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Bench Press: To Tuck or not to Tuck?

December 17, 2019

Coaching cues fall in and out of favor all the time. Right now, “tuck your elbows” is pretty popular. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible cue for the average recreational lifter. But before we get into the “why,” let’s make sure we’re on the same page. 

WHAT IS IT?

Elbow tuck describes the degree of the upper arm in relation to the torso throughout the movement.“Tuck your elbows” cues the lifter to pull her elbows toward her torso when lowering and pressing the bar during bench press. 

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Most of the time, this results in the elbows being in front of the bar. And that’s a terrible position for force transfer. The optimal way to transfer force from the shoulder girdle, through the arms, and to the barbell is to keep your elbows DIRECTLY UNDER THE BAR. Your foreman must be perpendicular to the floor - this is critical for optimal force transfer. Read more about Moment Arms here.

CORRECT:

Woman bench pressing, demonstrating correct elbow position

INCORRECT:

Woman demonstrating incorrect elbow position during bench press

WHO SHOULD TUCK?

Well, that depends on the grip width of the lifter. If you have a narrow grip, your arm angle will be much smaller and the touchpoint on your chest will be much lower. So if you bench with a narrow grip, “tuck your elbows” might be an effective cue. 

If you’re a geared lifter, tucking your elbows might also be an effective cue.

BUT if you’re like most lifters and your hands are noticeably outside of your shoulders, the touchpoint on your chest is probably near the bottom of your sternum. In which case, “tuck your elbows” is a crappy cue.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

First of all, if you’re not sure whether or not your arms are under the bar/perpendicular to the floor, shoot a video while you’re bench pressing. Review the video - are you good? No? Elbows in front of the bar?

It’s an easy fix. Simply flare your elbows slightly (just until they are directly under the bar, don’t go crazy here). DON’T CHANGE YOUR GRIP simply so you can tuck your elbows! 

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