The Best Bar Path for your Bench Press

Chest 4 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

One of the first things I learned after becoming a strength coach is that strength training is art. That is to say that each person can express it in a different way and it can still be right.

This was a lesson I learned when I started actually paying attention to what others in the gym were doing.

I used to think that any time an exercise was done differently than the way I executed the movement it was wrong.

I confirmed later that is usually true.

But not always.

It’s easy to see a guy benching half reps and assume he is cheating, or he doesn’t know what he is doing. You might be right, but he might also be recovering from a shoulder surgery and that is his surgeon’s recommended range of motion.

A lesson I learned when I became a better strength coach is that lifting evolves. The technique you use as a beginner is not the same technique you will use as an advanced athlete.

Let’s talk about bench press technique.

Elite Bar Path

Bench MovementGreg Nuckols runs a great site for strength training theory & technique called Stronger by Science (formally known as Strength Theory). The articles are well-written, thorough, and accurate.

He posted an article that compares a novice bench path (245lbs is considered novice in his article. I don’t agree, but whatever), the bar path of a 463lb bench (Mike Bridges), and the bar path of a 605lb bench press (Bill Kazmaier).

The key takeaway of the post is this:

Move the bar towards your head on the ascent and then press straight up instead of pressing straight up and then towards your head. A more advanced lifter has more lateral movement in the beginning of the lift.

Good. I agree. That is the most efficient & strongest bar path for an elite powerlifter to use in competition.

But what if you aren’t in a powerlifting competition?

What if you are doing more than just one rep?

What if you’re brand new to bench pressing?

Is it still the most appropriate bar path for you?

Efficient Beginner Bar path

When you are first learning the bench press setup there is a lot to focus on.

Adding a complex bar path isn’t something to work on just yet.

Instead what I want you to focus on is your setup, safety, control over the bar, and leave the bar path wizardry for later.

Efficient bar path for a beginner is more linear, and since we will be performing multiple reps in a set you will not be going to complete lockout.

This is a key difference between your training bench press repetitions and a powerlifter’s competition rep. This elbow lockout largely disengages the biceps/triceps groups and requires the shoulder joint to stabilize the load all by it’s lonesome. In competition, lockout is required to set a standard by which to judge competitors.

But when you’re training in the gym there are better ways to bench press. Safer ways.

In training you want to maintain soft elbows between reps so you have the most control over the load. This will create smoother reps through consistent muscle engagement, more time under tension, and more hypertrophy.


The right time to use AN elite bar path

Using elite bar path is something to begin gravitating towards after you have perfected your bench press setup and you don’t give it a conscious thought anymore.

Once your bench press set up is perfect and leg drive is constant you can start recording videos of your bar path (check out the app Iron Path Pro) to see how your path compares to the elite.

Do this on single repetitions only, and when you are beginning to peak for a PR or competition.

Most of your training reps should stick to the simple vertical bar path seen in the above video.

More Information

Check out The Serious Guide to the Bench Press for more information that covers everything bench press related.

Check out The Seriously Strong Beginner Program for the best program to start your streng/th training journey.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.