15 Ways To Increase Your Bench Press NOW!
If there’s one lift that’s synonymous with pure, unadulterated strength and bragging rights; it’s the bench press. However, many of us struggle with this lift and often find ourselves plateauing and not knowing what to do to take our benching to the next level.
Sound familiar? If so, great, you’ve certainly come to the right place. I struggled with my bench pressing for the best part of a decade before finding out the best ways to maximize my bench press strength and continue to make strength gains year-after-year. If you too find yourself frustrated at lack of bench press gains, relax, take a seat (although I’m guessing you already are sat down!), grab a drink and read this article a couple of time over.
Because it has 15 incredibly useful tips on how to increase your bench press – advice that you can use straight away to start boosting your bench press strength from your very next chest session.
Bench Press Tip #1: Shoulder Retraction
When performing the bench press, it is essential to keep your shoulder girdle retracted. Although this may feel a little unusual or even uncomfortable, to begin with, it is easy to learn how to do this and get yourself into this optimal position. To do learn how to do this, stand in a normal position with hands against a wall, then proceed to take a step backwards (so your arms are no longer touching said wall). At this point, without leaning towards the wall or bending at the hip, stretch your arms out in front of you as far as you can, i.e. stretch out and try and touch the wall. The position you find yourself when doing this is the protracted position; therefore, you must do the opposite to get into the retracted position required for optimal bench pressing.
To do this, you have to pull your arms back as far as you are able to (without causing yourself an injury or any pain) at the shoulder girdle – making sure not to bend your elbows. In effect, you’re squeezing your shoulders bleed together. As I said above, it may feel a little odd at first, but if you practise for a few minutes every day, it’ll soon become second nature.
Why is this important? Because it puts your shoulders in the safest, and therefore strongest position possible.
Bench press Tip #2: Visualize
Visualization is something that divides opinion; some are of the opinion that it works; others think it has zero effect whatsoever. If you’re unsure as to what effect it has, i.e. you’ve never tried it before, then why not give it a go? Prior to every max bench press session take five or ten minutes to visualize yourself lifting the weight, going through each moment of the setup and then the actual lift itself. It can be a little challenging to do this to begin with, particularly if you’ve never done it before, but just take a few minutes to close your eyes, relax yourself and picture yourself achieving your bench press goals. When doing this, you should be able to ‘feel’ the weight in your arms and chest as you push the weight up; some even ‘hear’ the sounds of the gym around them. Getting yourself into the right mindset is pivotal for big lifts. Period.
Bench Press Tip #3: Tighten Your Glutes
Most people in the gym aren’t aware of this costly underused tip that could have a profound effect on your bench press if used correctly. As is the case with any lift, your body s only as strong as its weakest point; therefore, by squeezing your glutes as you perforce the bench press, you will help to bolster the stability that your body needs, which will, in turn, help you to channel extra power and strength into your bench pressing. You must use all of your body to become as strong as you can, and even little seemingly odd things like this really can help.
Bench Press Tip #4: Optimal Grip
Grip is a very personal thing. Some prefer a wide grip, some prefer a narrows grip, and some prefer something in between. Ultimately, it all depends on what feels comfortable and what will give you as much strength as possible. How to determine the best grip for you? The best way to do this is to think about the strength of your supporting muscle groups, i.e. the triceps and shoulders. If your triceps are strong, try a narrower grip; if they’re not as strong as your shoulders, try widening your grip. Constantly adjust until you find the perfect grip. However, always try new grip widths out with lighter weights before proceeding with a heavy bench press session, other you might do yourself an injury.
Bench Press Tip #5: Prioritize Your Weak Areas
Your bench press will only be as strong as your weakest area. The bench press movement is typically split up into two areas, the top portion and the bottom portion, with most people finding that one of these is weaker than the other (to seem degree). If you find that one area is weaker than the other, work on it. If you struggle with the bottom portion, you may want to work on your overall shoulder strength, whereas if the top portion is where you have the greatest difficulty, opt for more tricep work.
Bench Press Tip #6: Don’t Workout ‘Cold’
Just like any other form of exercise, it is imperative that you warm up thoroughly before bench pressing. Most injuries occur when lifting heavy weight; therefore, getting your body, muscles, joint and ligaments ready for the immense strain and stress you’re about to put them under is vital. Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to find the happy medium where you’ve warmed up just enough to decrease the risk of injury, but not too much to the point of muscle fatigue. It may take a few sessions to figure out the best volume and type of warm up for you, but it crucial that you figure this out and apply this knowledge wisely to your warm up prior to big benching sessions.
