Last updated on October 30th, 2022 at 03:10 pm
So, you want to know whether lifting your head during bench press is a good thing or a bad thing?
You’ve no doubt seen people lift their head while they bench.
In fact, you may even have done this yourself, often subconsciously.
But, is lifting your head a legitimate bench pressing technique?
Or is this something that you’ll want to avoid at all costs?
Allow me to reveal all.
Table of Contents
Lifting Head During Bench Press
There are arguments for both keeping your head flat on the bench and also for lifting it slightly during bench press. However, from a personal perspective, I don’t like to lift my head from the bench. The main reason for this is that lifting your head during bench press will collapse your chest down, it may force the shoulders into internal rotation, you’ll lose the tightness in your upper back, lats, and traps. Plus, it can also cause you to lose elbow tuck.
The Pros. of Lifting Your Head During Bench Press
As with many things lifting-related, there is no single perfect answer to the “lifting your head during bench press” scenario.
In fact, some people will say that it’s a must, whereas others will tell you that you should keep your head tight to the bench.
I’ll openly admit, I’m in the “keep your head down” camp, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
However, I think it’s also a great idea to look at things from the other point of view too.
One such advocate of lifting your head is legendary strength training coach, Mark Rippetoe.
Now, I wouldn’t usually go against anything that Mark says, as he definitely knows his stuff, and I’ve achieved some fantastic gains over the years by following his advice.
So, I do have a certain feeling of trepidation going against Mark.
What Does Mark Say About Lifting Your Head During Bench Press?
So, what exactly are Mark’s reasons for lifting his head during bench press?
Firstly, I should say that Mark is not talking about excessively lifting your head off the bench, but rather by approximately half an inch.
It’s something that he also states in his now famous Starting Strength book.
Basically, Mark feels that if you keep your head flat on the bench, there is a tendency to really push the back of your head into the bench.
This is especially true when you’re lifting heavy or nearing fatigue or failure.
This excessive use of force can easily strain the neck muscles, and perhaps lead to an even more serious neck injury.
I guess you could also say the same if you’re excessively lifting your head off the bench too.
Furthermore, you’ll often see people lift their head as they press the bar up and almost slam their head into the bench as they lower the weight.
Then again, there are those who seem to lift their head as they lower the barbell.
To be honest, I feel this is simply a knee-jerk reaction, and quite often this is done completely unconsciously.
That being said, I do get Mark’s point about the potential for injury by forcing head into the bench.
So, in a way, I don’t 100% disagree with what Mark is saying, although head lifting of any amount is still something I choose to avoid during bench press.
The Cons. of Lifting Your Head During Bench Press
Okay, you’ve probably already got a fair idea of why I don’t like lifting my head during bench press.
Firstly, as soon as you lift your head you’re changing your spinal position.
Even by following Mark’s advice, and only lifting your head by half an inch, this shift in spinal position still occurs.
Now, it may not be a great deal, but I feel that this still means that your spine isn’t in the optimal position for benching.
So, not only is there the potential for a neck injury, you’ll also need to be wary of your back too.
I’ll also repeat that while I like to keep my head flat on the bench, there is absolutely no excessive pushing into the bench with my head.
And this is regardless of how much weight I’m lifting or how near to failure I am.
Proper Bench Press Technique Cues
Okay, something else I dislike about lifting your head is that it presents the potential for incorrect bench pressing form.
What I mean by this is there are typically a few bench press cues, which not only allow you to bench more effectively, but always more safely.
One of the main cues is to retract your shoulder blades during the set up and literally dig your shoulder blades into the bench.
This involves pulling your shoulder blades back and down, literally as though you’re trying to tuck them into your back pocket.
What this does is to “pack the shoulder”, which places them into a far more secure position.
Not only does this allow you to bench more efficiently, it also places your shoulders in a far safer position.
You probably know as well as me that shoulder aches and pains can often affect your bench press.
One of the main reasons people experience shoulder pain while benching is that they allow their shoulders to internally rotate.
This is obviously the complete opposite of retracting your shoulder blades, and therefore should be avoided altogether.
What also happens when you retract your shoulder blades is that it raises your body slightly from the bench, as well as allowing you to puff your chest out.
In effect, this actually reduces the range of motion, thus providing a mechanical advantage, which in turn should allow you to bench more weight.
However, as soon as you lift your head from the bench there is the potential for all these fantastic forms cues to completely disappear.
It’s likely that your chest will collapse down, your shoulders will internally rotate, plus you’ll lose that tightness in your upper back, lats, and traps.
Remember that your back muscles are still working while you bench press in order to provide a stable base.
You also want to keep your torso tight throughout every rep of bench press.
Basically, it’s likely that all these things will just fall apart as soon as you raise your head.
Additionally, another bench press form cue is to keep your elbows tucked.
You don’t want your elbows sticking to your sides, but in the same vein, you definitely don’t want them flaring out to the sides when you bench.
Unfortunately, when your shoulders internally rotate, your elbows will automatically flare out to the sides.
So, in effect, lifting your head while bench pressing has the potential to cause you a neck, shoulder, or even elbow injury.
And this is why I choose to avoid it.
Simply keep your head flat on the bench, don’t lift it, and don’t excessively force it back into the bench.
Bench Press External Rotation
So, I hope to understand that there are two schools of thought about lifting your head during bench press.
Some people will swear by it and state that it is a legitimate benching technique.
Others will say that it should be avoided at all costs.
In other words, there is no right or wrong answer, but rather, personal opinion.
I am of the opinion that lifting your head while benching should be avoided.
This is simply due to the fact that it can lead to extremely poor form.
Your chest will collapse down, your shoulder will internally rotate, your elbows will flare out to the side, plus your upper back, lats, and traps will lose that required tightness and stability.
For me, there is just too great a potential for injury, and therefore lifting your head during bench press should be avoided.
Onto the next subject, you may also like to read my thoughts about holding your breath while you bench press.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.