After reading McLaughlin’s book, which is probably one of the best resources out there for the bench press I have ever encountered, I ran across one of Greg Nuckols article, where he talks about some key points from this book. He does a great job going over the biomechanics of the bench a lot more in depth than I will cover in this short post so if that is something that interests you I highly recommend you check out his article @gregnuckols.
McLaughlin pointed out a really good observation about the difference in bar path between novice and advanced lifters. He showed that both groups lower the bar using a similar pattern, almost a straight line, but the path changed dramatically during the ascent. Novice lifters move the bar straight UP THEN BACK, while advanced lifters do the opposite. They move the bar up AND BACK right off the bat and finish the lift by pressing almost in a straight line up.
He pointed out that elite lifters were able to add pounds to their bench, with no real change in total force output. They achieved this by changing their bar path by shortening the moment arm, which is the distance from the bar to your shoulder in the frontal plane (from your armpit to an imaginary line that drops straight down from your hand at the point that you hold the bar). You can accomplish this by decreasing the distance between the bar and your shoulder faster during the ascent part of the lift. This doesn’t necessarily change the amount of work you are doing, but its simply a more efficient way to push.
In conclusion, McLaughlin noted in his research that elite lifters didn’t increase their maximum force output that much year after year, but the ones that continue making the most progress where the ones that make adjustments on their bar path.
Awesome drawing by @pheasyque