Why do I shake when I bench press?
Updated February 19th 2020; January 8th 2019
I currently bench press two to three times a week and I have wondered about this question, why do I shake when I bench press?
One possible explanation is that you are bench pressing heavy weight and you have not been lifting for a very long time. Your body is trying to recruit new motor units to help you execute the lift, but at the same time is sending uneven signals, causing you to shake. Another explanation could be that you have not developed your stabilizer muscles to support your bench press workout. Several solutions to this include lowering your bench press weight or to add some upper body accessories to help with muscular development.
Arms wobble when benching
If your arms wobble when you bench press, you are probably benching more weight than you can handle.
This could be a good thing or a bad thing.
If you are benching a new PR or are progressively overloading by doing a little more each workout, this is a part of the lifting process.
In order to challenge yourself, you must continue to improve and push yourself.
If you are struggling, make sure it is not something that happens long term.
Constantly stressing your body, especially your stabilizer muscles may cause too much fatigue for your body to recover from, which can increase your risk of injury.
It usually takes a few workouts, two to three weeks for your body to adjust to a new training stimulus or training program.
It might even take longer, depending on your previous training history.
If you are a beginner, all this bench press training is something new for your body to adjust to.
As a result, your body is doing its best to recover and prepare for the next workout.
I would not worry about your arms shaking or wobbling while bench pressing.
What is more important is your consistency, hard work, and good form.
If you are doing everything right inside the gym, along with making sure you get adequate sleep and nutrition, it should take around two to three weeks to adjust.
Of course, your recovery and adaptation to the bench press depend on so many factors and this can delay or speed up how quickly you can go into your next workout fresh.
If you are ego lifting or a weekend warrior, your shaking may never go away.
You are not giving your body a reason to adapt to the new bench press stimulus.
You are not consistent enough to allow your body to get comfortable with handling heavier weights.
Not only will it be difficult to stop the shaking while bench pressing, but you also risk injuring yourself by trying to handle more weight than your body is ready for.
Bench press stabilizer muscles
The bench press is an upper body compound movement, that primarily uses the chest, lats, triceps to move resistance.
However, these are not all the muscle groups that are involved.
There are many bench press stabilizer muscles that help contribute to your bench press efficiency.
Using technical terms, I have listed below the stabilizer muscles that are used using a bench press.
Of course, individual differences will vary how much you use your stabilizer muscles.
- Middle Deltoid
- Posterior Deltoid
- Pectoralis Minor
- Serratus Anterior
- Teres Minor
- Forearm Flexors
From a high-level view, these muscles are in shoulders, chest, triceps, and arms.
So, how do we train these stabilizer muscles so that we can increase our bench press max?
For one, you can start off by using more free weights.
If you have been using machines a lot, using machines limit your range of motion, by taking away at least one plane of motion.
As a result, your stabilizer muscles are not being activated properly to perform the exercise.
By using free weights, you are allowing your stabilizer muscles to activate and balance the weight while trying to complete all the sets and reps of the workout.
Doing free weights, either with a barbell or dumbbell, allows your body to constantly adapt to the stimulus and grow your stabilizer muscles to handle higher intensities and weight.
This will take time.
Training your stabilizer muscles is not an overnight solution.
It will take hard work, consistency, and dedication to grow a weak chain.
Your stabilizer muscles should be able to stop your bench press shaking in about two to three weeks.
This is usually around the time your body has enough time to adapt and grow to a training stimulus.
Of course, results will vary depending on a lifter’s recovery, age, consistency, programming, genetics, training history, and a whole bunch of other factors.
Legs shaking during a bench press
Legs shaking during a bench press is pretty uncommon.
Usually, if you train your upper body, one of the first areas to experience any shaking is your arms.
If your legs shake during a bench press, you are probably handling much more weight than you are accustomed to.
Again, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation.
If you have been training consistently and training hard, this is a good thing.
It is a sign that your body is adapting but is rapidly sending signals to your nerves.
Your body could be accidentally sending nerve signals to your legs while trying to rapidly recruit more motor neurons in your upper body. Another possible explanation could be you are experiencing muscle spasms.
One quick tip to stop leg shaking during the bench press is to plant both feet firmly into the ground.
Once you do that, always make sure to apply even pressure by driving both of your heels into the ground.
This way, you are grounded and actively using leg drive to plant yourself into the bench.
Bench press mistakes
There are many mistakes that people make when bench pressing.
Here are some to avoid and how to correct them.
Flaring your elbows
The other extreme is tucking your elbows in too much, both of which are not optimal when performing a bench press.
