How to increase your bench press is the most famous question that one will hear in the gym. We tell you how to bench effectively with heavy weights!
While understanding bench press, one must know that technical issues are the single most important that plague a persons lift. Due to the padded bench, people just think this is an easy lift. How hard is lying down and just pushing the bar up right? Yet, the bench press is the first lift to suffer when you make a mistake and progress can stall for years rather than months. So why is the bench press so difficult? It’s lies in your ability to learn how to bench press correctly. Below are some of the problems you might face:
- Set up- The set up makes or breaks the bench press. Lets start when you sit down. As you sit down your entire body needs to be tight, shoulders should be retracted most importantly your feet should be placed firmly on the ground! This is vital because a kinetic chain of energy is created from the feet and that last rep can be completed with the leg drive. After you unrack, wait to stabilize the bar for at least 2 seconds and then, keeping your head down, elbows tucked in, you lower the bar to your lower chest area. The descend should be slow but not too slow and the rep should be explosive every time. Trust me. Set up like this every time you bench and the poundages are sure to go upwards!
- Range of Motion- You knew this was coming. Improper range of motion is everything from partial reps to bouncing the bar off your chest to gain ‘momentum’ and all the other things in between that are considered improper like a crooked bar path (more on this later). Many pro bodybuilders advocate the use of Time Under Tension (TUT) techniques which means one needs to employ partial reps. This is only advantageous when you are an advanced bodybuilder. You’d best believe that they spent a considerable time employing the proper range of motion. A full range of motion means you touch the bar on your lower chest and raise the bar just before you lock your elbows.
- Bar Grip- Another vital component to the bench press. Here’s the point. We are trying to bench the most in an apt manner. One technique for this is to shorten the bar path to your chest. NO, this doesn’t mean that we forgo full range of motion and start doing partial reps. However, we can definitely widen the grip on the bench. The last loop of the bar is where your smallest finger on your hand, should be. This is a good rule of thumb to go by and obviously you’d need to experiment to know what works for you. While enrolled in bench press 101, you need to develop your own style. Too wide and you risk damaging the shoulders, too narrow and the entire brunt of the exercise is on the triceps. The other thing to remember is to crush the bar with your hands as you grip it. Doing so, activates the forearm muscles and tightens the back, helping you achieve maximum stability.
- Un-racking/Not settling- You might be wondering that how can something so simple be done incorrectly. Well if you’re not centered the right way then un-racking the bar will destabilize you even further. Thus, your set up is ruined. To avoid this, use a spotter to give you a ‘lift-off’ but make sure he doesn’t assist thereafter. Furthermore, not settling the bar and benching immediately is also going to hurt your poundages. Let the bar rest for 2 seconds and let your wrist acclimate to the weight. You don’t want to bend the wrist because not only is that painful but can lead to common workout injuries.
- Not being in line- What this simply means is that your body needs to be in a straight line while pressing the weight up. This means that the upper/lower body needs to be fixed in a position where you are going to be the center point for pressing.
- 6. Breathing- Perhaps one of the most important factors in understand how to fix your bench press. There are namely two breathing patterns one must follow. If you are looking to increase your muscle mass or benching for more than 6 reps, then use a simple rule of breathe out against the movement. Therefore breathe in while bringing the bar down and breathe out when pressing. For building strength, i.e. 5 or fewer reps, take a deep breath from your mouth and into your stomach. Exhale on the last rep.
The other thing that compromises your bench is when people don’t train other parts that are vital for the same movement. This could be because of genetic factors but if you’ve got a weak back or weak shoulders, then your bench press will inevitably suffer. Here are some of the body parts that are going to assist you in building a massive bench:
- Shoulders- The shoulders and/or the deltoids are the stabilizing agents for the bench press. They are going to assist you in the lift as well as take some of the stress off your chest. The standing strict shoulder press is the most effective exercise for shoulders. Don’t engage in any other fluff and pump exercises unless this is done.
- Back- The back supports you while you are pressing as your lats are going to be tight in your set up. In this bench press guide we are always going to stress the importance of a building a strong and thick back. This makes sure that you’re not crushed by the weights but are also going to be added onto to your physique. Deadlifts, Bent over rows and pull ups are your best friends here in order to get some sick lats.
- Triceps- A no brainer really. They are complimentary muscle groups which means while benching, the triceps are going to be activated and having a thick set of triceps can go a long way to help you make the most of your gym time. Skull-crushers, close grip bench press and dips are the best triceps exercises that give you the most bang-for-your-buck.
- Biceps- This is interesting because almost no one neglects biceps in the gym. That being said advanced lifters tend to neglect this, myself included, because we think that our biceps get enough work. The trick here is to stick to a few sets of proven bicep exercises like incline curl and hammer curls rather than doing 15 sets of cable curls.
- Legs- Yes of course, no one wants to be that guy with a massive upper body and skinny legs yet I see this happen so often, this needs to be told to you guys again. Two words. Heavy Squats. They will help you build those pillar legs. In fact squatting heavy is one of the best fixes for your bench press since it helps you create stability and power through the leg drive.
Now there might be a time when you have the perfect set up yet you wonder why your bench isn’t going up? Well you might just be committing the following training blunders. Firstly let’s talk about the spotter. He/she should only be assisting you mildly in your last rep, not doing bent over rows for you as you presumably think you are doing the weight by yourself. This is only going to develop your ego. Ego lifting at the gym is hazardous. Period.
The second thing that seems utterly confounding is that when people go to the gym without a plan. Instinctive training is definitely possible but best left to the advanced gym goers. You need to come into the gym with a proper, regimented plan that has you benching at least twice a week. Not warming up is another problem. No, I don’t mean you bang out 5 light sets of the bench press but an ideal warm up includes some rotator cuff work, a few minutes on the treadmill and a light set of benching.
These are definitely minor things but extremely helpful in learning how to fix your bench press. The most important of which is learning how to be patient. This is quite easy. Just wait and keep on progressing everyday in the gym. Things don’t happen in a day and especially if you’re not physically built for the bench press.
Other important factors to consider here are overtraining. In our guide to natural bodybuilding we explicitly mentioned that overtraining is a real concept for people who don’t use steroids. More isn’t always better and it’s useful if you heed this advise rather than learning the hard way and injure yourself. Just keep at it and in not time your bench press will surely skyrocket!