Everyone will have a different point on their chest where the barbell makes contact because everyone has different arm lengths. The changes in grip width will also change where the barbell touches your chest during the bench press. Where the barbell touches matters because bringing it in a wrong place makes the exercise harder than it needs to be.
So where should the barbell touch on your chest during the bench press? The barbell should touch on the area between the lower pec muscles and the lower sternum during the bench press. The narrower your grip, the lower the barbell will touch your chest. The wider your grip, the higher the barbell will touch your chest.
In this article, I will lay out the principles that you can apply to the bench press so you can find out exactly where the barbell needs to touch during the bench press depending on how you are performing it.
Bench Press Touchpoint: Key Points
The bench press touch point must meet a certain criteria of your bench press technique:
- The forearm must be vertical from a side view
- The barbell must be above in line with the forearm from a side view
- The barbell must be above the crooks of the elbows
Check out my other article that discusses your elbow position in the bench press.
These conditions apply to the full range of motion of the bench press. These conditions must be met regardless of what variation of a barbell bench press you are performing ie. flat bench press, incline bench press or decline bench press.
The bench press touch point will depend on two things:
- Your arm length
- Your barbell grip width
Your Arm Bone Length
Your arm length (particularly the humerus — the upper arm bone) will vary between person to person.
The longer the humerus, the lower the elbow is (closer towards your feet) and so the lower the barbell will touch on your chest.
The shorter the humerus, the higher the elbow is (closer towards your head) and so the higher the barbell will touch on your chest.
Your Barbell Grip Width
The bench press grip width will also lend you to touch the barbell in a slightly different position on your chest.
The wider the grip width, the higher the elbows are, which leads to the barbell touching slightly higher on your chest.
Check out this article about why I suggest lifters use a wider grip when bench pressing.
The narrower the grip width, the lower and closer the elbows are towards your hips, which leads to the barbell touching slightly lower on your chest.
There are also advantages to bench pressing in a close grip, which I detail in a separate article.
Why Having The Right Touch Point Matters
Having the right touch point means you have a balanced engagement of all the major muscle groups that are responsible for the bench press. This maximises how much weight you can perform on the barbell for the bench press.
Not having the right touch point can jeopardize your performance by using a less efficient technique and also can put your shoulder and elbow joints in a more uncomfortable position. This will increase your injury risk.
I’ll detail common mistakes to your touch point later.
How To Touch The Barbell On Your Chest
A good touchpoint on your chest during the bench press should include:
- A Soft Touch
- A Controlled Range of Motion
A Soft Touch
Ideally, the barbell should have a soft touch on your chest so that you do not lose tightness and stability of your torso, your arch and your shoulders. Having a softer touch as opposed to sinking the barbell into the chest will also be a safer way of touching the barbell on your chest
Consistency means being able to touch on your chest in the same place and in the same way throughout all the reps. Touching the barbell on your chest consistently will mean that your technique will be more consistent, which means that your press out will come from a more stable environment.
A Controlled Range of Motion
Intentionally controlling the barbell on the descent will be prerequisite to being able to touch your chest with a soft touch and being more consistent. Allowing the barbell to drop without control can mean the barbell touches a different point after every rep and also increases your risk of injuries such as shoulder and pec strains.
5 Common Mistakes When Touching The Barbell On Your Chest
The 5 common mistakes that people make regarding touching the barbell on the chest are:
- Touching Too High On The Chest
- Touching Too Low On The Chest
- Not Touching Your Chest
- Inconsistent Touchpoint
- Sinking the Barbell
Touching Too High On The Chest
If the barbell is touching the chest too high, you will either increase the stress on your pectoral muscles, tricep muscles and/or your shoulder joint. This puts your shoulder joint in more risk of injury. You also increase the range of motion unnecessarily.
There are two ways you can be touching the barbell too high on the chest: either the elbows are too tucked, or the elbows are too flared. Both will feel really uncomfortable and you’ll know right away that you’re not touching the barbell in the right spot.
Elbows Too Tucked
If you touch too high because you over tuck your elbows, then you put excess demand on your tricep muscles. It’s sort of like doing a skull crusher, rather than a bench press. If this is the case, you will need to flare your elbows more and bring the barbell lower down your chest.