Flaring your elbows causes more stress on your shoulders, which skyrockets your risk of injury if you do not protect your shoulders from heavy benching.
So, what is the best way to correct this problem?
What is a proper amount of flare?
I did some research and found that lifters should start at 45 degrees first.
Once they get a feel about what a neutral elbow angle is, they can begin to make adjustments based on their arm lengths and benching style.
Bouncing the weight
At the bottom portion of the bench press movement, some lifters will have a tendency to bounce the weight off their chest.
This is not only unsafe to do for your ribcage but you are also not making any decent bench press gains.
Quit bouncing the weight off your chest.
Control your ego and learn to use lighter weight.
Control the weight down towards your chest and learn to press the barbell upward with proper form.
I guarantee you that practicing proper form will enable you to make more bench press gains long term.
Not squeezing your shoulder blades together
If you do not squeeze your shoulder blades together, you are not doing the bench press efficiently.
You are not protecting your shoulders from the bench press.
You may have heard of “retracting your scapula” or pulling back your scapula for the bench press.
One common cue is to think about squeezing a pencil or penny on your back.
That is the position you want to be in when you bench press at all times.
When you pull your shoulders back and down, you are creating a safer position to bench press more weight.
Lack of Leg drive
Believe it or not, one of the reasons why your bench press is not making as many gains as it should be is because of your feet.
If you are a powerlifter or do any form of strength training, you will be aware of the significance of leg drive.
So, if you are moving your feet during a bench press or your feet is very relaxed during a bench press, you may want to listen up on this tip.
Of course, the placement of your feet is up to the lifter’s preference.
But in all cases, you should be applying pressure with your feet during the bench press at all times.
Bench press world record holder Jennifer Thompson shares her tips on how to create a big bench press.
She competes in the 63kg weight class and has recently bench pressed 145 kg (319.7lbs) at 62.9 kg (138.7lbs) bodyweight.
- Hand placement - Should be double the width of your shoulder width. If you have shoulder pain, you can move inward a bit.
- Tuck in your shoulders and pretend you are pinching a penny with your back
- Use leg drive by having your feet completely flat. Apply force through your heels. You should be trying to push yourself off the bench but you cannot since you have the bench press weight to hold you in place
- Have a nice arch in your back. Jennifer Thompson uses a deflated football when warming up to work on her flexibility
Improper wrist position
With newer lifters especially, this can be an issue.
Either your wrists are too relaxed and bending backward or your wrists are too rigid and flexed forward that you are feeling extreme discomfort: in either situation, the proper wrist position is never on either end of the extreme.
The wrists should be slightly bent and your grip should be firm.
The bar should be in line with your wrist.
For a beginner, you should focus on placing the bar in the meat of your hands and allow the barbell to be in line with your elbows as well.
So to recap, the barbell, wrist, and elbows should all be in the same line.
Butt coming off the bench
If your butt comes off the bench, you are placing massive stress on your spine.
You are putting your spine into excessive extension which is not good for your spine health.
Instead, you should focus on putting your butt on the bench and use a lighter weight.
What you should be arching is your upper and mid back (thoracic spine) instead of your lower back (lumbar spine).
One way to help with your back arch is by practicing.
If you are sitting in front of a computer all day hunched over, you can be your need to warm up and gradually work on your thoracic spine mobility before jumping into any heavy bench workout.
Bar hitting too high on your chest
If the bar hits too high on your chest, your pecs are not efficiently firing to help you bench press the weight up.
In addition to that, your elbows are most likely flared, which also increases your risk of injury.
So, what can you do?
Start by trying to have the bar rest right below the nipple area on the chest.
You will also find at this bar placement, your elbows naturally fix itself and do not flare outward.
Also, there is less distance between your starting position and where you need to bench press the weight off your chest.
There are many lifters that bench press a few inches below the nipple.
While that is perfectly okay to do, you are really benching further than you should be.
If your arms are shaking from the bench press, another possibility (if everything else, such as form, technique, rest, etc. checks out) is that you are using too heavy of a weight.
Your training intensity is too high.
Depending on your goals and what you are doing for the short-term, you may want this to happen.
But as an overall general rule of thumb, this is not good for long term progress.
If your intensity is too high, you will burn out more quickly.
So, do yourself a favor and cut your intensity by at least 10%.
It is always okay to start off too light because you can ramp up to your correct training numbers in a few weeks.
However, if you start off too heavy, you ruined your training cycle because you have nowhere else to progress but to go backward in progress for a little bit.
And for anyone who is strength training for the long term, this is bad news.