What’s Your Strongest Bench Press Hand Position? The Gunman/Puppy/Boulder Formula

Your strongest hand position when benching is also going to be the one that keeps your shoulders in the safest, pain-free joint position.

Here’s a quick test to determine if you’re using your strongest hand position, and you don’t have to actually push a boulder.


  • ​Stand up and imagine yourself on this beach with the boulder in front of you.
  • There is a gunman with a puppy.  Budge the boulder, or the puppy dies!

Cute Puppy

OMG! Now lean down, get into the position and push like you mean it!

Are your hands and arms closer to your sides than when you usually bench?  Did you lock your shoulders down and back for stability?  This is more of a Powerlifters set-up.

If you already bench this way, then great.  But if you have shoulder issues and still bench with  a wide grip and flared out elbows, you may want to consider switching.

Looking around the gym, most guys bench with a wide, bodybuilding style hand position.

This seems to be pretty popular because it gives the pec major a great stretch and a killer pump.

But this better pump comes at a price; higher risk of injury.

Here’s the 2 main reasons why:

Reason 1: Increased Shear Forces

When your elbow goes out wide, it creates a lot more shear force, with your pecs pulling the head of your humerus forward into the anterior capsule of your gleno-humeral joint.

If you’re not Jedi-like at stabilizing the shoulder, the heavier you go, the more likely it becomes that you’ll jam the humerus into the anterior capsule and irritate the tendons.

Reason 2: Increased Shoulder Impingement Syndrome Risk​

Flared elbows make it harder to keep your scapula out of the way when you lower the bar, putting you at greater risk for shoulder impingement syndrome.

When you start using your new hand position, there are two other cues that go along with it.

First, your elbows should be directly under your hands, leaving your humerus between 50 and 30 degrees off your side.

Second, keep your shoulder blades pulled down and back when you set up.  If done correctly, there should be a nice arch in your back.

Side note: This arch is safe when benching because your spine isn’t axially loaded.  DO NOT arch when standing for an overhead press though, unless you want to risk herniating a disc.  If you find it tough not to arch when performing overhead presses, check out this post for a self-assessment and what you can do to fix it.

If you found this post helpful, go ahead and “Share” it.  You know, every time you share one of my posts, you save a puppy’s life.  So share the shit out of it!

Stable = Strong…check out my top shoulder stability exercises.

Want something else to read? Find out how I cleaned up my forward shoulder posture and ditched my shoulder pain in 5 minutes in this other post.