Elbows Too Flared
If you flare your elbow too much but still try to keep the barbell above your elbows, you simply need to just tuck your elbows slightly more and bring the barbell lower down the chest.
In order to get the right elbow position, a lot of powerlifters use the bench press cue “bend the barbell“, which you can read more about in my other article.
Touching Too Low On The Chest
If the barbell is touching the chest too low, you will increase the stress on your deltoid muscles, bicep muscles and your shoulder joint. You will use more energy to get the barbell up and increase the range of motion unnecessarily.
If you touch too low on your chest and your barbell is closer towards your lower body than your elbows are, you will end up relying on the biceps and front deltoids to lever it back towards the shoulders when you press. You will need to touch the barbell higher towards your chest muscles more.
Not Touching Your Chest
If you do not touch your chest when you bench press, it would be illegal in competition if you were a powerlifter. You will also be stimulating your chest, tricep and shoulder muscles less by decreasing your range of motion if you were training for muscle mass.
Research shows that training through a longer range of motion is may be better for hypertrophy.
For these reasons, it would be better to train through a longer range of motion and touch your chest when your pec and tricep muscles are at its longest.
Inconsistent Touch Point
Having an inconsistent touch point means that your technique will be inconsistent. Having inconsistent technique means your technique makes your bench press performance less predictable.
If your touch point is inconsistent, then the difficulty of the repetitions may oscillate throughout a training set.
If some of your reps are not in your ideal touch point, that means you make some of the repetitions harder than it needs to be. If you make some of the repetitions harder than it needs to be, you decrease your performance capacity for each training set. This overall decreases your training stimulus to develop strength.
Sinking the Barbell
Sinking the barbell during the bench press can be seen in some competitive powerlifters, but it is not the majority and it is not recommended.
When you sink the barbell into your chest, you risk losing rigidity and stability of your setup. Sinking the barbell into your chest may cause you to bring your shoulder blades away from being pinched back and down, expel some air and collapse your bench press arch.
This will make your press out of the lift harder from pressing from a less stable setup and increase your range of motion.
I explain more about what happens when you lose tightness when the barbell is on your chest in my article on Uneven Bench Press.
3 Tips on Practicing Your Bench Press Touchpoint
3 tips on practicing your bench press touch point are:
- Pause The Barbell
- Place Chalk On The Barbell
- Use Video Feedback
Pause The Barbell
Pausing the barbell on the chest increases the time under tension on the muscles at that point. If you increase the stress on the muscles, you become stronger at the point where you pause.
This makes it easier over time to bring the barbell to the desired point on your chest and reinforces consistent technique, which will benefit your performance long term.
Place Chalk On The Barbell
If you rub some chalk on the bottom side of the barbell centre knurling, you leave a mark on your chest every time the barbell touches. You can use the consequential markings on your chest as a feedback tool to see what your tendencies are during sets of bench press.
Use Video Feedback
You can also use video feedback to get more detailed analysis of your technique. This can be reviewed between sets to get real time feedback.
You may want to see multiple angles during a training session so you do not miss out anything that might be important.
If you film from side on, you want to pay attention to the bar path, bar speed and the stability of your set up. If you film diagonally from a position that points towards your armpit, you can pay attention more to how the barbell touches your chest as if you film from side on, the weight plates may block your view.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where should the barbell touch during incline bench press?
During the incline bench press, the barbell should touch between your mid pec to lower pec level.
For more information about the incline bench press, read this article here.
Where should the barbell touch during decline bench press?
During the decline bench press, the barbell should touch around lower sternum level. If you want more information about the benefits and drawbacks of the decline bench press, read this article here.
Is it okay to sink the barbell into your chest?
No, sinking the barbell into your chest should be avoided as it can lead to instability and increase risk of injury.
Does the barbell need to be paused during bench press for bodybuilding?
No, the barbell does not need to be paused during bench press for bodybuilding. Although, there are benefits to pausing on the bench press such as increasing time under tension during a long muscle length, which may be better for hypertrophy. The trade off is you may perform less reps or weight if you pause during bench press.
The barbell touch point is a key portion of developing safe and effective bench press practice. If you have come from a place of not having a proper barbell touch point on your chest, you will need to consider reducing the load during training so that you can readjust your barbell touch point habits.
It is important to invest in good consistent technique early on to reduce the risk of injury and maximise how much you can lift. The effects of this will compound over time.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com