What are the advantages, if any, to locking out the elbows for the bench press?
Can this even cause an injury to the elbow joint?
For best results, you should not completely lock out the elbows for a bench press. I’m a former certified personal trainer.
My definition of a true elbow lockout is when your arms are as straight as they can be, and you can feel the elbows locking out; your arms may even be hyper-extended (though this is far more likely with women, due to their bone structure).
The lighter the weight in a bench press, the easier it is to lock out the elbows. The elbow lockout creates the illusion of achieving the greatest range of motion.
However, at the same time, you sacrifice muscle tension.
Subjecting the muscles to continuous, non-interrupted tension will produce maximum results.
The elbow lockout creates a momentary rest at the top of the lift. This rest cuts into the tension and gives the muscles a break. You don’t want that.
Suppose you were to lower the bar all the way to your chest, but then let it rest there before pressing it back up.
Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to let 100 percent of the weight rest upon you, but suppose you were to take some tension off of it with your hands and let some of the load rest upon your chest.
This would be cheating, in that this would interrupt the continuous tension in your muscles; the exertion would be momentarily stopped.
Well, the same thing happens with locking out the elbows in your bench press; it’s an interruption.
For best bench press results, straighten the arms at the top of the lift, but stop just short of a complete elbow lockout.
This will maximize range of motion without interrupting the exertion.
If your arms remain slightly bent, you’ll still make gains, even though this will be slightly less range of motion.
However, your muscles will be constantly fighting the weight without any relief whatsoever at the top of the lift, and you’ll fatigue faster than with straighter arms.
In fact, partial reps is a form of intensity training, and it can be applied to the bench press.
Push the weight up half way only, or three-quarters of the way. You’ll fatigue a lot faster and will need a lighter weight load if you try this technique with whatever you normally reach muscle failure at with, say, eight reps.
Another reason to avoid locking out the elbows with bench pressing is that all that locking out can be hard on the elbow joint and may create strain, even pain.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.