your start position.

Keep in mind, you would have just spent a considerable amount of time trying to set up your arch and shoulder position when positioning your body on the bench press, you don’t want to lose these elements during the ‘unracking phase’, which is common among novice lifters.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Glide the barbell over the chest
  • Keep your lats down while you unrack

How to implement:

  • Bring the barbell to the front of the j-hooks (where the barbell sits on the rack)
  • You should only have a slight bend in the elbow
  • Extend the bar up from the rack with your elbows, not by pushing your shoulders forward
  • Think about pulling the bar out over your chest using your lat muscles
  • The distance the bar needs to travel should be minimized because you’re setting up with your eyes under the barbell

When to use:

This is a bench press cue that is used most commonly with lifters who need to self hand-off the barbell. In other words, lifters who don’t have a spotter to help them lift the barbell off the rack.

Even if you do have a spotter to help with the un-rack phase, this is still a good cue to implement as it ensures your muscles are tight prior to lifting the barbell up off the rack.

Another important note: It’s harder to gain tension through your serratus and lats once the barbell is over your chest. It’s better to get this tension before you unrack, and while you’re taking the barbell out. This will ensure your shoulder position is stabilized and you’re not losing your arched torso position.

Bench Press Cue #8: Bend The Barbell

bench press cue bending the barbell in half
You want to feel like you’re bending or breaking the bar in half

Movement goal:

The goal of “bend the barbell” is to continue to engage your hands and lats throughout the movement, and ensure that your elbows are naturally tucking slightly in front of the barbell.

With your elbows in this position, you’ll be able to transfer force from the shoulder girdle, through the arm, and into the barbell more effectively. When the elbows are flared out, it will create unnecessary stress on the shoulder, and reduce the level of activation of your triceps.

Read more about the best elbow position in the bench press.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Break the bar in half
  • Pull the bar apart
  • Pull the elbows in
  • Tuck the elbows
  • Rotate your arms inward

How to implement:

  • Take the barbell into the start position with your arms locked over your chest
  • Squeeze your hands and think about bending the barbell in half
  • While you do this, you should feel your lats ‘turn on’
  • You should also notice your elbows naturally rotate inward
  • It’s important that you implement this key with full effort, really believing that you can bend the barbell

When to use:

Use this cue when you are just about to start the lowering phase of the bench press. If you don’t do it on the first rep, it will become harder to implement it as the set goes on. You want to ensure your lats are engaged and your elbows are in the right position from the start.

This cue will be helpful for those lifters who find that their elbows naturally flare out while bench pressing. As well, implement this cue if the touch position on the chest is inconsistent, either you’re touching in different places each rep or you don’t have the strength to control the barbell.

Bench Press Cue #9: Meet The Barbell With Your Chest

Bench press cue showing the chest meeting the barbell
Pull your chest up to meet the barbell as it gets closer to the touch-point

Movement goal:

The goal of “meeting the barbell with your chest” is to ensure you maintain a high chest position the entire time, which helps reduce the overall range of motion of the movement.

The idea here is to not just think about bringing the barbell down to your chest, but your chest up to the barbell.

If your chest flattens out, you’ll be moving the barbell a greater distance and risk losing your shoulder position, which would reduce the stability of the movement.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Chest up
  • Belly up
  • Bring your chest to the barbell

How to implement:

  • Just before you bring the barbell down, think about extending the chest as high as possible
  • As the barbell lowers, see if you can pull your chest up even higher, avoiding the torso from flattening out
  • The closer the barbell gets to your chest, see if you can meet the barbell with your chest vs letting the bar come down

When to use:

Use this bench press cue during the lowering phase of the movement. If you find that you struggle with maintaining your bench press arch as you cycle through reps, this cue will help keep your torso position high.

If this cue doesn’t work in maintaining your arch, you probably need to revisit some of the other cues that help create your arch as you position your body on the bench press.

You may also want to implement this cue to further reduce the range of motion of the movement if you still find there is room to optimize the overall distance.

Bench Press Cue #10: Pull The Barbell Down

Bench press cue showing the lats engaged as the lifter pulls the barbell down toward the chest
Engaging the lats by actively pulling the bar down to the chest

Movement goal:

The goal of ‘pulling the barbell down’ is to engage your lats maximally. When the lats are engaged you restrict inefficient movement patterns, like having the barbell move out of the optimal bar bath or not being able to decelerate the barbell as it gets closer to the chest.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Bring the bar down like a lat pulldown
  • Pull the elbows in
  • Pull the barbell apart

How to implement:

  • Squeeze your hands hard around the barbell
  • Think about building tension in your lats the further you bring the barbell down to your chest
  • Practice visualizing the bench press like a lat pulldown or barbell row
  • Engage the muscles of your lats, upper back, and lower traps on the way down

When to use:

Use this bench press cue as you bring the barbell down to your chest.

This will be a helpful cue for lifters who can’t control the barbell during the eccentric phase of the movement. This would include having the barbell travel in different bar paths as you cycle through multiple reps or having the barbell bounce off your chest because you can’t decelerate the weight properly.

