The path the bar travels in the bench press is referred to as the "bar path" and it's one which is often misunderstood, so we wanted to clear it up for you.
When we bench we aim to stack our joints (wrist and elbow) so as to create efficient joint loading and transfer of force through to the bar, as it provides a stable position to move through the range in.
So at any point in the bench press, the bar, wrist and elbow should create a straight line perpendicular with the ground, so we press at 90-degrees to the floor.
Based on this, the hand position will then dictate the bar path. The narrower the hand position the lower down the body the bar will touch, the wider the hand position the higher up the body the bar will touch.
Of course this is assuming the lifter is executing perfectly. In the real world it's not quite like that and what we find is lifters tend to flare the elbows out in an attempt to keep the bar closer to the shoulder through the movement which places leverage in their favor but has the side effect of potentially impinging the shoulder whereby the acromium process slams in to the bursa. We know that 𝘗𝘖𝘖𝘙 𝘔𝘈𝘊𝘏𝘈𝘕𝘐𝘊𝘚 + 𝘓𝘖𝘈𝘋 leads to issues and in this scenario the common complaint we get is “pain in the shoulder” - normally bursitis but can be a range of other issues.
Now instead of the bar moving up and down over she shoulder as described above we should see an angled bar path as can be seen in the post image. The bar starts over the shoulder with locked out elbows and as the bar is lowered it moves away from the shoulders so as to maintain proper joint loading and to minimise impingement at the shoulder - helping keep our shoulders nice and healthy!
Now when returning the bar off the chest you should push back and follow this same bar path.
Our Powerlifting Fundamentals Course also covers this topic in greater detail. For more information on the course check out https://www.ruccisgym.com/powerlifting-course-fundamentals