The Self-Unrack: Setup Tips For A Stronger Bench

A lot of people tend to give me a funky look when they see me doing self unracks, especially, with max weights. Let me start off by saying, if you have a great spotter to lift off for you, then totally do that. But bad handoffs happen fairly often and if you’ve gotten a bad hand off, then you know how hard it is to recover. After having noticed this problem, I had the best experience at 2016 USAPL nationals. I had a spotter named Eric Curry, and his lift off technique was literally the best I had ever seen or experienced.  It was so remarkable that I jokingly told myself that I’d never let anyone lift off for me unless it was him. Soon after, I started practicing self-handoffs out of pure curiosity. In addition, I usually lift alone so I thought it would be beneficial to learn. With all that said, here are a few reasons why I think everyone, especially competitive powerlifters, should learn how to effectively and efficiently unrack the bar on their own (whether you decide to get handoffs or not).

1. Learn how to self unrack, and it’ll be easier to recover after a bad handoff.

2017 Nats, after telling the handoff guy twice that I want to unrack the bar myself, he still lifting the bar off anyway (terribly, I should add). Thankfully, because I’m used to unracking and stabilizing heavy weight on my own, I was able to stabilize, readjust, and finish the lift with no issue (for the most part).

2. What if you have no choice?

Say you are lifting in the gym and for whatever incredibly selfish reason, your training partner decides not to come and leaves you to fend for yourself. I don’t know about you but speaking from experience I’d rather not ask a random gym bro/girl lift off for me and risk them messing up my positioning a lift.

3. Just mastering your setup in general?

Whether you decide self unracks are for you or not, all the things mentioned in this article should help you get into a better position to unrack or have the bar lifted off for you.

Below is a checklist I use for setting up in order to make sure I am in a great position to unrack the bar efficiently and remain as tight as possible doing so.

Setup Checklist

1. Elbows underneath the bar- When setting up, make sure that you can get your elbows underneath the bar. Not necessarily 100% underneath the bar, but as much as possible without compromising your scapular depression. Majority of lifters seem to agree that when benching, stacked joints, as in having your wrist and elbow aligned under the bar, allows you to produce more force and have an overall stronger and more stable bench. Yet when it comes to unracking the bar, people tend to pay little attention to their “stacked joints,” when really, the SAME RULES APPLY.

2. Set your brace before unracking- if you want your unrack to be stable and efficient, bracing will be the most important thing to make that happen. People tend to only focus on bracing for bench after unracking but it is incredibly hard to get a good breath and set your brace when you’re already under load.

3. Set your rack height high- Set your rack height so that you can do as little work as possible to clear the rack and get the bar setup in starting position. Anything else and you’re just wasting more energy than you need to.

4. Root- Having your feet set even before unracking the bar will be important in contributing to the overall stability of the unrack. A cue that seems extremely effective for my clients is thinking about pressing your whole foot into the ground. If you’re a lifter that likes to be on your toes when benching, the concept remains the same, except think more about just pressing your toes through the ground. Whatever cue you decide to use, just make sure you’re applying enough pressure through your feet into the ground so that your feet and knees are almost unmovable.

The video provides a visual example of the self unrack and going through the checklist. Continue to use the cues that you benefit from the most, but I invite you to utilize this checklist for you or anyone else who is seeking guidance towards a more efficient self unrack and set up for the bench press.