We often hear coaches in powerlifting who cue their lifters to bend the bar when performing the bench press.
So, what does bending the bar on bench press mean? The cue “bending the bar” in the bench press helps create tension in the upper body by squeezing the hands and engaging the lats. In addition, bending the bar helps lifters to position the elbows in a natural “tuck” underneath the barbell when bringing the weight down to the chest.
While many athletes have success incorporating this cue, it is only as effective as our ability to implement it correctly. This requires us to have further knowledge of WHY this is important and WHAT it is actually accomplishing. In this article I’ll discuss the what and why of bending the bar, as well as if it is right for you.
Want to learn more about various bench press cues? Check out my article on the 13 Best Bench Press Cues For Max Strength.
Bending The Bar During The Bench Press: An Overview
The cue of bending the bar for the bench press means that we are exerting force with our hands into the bar in a way that simulates breaking the bar in half or pulling it apart.
We use this cue because the action of bending the bar will help us to create necessary tension to lift heavier weights, and assist in proper elbow/shoulder positioning to reduce the risk of injury while bench pressing.
It should be noted that the bar does not actually bend (obviously, because the bar is made from steel), however we should be exerting force maximally as if we were going to bend it in half, to engage the muscles optimally.
We initiate this cue at the top of the bench press once the bar has been unracked and the arms are extended over the chest. We also want to maintain this cue throughout the duration of the lift.
By initiating at the top of the movement we are able to position the elbows properly to prevent elbows flaring off the chest, which can stress the shoulder girdle and impair the ability of the triceps to contribute to the press.
Elbow flaring is when the elbow is ‘behind the barbell’, rather than in front.
In addition, when we “bend the bar”, we are activating the lats which are important in the bench press because when engaged properly, they create a stable base for us to press from. This is important for controlling the bar to the chest, and for maintaining tightness during the pause – which is often required for competition (important if you’re competing in powerlifting).
Key Takeaway: Failing to execute the cue correctly, results in inefficient muscle activation, lack of upper body tension, inconsistent movement patterns (elbows flaring early, chest collapsing), and less control over the barbell – all of which have the potential to decrease the amount we are able to bench press.
Wanting to learn how to bench press and master the foundations of the movement? Check out our 10 Bench Press Progressions From Beginner To Advanced
When To Use The Cue “Bending The Bar”?
The cue for bending the bar can be used for those who:
- Are lacking tension in the lats
- Have issues with elbows flaring (elbows track behind the barbell)
- Struggle with an inconsistent touch point during the bench press.
Lack Tension In The Lats
If we lack tension in the lats during the bench press we may experience lack of control of the barbell to the chest (resulting in the bar crashing onto the chest), or lack of tightness while the bar is on the chest (can cause a collapse of the chest and hinder our ability to press the bar back up).
In order to correct these technique flaws, we can use the cue of bending the bar to help engage the lats in the beginning of the lift to control the descent of the bar and maintain tension in the upper body when the bar is resting on the chest – which can increase the amount of weight we are able to lift.
Too Much Elbow Flaring
Too much elbow flaring in the bench press can put our shoulders at a higher risk of injury, which is made worse with heavier loads and repetition. In addition, it limits our ability to exert force using the triceps which play an important role in locking out the bench press.
To decrease the risk of injury and use the triceps effectively, we can implement the cue of bending the bar to position the elbows in their slightly tucked position and maintaining them throughout the lift.
The goal is to keep the elbows in-line or slightly in front of the barbell when the bar is on the chest, without too much focus being taken away from other technique requirements of the lift.
To learn more about the most effective elbow positions for the bench press, check out our article Should Your Elbows Be In or Out For Bench Press?
If we are struggling to achieve a consistent touch point on the chest during the bench press then we are likely lacking control during the descent of the bar. This inconsistent touch point can result in varying elbows positions across multiple reps and limit our ability to be consistent with our movement patterns and bar path.
To address these inconsistencies we can use the cue of bending the bar to engage the lats and squeeze the hands, which will help to control the descent of the bar and place the bar on the chest in the same location for each rep.
How To Implement Bending The Bar For The Bench Press
To bend the bar on bench press, you should:
- Set your scapular (shoulder blade) position down and back
- Set your grip to preferred grip width
- Unrack the bar
- Squeeze the barbell tightly as if to pull the bar apart (applying pressure on the pinky finger)
- Feel your elbows tuck in toward the body and the lats engage
- Maintain the tension throughout the lift
After the lift we should evaluate if we were able to properly create tension, if we activated the desired musculature effectively, and if it will improve our bench press capabilities. If we determine that this cue works for us, we can implement it every time we bench whether it’s in competition for a single rep, or in training for multiple reps.
When completing multiple reps, it is increasingly important to continue squeezing the bar barbell maximally in an effort to bend the bar, as we may do this less effectively as we get tired. To keep the quality of the reps consistent we should maintain the effort as best we can throughout the reps.
Interested in learning about reducing the range of motion in the bench press for a competitive advantage? Check out our article about How To Do The Bench Press Arch.
Will The Cue To Bend The Bar Work For Everyone?
We are all receptive to different cues, and the effectiveness of a cue is dependent on our ability to understand what is being asked of us and implementing it correctly. Therefore, it could be possible that a lifter may not understand how to change their movement to improve their bench press when instructed to bend the bar.
If this is a cue that they could benefit from because they are not properly engaging the lats and/or creating upper body tension then we can try to cue them with other key words to try and communicate the action needed to execute the correction.
Other cues that could replace bending the bar could be:
- Pull the bar apart
- Break the bar in half
- Tuck the elbows
- Lock in the lats
- Spread the bar
Ultimately the success of a cue for an individual is determined by the outcome of their performance after incorporating the correction. If the lifter is able to execute and it benefits their performance then the cue is likely a good one for them.
When Should We Not Use The Cue Of Bending The Bar?
If a lifter is struggling with other aspects of the bench press (ex: scapular position, leg drive, bar path) and it is limiting their performance, it is best to focus on this rather than implementing a new cue that does not address the current limiting factor for bench press success.
We are only able to focus on so many things at a time, so it is best to prioritize the most important factors and work to ingrain those movement patterns before adding additional cues.
In addition, anytime a cue is creating more problems than it is solving, it is beneficial to redirect our efforts and avoid time wasted on strategies that are not going to help us to bench press more weight. Just because a certain cue works for another lifter does not mean that it will have the effect for our own bench press.
Are you using your legs effectively in the bench press in order to lift the most weight possible? Check out our article for The Proper Way To Use Leg Drive For Bench Press.
Bending the bar on bench press may not work for everyone, but if our movement pattern suggests that we could benefit from additional attention engaging the lats and creating more tension in the upper body, we can try other cues that we may be able to incorporate better. It is best to evaluate our own needs in the bench press, rather than to incorporate cues just because they are “trendy”.
About The Author
Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.