The bench press is a mighty exercise that every guys wants to be good at.
The most common question people ask when talking about the gym is, “how much do you bench?”.
After reading this post, hopefully your answer will be slightly more impressive than before. I’m going to give you tips and techniques to both immediately increase your bench press, and also lead to more progress over the long term.
Let’s get started.
1. Set Up Strong
A strong bench press comes from a strong set up. You need to be rigid and stable, allowing you to put as much force as possible into the bar.
Before you even touch the bar, you should lay down and create as much tension in your body as possible. This will be a platform that allows you to display the strength that you already possess.
Have your feet flat on the floor, wide and making a solid triangle with the bottom of the bench. Squeeze your butt muscles and abs as hard as you can, pin the shoulders back and down against the bench and drive the head down. All of this before you even touch the bar.
If you’re doing it right, you should start to cramp up in the butt and upper back if you’re not used to doing it.
2. The Lift Off
Set your hands – aim for a width that keeps your forearm vertical at the bottom of the rep. Use the rings on the bar to judge it.
Take a deep breathe in and grip the bar hard. When you lift it off, make sure you keep all of the tension you have created in your body. Think about ‘dragging’ the bar forwards, to rest above your chest. Use a spotter to lift the bar if you need to.
Too many people go to the effort of setting up strong, only to lose all that tension when they pick the bar up, going in to the first rep like wet spaghetti.
I’ve mentioned taking a big breathe during the set up. This allows you to create tension in your midline and increase stability.
You want to exhale through your teeth during the lifting phase – making a kind of hissing sound – and be sure to only partially exhale. You should never empty your lungs fully, you will lose all the tension.
Take another breath at the top before descending for the next rep. Hold during the descent and again breathe out through the teeth during the lifting portion.
4. Feet, Hips and Head
Whilst doing the lift, forget about pushing with your chest – you’re going to do that regardless. Instead focus on driving the feet down into the floor, keeping the glutes squeezed as hard as you can, and driving the head back into the bench.
This will maintain your solid platform and allow you to transfer more force into the bar.
5. Break the Bar
When you’re bringing the bar down to your chest, do not be lazy and let gravity do the work. You are not ‘letting’ the bar come down and then engaging effort to push it back up.
You should be pulling the bar down into your chest. Using your back muscles to create as much tension as possible on the way down.
Grip the bar as hard as you can and think about pulling it apart. This activates all of the muscles you’re going to be using and allows you to direct more force into the bar.
6. Get Your Angles Right
The bench press is not actually a straight up and down movement. The most efficient bar path is to bring it down slightly on the descent, moving towards your hips and then push upwards on the lifting portion, towards the head.
Do not make the mistake of pushing too far up. At the top your arms should be vertical over your chest. If you’re pushing too far toward your head, it is because you’re failing to arc down on the descent.
7. Training ‘the Platform’
For long term improvements in your bench pressing, you need to get stronger in a number of areas. First of all in the ‘platform’. The base of support from which you press.
This means getting stronger in the upper and mid back. That sounds counter-intuitive to increasing your pressing strength, but the lats and traps and some of the most important muscles when bench pressing.
Have plenty of rows and pulling exercises in your routine to build up the base of support that will allow you to press big weights.
8. Training the Bottom
The bottom portion of the lift, pushing the bar off the chest, is where you are at the most mechanically disadvantaged position.
To get stronger in this position you should focus your training on two thing.
a). Overcoming strength, with exercises such as pause bench press and pin presses.
b). Range of motion with exercises like dumbbell bench press and elevated push ups.
9. Training the Top
The top of the bench press is more reliant on the shoulders and triceps. As such you should train those muscles with military and push presses, triceps extensions and dips.
10. Training specificity
Finally, to get better at bench press you should bench press. That might sound obvious, but specificity is important.
Do assistance exercises that closely mirror the positions you need to be in to press, to see a greater carry over and benefit from these exercises.
Follow these ten tips and you will see your pressing strength increase quickly.
One final point I want to make is to stay healthy. Too much bench pressing is going to lead to rotator cuff issues. Be sure to moderate your volume and intensity.
Lifting as much weight as possible is how you test your strength, not how you develop it. Train at lighter weights for higher reps and focus on increasing muscle mass to build your strength.
Combine sensible training with a prehab and mobility routine to make sure you maintain full range of motion and keep your shoulders healthy. Too much pressing will lead to problems down the road and ultimately hinder your progress, if you do not balance it out with opposing movements and flexibility.