This can also be an effective cue for lifters who find that their scapular position isn’t able to be maintained over the course of the set, i.e. if the shoulders can’t stay retracted and depressed. If this happens, it might be because your lats are unengaged.

Bench Press Cue #11: Stop The Barbell On Command

bench press cue showing the barbell stopping right on top of the chest
Stop the barbell right on top of the chest – don’t crash or bounce

Movement goal:

The goal of “stopping the barbell on command” is to ensure you have the absolute highest control possible when touching the barbell on your chest. You want to avoid bouncing the barbell and having the barbell touch in different points as you cycle through reps.

Think of a car that approaches a wall. Your goal is to maintain as much speed as possible approaching the wall, but you want to stop just a few millimeters before the front of the car hits it.

This is like the bench press, you want to stop the barbell right on your chest. You don’t want to rest the bar on your chest, or worse, bounce the bar off your chest. This would be like the car approaching the wall, and instead of stopping, you’re crashing into it.

You can read more in my article on the Touch and Go vs Pause Bench Press.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Perform a soft touch
  • Stop on your t-shirt, not your chest

How to implement:

  • To stop the barbell on your chest you need to have your hands and lats tight
  • You should anticipate where your chest is in space as you bring the barbell down
  • As the barbell approaches the chest, think about stopping the bar right on your chest
  • Don’t let the barbell sink into the chest, or bounce the barbell off you

When to use:

Use this cue if you find that your touchpoint is inconsistent. In other words, if on some reps the barbell touches your chest higher, and other reps, it touches lower, then you’ll want to hone your consistency. As well, this cue is good for lifters who sink or bounce the barbell on their chest.

Bench Press Cue #12: Drive Up And Back

Bench press cue showing the bar path go up and back off the chest
Drive up and back off the chest in a diagonal bar bath

Movement goal:

The goal of “driving up and back” is to keep the barbell in the optimal bar path. The bar path that most elite bench pressers use is one in which the barbell travels in an angled direction off the chest.

So rather than pressing ‘straight-up’ off the chest, the barbell goes back, toward the direction of the face, and simultaneously up.

The reason for this bar path is because you want to minimize the horizontal distance between the barbell and your shoulders. The greater the distance between these points, the harder your chest and shoulders need to work to overcome the external resistance.

So if you can close this horizontal gap quicker in the range of motion, i.e. off the chest, the easier it will be to lock the weight out.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Drive back
  • Press over the face

How to implement:

  • After the barbell touches the chest, drive the barbell back toward the face
  • As the barbell reaches closer to lock-out, you will press more ‘straight-up’ than ‘back’
  • You may find your elbows flare out as you press ‘back’, which is okay so long as they don’t flare behind the barbell

When to use:

Use this bench press cue as you initiate the upward phase of the movement.

If you fail the bench press in the mid-range of the movement, you should analyze whether the bar path is one of the primary reasons. If you press straight up off your chest, versus back, then you will fail in the mid-range every time.

This is an advanced bench press cue, which won’t make a significant impact on your technique unless other cues are taken care of first. So, I would master other cues discussed in this article first. In particular, optimizing your bench press arch, leg drive, and reducing the overall range of motion.

Bench Press Cue #13: Press Through The Mid-Range

bench press cue driving through the mid range
Apply maximum force through the mid-range of motion

Movement goal:

The goal of ‘pressing through the mid-range’ is to ensure that lifters are applying maximum force at all times.

Most often, lifters will drive fairly hard off the chest, and as soon as they press through their sticking point, somewhere in the mid-range, they stop pressing as hard. This is because they know the lift will be successful, so they just ‘coast’ into the lockout.

We want to always be applying maximum force, even if the weight is light, and even if the lifter knows that they will successfully make the lift. This will reinforce the neutral drive required under maximal loads.

Other commonly used cues:

  • Drive fast
  • Accelerate to the lockout
  • Be explosive

How to implement:

  • After you have decided to push the barbell off the chest think about driving with as much speed as possible
  • If the weight is light, the goal should be to move the barbell as fast as possible
  • If the weight is heavy, and the barbell isn’t traveling quickly, the important part is still ‘thinking’ about driving as fast as possible
  • Don’t apply the minimum amount of force to overcome the load, apply the maximum force at all times

When to use:

Use this cue from your warm-up sets to your working weights to reinforce producing maximum force through the entire range of motion.

Lifters should use this cue under sub-maximal weights (60-80%) to ensure they are not being lazy with their force production. If the barbell is not moving quickly, and it’s a 60% load, then you know you’re not driving the barbell fast enough.

Don’t expect to be explosive under heavier weights, if you haven’t practiced under lighter weights.

Final Thoughts

When you’re implementing bench press cues into your training, remember that you can only use one or two at a time. You need to identify the movement outcome that is your main priority and use a cue that will help you accomplish it. Many of the bench press cues discussed relate closely to one another. So it’s likely that if you implement one cue properly that you’ll be taking care of several cues in the process without having to over-think them.