I heard about this about 4 years ago, and to be quite honest I had no clue what it meant. I UNDERSTOOD what it meant, tried to apply it, consistently, but never really got it.
I thought it was a magic trick to increase my bench instantly, but it didn’t do anything except confuse me.
In the bench, I heard to simultaneously “break the bar », “squeeze it tight in your hands », « pull it towards you », AND « stretch the bar out »… oh, and of course you also have to push it up and towards the feet in the Westside style, and up and arching backwards in most other schools.
So what the hell? I mean seriously…
I first heard about it from Kelly Starrett in his book “Becoming A Supple Leopard”. There is a section in the book on the bench press and I tried it out… unsuccessfully. Meaning that nothing “clicked” in my head. I just thought it was extra thinking, and actually made things worse.
I had put the idea aside for a long time, until I recently started working on my upper chest. I subscribed to the Dojo Of Strength to try and learn more about lifting, and it honestly is worth every penny. I hope the quality of information stays the same or gets better with the passing of Charles Poliquin. One of the exercises mentioned in there is a barbell tempo 30 degree incline wide grip bench press. Yep it’s a mouthful. But it’s great. You should go check out THIS instagram post.
But… I wasn’t really feeling my upper chest. In order to get a nice stretch and pump I instinctually decided spread my elbows out… and BAM! It all made sense! It finally made benching comfortable!
No more shoulder pain, no more wrist pain, no more elbow burn.
Trying to spread my elbows out stretches my pecs on the way down, and on the way up activates the triceps, making the whole lift smooth and controlled, under constant tension from agonist AND antagonist muscles. When I used to try and « stretch the bar”, it would activate my triceps, but would loosen up my upper back. The « Spreading the elbows out » cue solved that issue for me.
On top of that, in order to keep the hands from sliding out, the intensity of the grip has to increase, and the external tensions also sets the bar in the correct groove in the hands. It therefore solved the whole puzzle out in one fell swoop.
I can’t wait to see the effect on my 1 RM in the coming weeks 💪
Take it easy, and spread those elbows out!