Let’s start at the ground and work our way up. First, the feet should be planted firmly on the ground. Putting the legs up on the bench for more core activation is a silly myth and is very dangerous. Nothing funnier than watching some moron dump the bar trying to look like a balance master. Instead, plant the feet firmly into the ground, allowing the hips to drive into the bench, creating more leverage.
Also by doing using this technique, you will allow the activation of the trunk stabilizers. Bracing the core during the bench press is essential so that the entire body becomes involved. Not only is this safer, it will make you significantly stronger. It will also keep the stress off the joints and focused on the proper muscles.
Another important factor in the bench press is full mobility of the rotator cuff muscles. These are small muscles that surround the shoulder that allow rotation of the shoulder and maintain stability. When people complain of shoulder pain, it is usually the external rotators causing the issue. Having a healthy rotator cuff is critical for heavy benching so that the shoulder can maintain proper posture. The best practise to maintain tissue mobility is called ‘Myofascial Release’ (myo=muscle, fascial= fascia, dense connective tissue surrounding the muscle). More on this topic to come.
It is recommended that you visit a certified practitioner (massage therapists, some chiropractors and personal trainers). But you can also do it yourself by lying on the ground, compressing the muscle with an object. Personally, I find a lacrosse ball or baseball works best for the rotator cuff specifically.
The final point when performing heavy bench press is the articulation of the shoulder blades. They should be retracted and depressed. In non-anatomical language, pinch the shoulder blades together and force them down towards the lumbar region. A common cue for this position is ‘proud chest’, just like a soldier.
Follow these tips and you are bound to increase your bench press significantly. The sky is the limit when it comes to strength. The body is capable of truly incredible feats of strength. How far you are willing to take it is up to you. Just be sure the technique is proper so that you are not crippled in your mid 30’s.