Bench Press Lock Out Guide: When to Lock Out, When to Leave Some Slack

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Bodybuilders who train for hypertrophy typically don’t lock out on bench press. This allows them to keep constant tension on the pecs. However, powerlifters who train for strength generally do lock out. This allows for full range of motion, plus the additional stress placed on the bones can actually lead to new bone growth. So, whether you should lock out depends on what you’re training for hypertrophy or strength.

Bodybuilders DON’T Lock Out

Two Bodybuilders Holding a Bodybuilding Pose

You’ll typically hear conflicting views on whether you should lock out on the bench press or not.

But, in truth, the answer lies in what particular training protocol you want to adhere to.

If we take bodybuilders as an example, in general they tend not to lock out on the bench press.

The reasoning behind this is that it allows you to keep constant tension on the target muscles, i.e. the pecs.

In reality, the top half of the bench press mainly involves the triceps.

Whereas, the bottom half of the lift is mainly chest.

This is typically why the negative (lowering) part of the bench press is so important if you want to stimulate growth in the chest.

So, by simply dropping the bar back towards yourself, you’ll be missing out on a great deal of pec activation.

Therefore, always control the negative on the bench press, or any other exercise for that matter.

“A full lockout ensures you achieve a complete range of motion, which is crucial for maximizing muscle growth and minimizing injury risk.”

Bret Contreras, Strength Coach & Author

With that being said, your tricep or chest involvement at varying points on the lift will come down to whether you’re performing the bench press with perfect form.

You should have your shoulder blades retracted and tucked underneath you and keep your elbows close to your sides.

If you don’t follow strict technique then the bench press is typically dominated by your anterior delts.

So, if your aim is to grow muscle by applying constant tension to the pecs there is no need to lock out.

Powerlifters DO Lock Out

Now, if we look at the typical powerlifter bench press we’ll find that they do typically lock out.

The aim here is to take every exercise through the full range of motion and to lift as much weight as possible.

So, as a powerlifter you are mainly training for strength.

Firstly, if you don’t lock out then over time you will become weak in those last couple of inches.

Plus, this is when tricep involvement really kicks in, and stronger triceps can of course help to increase your bench press.

Something else to consider, is that most powerlifters choose to lock out on the bench press as it places additional stress on the bones.

And this can actually stimulate new bone growth.

In effect, you can increase the density and thickness of the bones, which will make you stronger.

For me, my preference has always been to lock out.

I still train for hypertrophy, but I prefer to take each exercise through the full range of motion.

Looking back at how bodybuilders train, they will often perform partial reps for various exercises simply to get that pump.

However, I’ve always preferred to complete any exercise in full.

I will also say that there are indeed some extremely strong people out there who never lock out.

So, I definitely don’t want to say that locking out is the only way you can get a stronger bench.

But, it’s just interesting to look at the difference in how bodybuilders and powerlifters train.

You Can Lock Out to “Rest”

Regardless of whether you’re training for hypertrophy or strength there is another benefit to locking out.

The lock out at the top of the movement is the ideal time to “rest” if you’re looking to crank out a few extra reps.

So, rather than putting the bar down you can hold at the top for a few seconds before you’re ready to go again.

If you were to try this with a slight bend in the elbows you would generally find that your arms fatigue fairly quickly.

So, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to perform many more reps.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Some lifters with limited mobility might benefit from a slightly softer lockout to protect their shoulders. However, most lifters should strive for a full lockout to maximize strength gains.”

Marty Gallagher, Powerlifter & Coach

Plus, if you lower the bar to the bottom of the movement to “rest” then your chest will be under tension, which once again will make it harder to perform many more reps.

Obviously, the point here isn’t to go to failure, which is pretty dangerous on the bench press unless you have a spotter.

However, you’ll often find that you have a couple more reps in the tank if you just hold the bar aloft and take a moment to reset yourself.

For me, once I put the bar down the set is over.

Be Wary of Hyperextending the Elbow

I’ve already spoken of adhering to strict form, and this is especially true if you are going to lock out.

Well, in truth, you should always perform every exercise with perfect form.

However, if your form is loose then you could cause yourself an injury when you lock out.

I often cringe when I see people bench press.

They typically lock out so forcefully at the top of the movement that they end up hyperextending the elbow.

This places a huge amount of stress on the elbow joint.

Plus, if you continue to lock out with such force it won’t belong before you succumb to injury.

You’ll often “force” lockout as you become more fatigued.

Basically, you’re struggling to hit your rep count, so you put everything you’ve got into forcing that bar back up.

And this is typically when you end up hyperextending the elbow.

I have always preferred to train to technical failure, as opposed to physical failure.

Okay, there may be times when you can train with forced reps and partial reps, but this doesn’t mean that you can ignore your joint health.

So, always aim to perform the bench press as smoothly as possible and be wary of those elbows at the top of the movement.

Key Learning Points

  • My personal preference has always been to lock out.
  • Most bodybuilders, who are more interested in hypertrophy tend to not lock out, so they can keep constant tension on the pecs.
  • Most powerlifters will always lock out as they want to build strength through the full range of motion.
  • If you do choose to lock out you can also use this as “rest” before you crank out a few extra reps.
  • If you are locking out always make sure that you don’t hyperextend at the elbows.

Next, I want to discuss chest aesthetics. More specifically, discover what I have to say about producing the much sought-after “square pecs”.

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