When it comes to taking the bar out of the rack there is much more to it than one might think. The hand off is a critical step in the entire lift, even more so than the actual bench movement itself. It is what will set you up for success or failure before you even begin to move the bar. Taking the bar out of the rack is something I consciously practice improving every single set. In this article I will cover how to take the bar out like a pro bencher and set yourself up for a big press!
The Problem - Poor bench unracking leading to untucked shoulders, poor positioning, and lack of tightness
In many commercial gyms you'll see people lifting off bars themselves, as a result they add 2 inches to their bench stroke, press out of a poor position, and set themselves up for shoulder injuries. This is unfortunately the norm, very rarely will you actually see someone set up shoulders tucked, chest up, and utilize a hand off properly
Even for the experienced lifter the unrack is always something that can be worked on. Setting up with your chest 1/4th inch higher can make or break your bench and it starts with how well you are able to maintain your position on the unrack. Why even bother trying to set up in a good position if you're just going to lose it on the unrack? The bench press as an entire lift must be practiced like sport from the moment you get on the bench all the way through the unracking of the bar and the finish of the lift
The Fix - Take the bar out with the lats! Get air before the unrack, and utilize a hand off
Take your time setting up on the bench, tuck your shoulders back and down, get your chest up as high as you can, make sure your feet are in the right position to utilize drive from your lower body. Do everything you do in order to ensure you are in a good position to bench, but now you must learn to maintain that position off the unrack!
When you take the bar out of the rack you should never feel your shoulders doing the work! Use your lats to bring the bar out. It should feel exactly like doing a pullover with the bar. In fact to practice this I include pullovers in my program. I put a lacrosse stick through some bands attached to a pull up bar and do pullovers from the head to the waist using the lats while keeping a shoulders tucked back position. You want to barely clear the rack when you take the bar out, if you excessively lift the bar too high when you unrack you'll lose some shoulder positioning
This is why you utilize the hand off. A good hand off will allow you to stay tight to the bench and control the bar out with your lats without losing your positioning. The hand off person should lift the bar just enough to clear the rack and allow you to feel a good amount of the weight as you bring it out. They should not lift the bar so high up that you start untucking at the shoulders and dump the weight in your hands at the end. They are just there to guide the bar out while you set up to bench. A self handoff tip if you don't have someone is to lift your hips up enough so that you can pull the bar out with your lats without having to utilize your shoulders, then just dip your hips back onto the bench before you begin lifting
Before you unrack the bar make sure to take the time to fill your body with air! Don't try an fill your belly with air while you have weight in your hands. My method and what I feel works the best is to call out to your handoff person 3...2... and then start grabbing your air, when your mouth closes they will know to lift off. Take your time! Make sure you not only think about filling your belly with air but expanding your chest with air, filling your sides, filling your back, expanding everywhere possible with the largest breath you can take. This will make a huge difference in your ability to remain tight throughout the lift
Another important note, grab the bar tight before the unrack! Once you take the bar out soft you will not be able to regain that tightness. Place the bar in the heel of your hands and grab the bar as tight as possible. Think about breaking the bar or rather trying to open a tight jar. It has become popular in bodybuilding to take the bar out with a false grip (thumbs off the bar), this is not a bad idea in respect to isolating and feeling the chest contract but maximizing your bench is not bodybuilding! Wrap that bar up tight as possible!
With these tips you will find that you are able to maintain a tighter set up and better positioning. Don't get lax in your unrack, it is just as much part of the lift than the actual lifting itself. Practice makes perfect. Throughout my warm up I will focus on taking the bar out with the lats and if I feel the shoulders getting involved too much I will just take the weight again. Don't reward mediocracy, train yourself to perfection every single set
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