The Problem - Letting the chest drop while benching
One of the biggest issues I see in the bench press is lifters continuously letting their chest cave in with the bar. When you let your chest drop in the bench you not only tend to lose tightness but you additionally make it a longer range of motion, forcing yourself to work harder than you need. When you set up for the bench, every centimeter higher you can reach up with your chest will make an enormous difference. The bench set up is literally a game of inches. However, as high up your chest is when you begin, it does not mean much if you let it drop during the press.
I wanted to touch on this subject because it's not only something I see very frequently, but Dave Tate of Elite FTS just recently did a video when he mentioned the same issue. Check the video out here
This issue is the exact reason I was stuck at a 315 raw bench plateau for a years time. My old raw bench set up had me placing my chest up in a good position but as soon as I brought the bar down I would let the chest cave in enough and lose tightness with the bar. Once you lose tightness in any lift, especially the bottom position where you are the weakest, it is extremely difficult to press through that. It is a recipe for a big plateau every single time. Luckily there are ways to work through this issue
The Fix - Chest to the bar cue, Press away from the bar, & Head on the bench cue
The chest to the bar cue is one of the most effective ways to work through this technical flaw. I would suggest lightening the weight until you are proficient at utilizing this technique. As you lower the bar to your chest, think about meeting the bar halfway with your chest. What I tell people is to think about bringing the chest to the bar just as much as lowering the bar to the chest. Not only will this keep you in a prime pressing position, but you will also activate your lats to a stronger degree
Imagine someone bigger and stronger than you had pushed you up against a wall. If you were trying to get them off you, you wouldn't stand there and push back because they are stronger, you would use the leverage of the wall behind you to shove them off you. You become stronger by leveraging against the wall. This is how you need to think on the bench press. You are always stronger when you leverage against the bench and think about pushing yourself away from the bar rather than just pushing the bar while lying on a bench. Use the bar to shove your body into the bench. It is a much stronger way of pressing and when you bench this way you will likely keep your chest proud and high.
The last cue here to help with keeping your chest high on the bench is to keep your head down. This is something that I first learned from a seminar Jamie Matta ran at his gym in Fairhaven VT. There are many people who bench head down and then there are just as many people that look the bar into their chest. There is no right or wrong way but if you are having issues caving your chest you might want to adopt a head back approach, it does make a difference. When your head stays back there is less likely a chance to dip your ribcage down as you look the bar in. I personally have a very inflexible neck, if you are anything like me you will find that if you tried this technique that you'd have no choice but to dip your chest the slightest to accommodate your head moving. This is a cue to consider and play around with.
If you follow these quick fixes I guarantee you will feel stronger in the bench. You might find you aren't handling the same weight you're used to at first but realize this is because you weren't used to staying tight in the bottom. You never developed that strength on the chest. In time you'll be back to benching your old max and then some
If you need someone to take a look at your set up and offer suggestions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a video of your lift!