Bench Press Tip #7: Adequate Rest Between Sets
Anyone who lifts heavy weights or power lifts will know that extended rest periods between sets is vital for recovery. When lifting one-rep max weights (or anything above 85% of 1RM), your body uses a different energy recovery system compared to traditional, higher-rep bodybuilding style training; therefore, giving your body sufficient time between sets to be in optimal condition for your next lift is crucial if you want to progress your benching to the next level. Three to five minutes is standard practice.
Bench Press Tip #8: Keep Your Chest Up
Keeping your chest up as you perform the bench press has two main advantages. By maximizing the height of your chest, you decrease the distance the barbell must travel to complete a full rep, which, in turn, reduces the amount of force required to move the weight. If in doubt, watch professional powerlifters or bench pressers on YouTube; they use this tip to great effect.
Bench Press Tip #9: Breathe In Before Lowering the Bar
Breathing technique is crucial to all forms of exercise – and it is no different where heavy benching is concerned. The key here is to take a deep breath – and hold it in – prior to lowering the bar. The reason for this is because it will help to keep your torso in a more solid, fixed position, from which you’ll be able to generate greater amounts of power. Furthermore, it stabilizes the muscle located in the thorax, which makes benching that little bit easier.
Bench Press Tip #10: Utilize Your lats
As I’ve alluded to throughout this article, it is imperative that you utilize every muscle in your body to strengthen your stability and overall power output – and using your lats is one way to do this. On the face of it, it may seem a little odd, given that your lats are on your back and little to no roll in bench pressing, but engaging your lats is a little known trick that powerlifters and professional bench pressers have been using for years. To make the most of this tip, start building your lat strength, then, when you feel you’ve done so you can incorporate this tip into your benching technique. The key is to squeeze your lats and push with them (while flexed), as this will help to generate more force and therefore more overall strength.
Bench Press Tip #11: Build Strength in ‘Helper’ Muscles
This is a pretty obvious tip, but one that we couldn’t not include. Benching is more than just having a strong chest; it’s about having a strong chest and strong, powerful shoulders, triceps and core (although being strong all over will certainly provide even more of a boost). You’d be surprised at the number of people who neglect ‘helper’ muscles, so don’t fall into this common trap. Instead, opt to make each body part as strong as you possibly can, because it will only have positive effects on your bench pressing.
Bench Press Tip #12: Use Your Feet
Another tip that’s well known and widely used, but an article about increasing your bench press wouldn’t be complete with this tip. Always bench with your feet planted firmly into the ground and ensure they stay there at all point of the lift; don’t move them about either. By firmly planning your feet, you create a 100% stable base, which makes you stronger and therefore, your bench stronger. Stability is one of the primary keys to improving your bench press; therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to it. Furthermore, you ca can also ‘push off’ with your feet when benching to give yourself a small boost – just make sure your feet don’t leave the ground or move too much during the initial stages of the lift.
Bench Press Tip #13: Thicker Bars
Have you ever tried benching or performing other heavy lifts with a thick bar? It’s a lot harder than a regular bar, that’s for sure. If you find that your bench isn’t progressing, try using a thicker bar. You’ll have to lower the weight slightly as you get used to the increased thickness, but when you go back to a normal thickness Olympic bar, you’ll find it much easier than before. If you can’t find a gym with a thicker bar, you can buy accessories that attach onto a standard bar to make the grip thicker.
Bench Press Tip #14: Warmth
The worst thing that can happen between sets is cooling down, and, given that you’ll be resting for three to five minutes between sets, it is imperative that you stay warm dung this time. Why? Because cooling down can increase the chance of injury and potentially decrease your strength. Walking around should create sufficient warmth, but if you train in a basement or shed gym, you might want to invest in a heater.
Bench Press Tip #15: Over-training is a No-No
More isn’t always better – particularly where strength training is concerned. Placing excessive strain on both your muscle and your central nervous system (CNS) will have detrimental effects on your strength, ability to build muscle, and potentially even your overall health; therefore, unless you’re going for a one-rep max, leave some in the tank for another day. Overtraining is one of the main causes of injury, so avoid it like the plague. You will know when you’re either overtraining or coming very close to the threshold because your body will tell you. You’ll feel more tired than usual, DOMS will last for longer, and you’ll perform less well in the gym. Eat well, get adequate sleep and don’t push yourself too hard every session.
15 Ways to Improve Your Bench Press: A Conclusion
What more is there to say?! Apply the above 15 tips to your benching, and I guarantee that you’ll see some form of improvement within the first few weeks. Just make sure to eat well and sleep like a baby – it’ll will really help!
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog; we really appreciate it. To learn more about fitness, bodybuilding and everything in between, please head over to our homepage where you can browse our extensive list of blog posts. Or, alternatively, use the search function if there’s something specific you’re keen to read about.
Can’t find information on a subject you’re interested in? Get in touch, and we’ll write a blog post on it!