Struggling to Unrack The Bench Press? Solved With This Guide

March 21st 2019

Do you struggle with unracking the bench press? Through personal experience and searching through the web, I have found several tactics you can use to alleviate your unracking bench press struggles.

Getting someone to help you unrack the weight will help. If you are alone, setting up closer to the bar will make a tremendous difference. It also helps significantly if you have an adjustable bench press setup, which can account for your arm length and grip width.

Get a spotter to help you unrack the weight

The easiest way to address this issue is by having someone unrack the weight with you. Ask the gym staff or even a regular gym-goers. Everyone needs a hand sometimes.

An important thing to remember is to be clear on your instructions with your spotter. The more specific, the better. Of course, you will have some people who will still not listen to what you told them and they will help you row the weight. What a buzzkill…

So, you eventually decide it was not worth it to ask people at your gym for a spot. You rarely get good spotters and most of the time, people helped you unrack very poorly. Or you are training at your home gym.

Self-lift off for the bench press

Okay, what if I do not have someone to help me unrack my bench press. Is there anything I can do. There are a TON of strategies to implement. In fact, this is how I got a 225lbs bench press at 170lbs. So, do not be scared to bench press alone. Let us get started:

Brace and root yourself

Take your bench press grip and make sure to retract and depress your scapula. Firmly plant your feet into the ground. Try to push yourself off the bench by digging your heels into the ground.

Try to get your elbows underneath the bar

Or as much as possible. There is a reason for that. Ever wonder why when you are bench pressing, your elbows, and wrist at aligned with each other? Then, how come when we are unracking the weight, a majority of lifters forget their favorable positions and try to unrack the weight with their wrists all the way backward and the weight above their eyes? In addition to that, you have probably pulled out your scapula retraction, which is one the the main movements to protect your shoulders in the bench press.

When trying to unrack the weight, get as close to that position before unracking the weight. Do not flare your elbows outward or rotate your shoulders to try to unrack the weight. If you have to resort to these small movements, stop and restart the entire process. Your shoulders and elbows should be in a neutral position. Get your wrists and elbows in-line. Then, you can proceed to unrack the weight.

Get the rack height where you do the least amount of work

Lifters all have different arm lengths and grip widths. For that reason, you should be benching in an adjustable bench press set-up. This could be in a powerlifting cage, a squat rack or even an adjustable bench press set-up. You need to adjust the rack height to where you do the least amount of work to clear the hooks. Anything more and you are losing precious energy that could be funneled into your bench press.

Once you have successfully unracked the bench press weight, you now need to practice. Practice, practice, practice. Good technique must be repeated and reinforced so that your body can remember the movements.

Shoulder pain when unracking the bench press

Think you are getting injured? Can’t progress with your bench press? You feel something is wrong. You are suddenly losing strength in your bench press?

What is most likely happening is that you are not in a great position to unrack the weight. The weight is either too far away from your starting position of the bench, so you need to unrack a couple of inches before you can actually start benching. This is obviously not good.

You may also be rolling your shoulder forward when you are unracking the weight. This could stem from one issue or a combination of many factors. You might have not learned to properly unrack the weight efficiently. You do not know how to properly retract your shoulder blades backward and downward. You probably do not know how to protect your shoulders. You may not be tight enough. You could actually be injured. The list of endless possibilities can continue on and on.

Here is what you can do. Follow the steps written on how to self-lift off for the bench press above. Also, educate yourself on how to protect your shoulders while bench pressing (I have also linked that article above).

But of course, make sure you seek counseling from a medical professional if you know that something is throwing you off. That random burn in your shoulder that started a few months ago after an upper body workout but has never gone away? You should get yourself checked out. Be logical.

Actually, I have a story about shoulder pain when unracking the bench press. This was in my senior year of high school and I was bench pressing way too much for my own good. It was shoulder pain throughout the entire bench press movement. It was painful to unrack the weight. My shoulder was still painful even after I stopped lifting. When you are in constantly nagging pain or something just does not feel right, you know that is the time to visit a doctor.

How to unrack the bar once it gets too heavy?

This is where technique comes into play. If you have been practicing good technique, you can unrack your heavier sets, even PR level numbers without any assistance.

I have done my research online and see that some lifters struggle with lifting their working sets, around moderate to high intensities. It just feels impossible for them to unrack.

The bar is around eye-level or even higher

This is a red flag (for some lifters). The bar should be a little lower than that to minimize the distance the bar needs to travel to get into your bench press starting position. While some lifters are able to do a self-lift off with the bar around their eyes, if you are having issues with unracking the bench press, you need to have the barbell a little lower.

From there, you can follow the steps written above and smash your bench press sets.

I keep hitting the hooks/pin

This is a technique issue. You have followed the steps to do a unrack the bench press weight on your own. Now, you find yourself hitting the hooks because you are “too close” to them. This is a matter of technique and practice. You need to not wildly throw the weight backward. You need to control the weight better and develop a better bar path.

You are not properly underneath the bar

This goes hand-in-hand with the bar being around eye level. For most lifters, if your elbows and wrists are not aligned with each other prior to you unracking the weight, you are not underneath the bar. Instead, you should adjust your position on the bench so that you can be in a more powerful position.

You are not tight enough

Are you actively driving your heels into the ground, trying to launch yourself off the bench? Are you squeezing the bar, trying to break it into two? Did you take a deep breath and try to have a big chest while on the bench?

There are many subtle technical cues that a lifter may not be aware of. Making sure you complete every single one is crucial for a strong bench press.

Unrack the bench press by having lower hooks

There is another way you can address your bench press unracking struggles. You can get your hooks a little lower so that you doing a partial press when you are unracking the weight.

This way, you know you are capable of clearing the weight if you are able to do a small partial press of your working set.

Unrack the bench press by lifting your butt

In the worst case scenario, nothing is working for you. Can I still unrack the bench press without a spotter?

I searched the web and found something you can benefit from:

Brian Alsruhe shows us how to unrack the bench press using this cheeky technique. In addition to following all the steps above, Brian Alsruhe also adds that the lifter can lift his/her butt off the bench. This will change the pivot point of the bar, which can allow the lifter to clear the hooks and get into the starting position.

He also warns that this dynamic start can cause some consistency issues as you must place your butt at exactly the same spot on the bench prior to you unracking the bar. This is for obvious reasons. If you place your butt at a different spot, you can lose tightness and make the whole lift feel foreign.

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