Part 3 of 3: 3 Reasons Your Bench Hasn't Progressed & It’s Not Your Programming!

If you’re reading this article, hopefully you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of the 3 Reasons Your Bench Is Stalling & It’s Not Your Programming! If you haven’t, you definitely should since you’re likely interested in how to improve your Bench Press!

So here we are chatting about the 3rd key element that can drastically improve your Bench Press..

Often times when lifters come to me for shoulder, neck or other injuries of the upper back or upper extremity, one of the FIRST things I have to fix is their EYE GAZE. Now, this might seem like a minor thing that shouldn’t really influence how much you bench or how healthy your musculoskeletal system remains but it actually is.

The 3 most common eye gaze issues I see are as follows:

  1. Lack of a purposeful gaze.

  2. Eye gaze is too far forward.

  3. Eyes follow the bar throughout each rep.

Before we discuss the best way to set your eyes for powerful and optimal gains on the Bench Press, we’ll talk about why eye gaze is so important.

Our neurological system has a few things in place to help us maintain balance. Balance is extremely important because, without such we would not function properly in our environment. We’d fall all over the place and get hurt frequently. Put a heavy load (let’s say 365 lb) on our backs or in our hands and staying balanced becomes 365 times more important.

So, how do the eyes influence balance? A couple of ways!

Vision, or sight, is one of the 5 senses that our body uses to provide us with information about the world we are interacting with. Our eyes provide us feedback about our environment, where we are in space, and what our body is doing relative to our environment. Visual information provides our brains with information about how our bodies are oriented relative to other objects in our environment. Think visual-spatial awareness.

Our body also has something called the Vestibular System that functions to integrate information about motion and where we are in space to help us maintain equilibrium. The vestibular organs are located within the inner ear and respond sensitively to head position. Think about when you were a kid and you’d spin around as fast as you can and then stop but the world keeps spinning around you. Or any time you’ve had clogged ears or a bad sinus cold and you get super dizzy really easily? That’s because of the influence these thing have (motion of the head or internal pressure) on the vestibular organs.

So, with that said, you can see that our bodies can be quite responsive to what our head and our eyes are doing. Particularly in the Bench Press we commonly see two issues when our eye gaze isn’t right.

What is the optimal eye gaze for the Bench Press? I’m glad you asked!

The best way to set up for optimal contribution of eye gaze in the bench press is to keep our head as still as possible and our eyes focused on one point directly up and perpendicular to our body.

When setting up in the rack you want your eyes to be just on the down side of the bar (this is the side of the bar that is closer to your feet). This ensures that when you unrack the bar you have optimal room between just above your shoulder joint (where the bar should be at lockout) and the rack pins so you don’t hit them when you bench press.

Once the bar is un-racked and settled comfortably and directly over your shoulder joint you should be looking STRAIGHT UP at the ceiling. At this point you’ll find a fixed point to look at and take note that the bar didn’t disappear since you aren’t looking at it. OMG it’s actually still there and in your peripheral vision. Great! This point is probably the most important thing to note:

WHERE THE BAR IS IN YOUR PERIPHERAL VISION WHEN YOU ARE STARING AT THE CEILING AND THE BAR IS LOCKED OUT OVER YOUR SHOULDERS IS THE CORRECT EYE GAZE POSITION.

Good, remember it! Because you’re going to lock your eyes to this fixed spot you found on the ceiling, you’re going to perform a rep and return the bar exactly to that same spot in your peripheral vision. No, you do not need to look at the bar to Bench Press!. You’ll know the bar has touched your chest because you also have this cool other sense, called touch, that allows you to feel the bar has touched your chest while you are looking at another point in space.

That’s it! It’s so simple!

So where did this common practice of following the bar with your eyes come from and why is it bad?

My firm belief is that many raw lifters have adopted this practice by watching and imitating geared lifting in which it’s very, very hard to sense when the bar has touched your chest because of the resistance, extra material (if we’re talking multiply also) and discomfort associated with the bench shirt. For this reason, it’s difficult for the lifter to know when and if the bar has touched their chest so these lifters often watch the bar for the visual input that they’ve brought the bar in contact with their chest.

Raw lifters do not need to look at the bar to know it has touched their chest because their sense of touch is not impaired.

Common issues I see with lifters who follow the bar with their eyes are as follows:

  1. A messy bar path which is often too far forward both during it’s travels down and up and at lock out. When the bar path is too far forward, gravity wins and we fail the rep. When the bar is continually too far forward of the shoulder joint we can end up with all types of aches, pains and injuries at the neck, shoulder, and elbow.

  2. A head that lifts off the bench. The most obvious thing here is red lights in a meet and therefore a technical missed lift. But the not-so-obvious thing here is that when the head lifts off the bench we tend to see the chest fall and the shoulders round a bit. This is when and where we see a lot of shoulder issues, most notably, proximal biceps tendonitis and shoulder impingement, develop.

These two common issues are KEY in progressing the Bench Press without physically failing lifts, getting red lighted in meets, and keeping your shoulders healthy long term. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve made this small adjustment to a lifter’s Bench Press and their long standing shoulder pain is ameliorated in a few days after MONTHS of no resolve with other passive treatments.

There you have it:

→ fix your eye gaze → improve your bar path and/or obliterate upper extremity injuries → BIGGER BENCH PRESS.

As discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this Bench Series you may experience a brief dip in performance while you correct these technical errors.

Document where your Bench Press is now before implementing these changes. Take a video from the side as well. Save it in a safe place.

In 8-12 weeks do the same thing: take a video from the side and document where your Bench Press is then.

Share it with us on Instagram (@rorimegan or @prorehabstrength) or email it to me (info@progressiverehabandstrength.com) and we’ll show the world that technique can, in fact, improve your lifts rather than the program or lack of toys being the issue!