Cues Are More Nuanced Than You Think
I bet you've heard the cue “bending the bar” more times than you can count. Even with the popularity of raw powerlifting in 2022, there still are lifters giving benching cues for equipped lifting at every powerlifting competition.
“Bending the bar” is an overused and oftentimes wrong cue that has been grandfathered in from the time when a bench shirt was the norm. The concept of “bending the bar”, although well-intentioned, can lead to overtucking of the elbows at the bottom of the bench press, leading to an inefficient lift.
How “Bending the Bar” Can Screw up Your Lift
Why is having the elbows overly tucked bad? Well, by having the elbows too tucked into the body your shoulder ends up in slight external rotation, and your wrist and elbow are not stacked on top of each other. Ideally in a raw bench press, the elbow and wrist would make a straight line pointing upwards as the bar is rested as high as possible on the chest.
Consequently, this requires a neutral shoulder position as the scapula pulls the shoulders back and slightly down. So when cueing to “bend the bar” you are inherently cueing excessive elbow tuck and the issues that come with it.
Where Did This Cue Come From Anyway?
The “bending the bar” cue as mentioned earlier stems from equipped lifting in which the lifter wears a bench shirt that is extremely stiff. This bench shirt is a very thick canvas that forces the lifter's arms to be pulled together and in front.
By aiming to bend the bar outwards (having the bar bend towards your face), the lifter is able to stretch the bench shirt more and therefore get more force out of the bottom. This works great for equipped lifters, but raw powerlifters on the other hand would not get the same benefit due to the lack of equipment.
A Better Cue to Replace “Bending the Bar”
There is a variation of “bending the bar” that I like to cue precisely to counteract overly tucking the elbows. It is to “point your thumbs away from your face”. While this may seem strange, this cue forces a little more elbow flare, making it really hard to tuck the elbows. This oftentimes counteracts the excessive elbow tuck, leading to a more efficient bottom position in which the wrists and elbows are stacked on top of each other.
Keep in mind that overly pointing the thumbs away from your face can have the opposite effect of maintaining neutral shoulder positioning by forcing too much internal rotation. This is very rare to see in comparison to the excessive external rotation that comes with the “bending the bar” cue but is still something that you should be aware of when applying the cue.
If you find that your elbows are now in front of your wrist when at the bottom position of the bench press, you have excessively applied the cue and are now in internal shoulder rotation. Neither internal nor external shoulder rotation is desired on the bench press and cues should be used appropriately to maintain a neutral position.
Think About the Implications before Using an Outdated Cue
So now that you know why “bending the bar” is not the best cue for raw lifters you can cue appropriately for different issues with shoulder positioning on the bench press. Whether cueing “pointing the thumbs away from you” or just not applying the “bending the bar” cue works to keep neutral shoulders and stacked forearms depends on the lifter. Now you have the information needed to make that call for your own bench press.