3 Ways to Improve Your Bench Press

Posted: March 22, 2013 in Training
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Everybody benches. Football linemen do it to improve their initial punch at the line of scrimmage, body builders do it to sculpt their chest and arms, and average gym-goers do it because they don’t know what else to do on “chest day” (which is ALWAYS Monday, seemingly no matter who you talk to). The bench press has, in a way, become the ultimate measure of strength in casual conversation. Case in point: how many times have you ever said or heard the phrase “How much do you bench?” Compare that with how many times you’ve said or heard the phrase “How much do you squat?” I’d argue that the squat is a much better indication of overall strength and athleticism, but nobody cares about that. To the average casual lifter, the bench press is the end-all be-all of strength training.  Regardless of your reason for benching, here’s a few ways to increase your weight in the only lift most people at the gym care about.

1) Build up your triceps

More often than not, weak triceps are what’s limiting your bench press. A couple of good triceps exercises for increasing your bench strength are skullcrushers and close grip bench press. On each of these, try to keep your elbows as close to your sides as you can by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down.

This is good elbow position: elbows positioned directly under the hands

This is good elbow position for the close grip bench press: elbows positioned directly under the hands

Especially on the close grip bench press, I cue lifters to tuck their elbows to try to maximize tricep dominance in the lift and groove a movement pattern that jibes with what I consider to be good form on the bench press. Speaking of which…

2) Use good form

For an idea of what constitutes “good” form, watch powerlifters. These guys dedicate all of their training time to building strength in 3 lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift. If there’s anybody you should emulate when it comes to the bench press, it’s powerlifters.

So, how do you perform a good bench press? First thing’s first, put your damn feet on the floor. For whatever reason, some people think it’s a good idea to hold their feet in the air while they’re benching. Supposedly it’s so they can work on their core while they bench. This is a good example of how multitasking is not always a great idea. Some things just don’t improve each other when they’re combined. Like this:

Benching with your feet in the air is like hitting baseballs off a tee while kicking a soccer ball. It’s pointless. It limits your bench strength, and there are far better ways to work on your core. Feet on the ground, either directly under your knees or slightly behind them is a better way to go. You should also keep your head and butt down the entire time while maintaining an arch in your back and driving through your heels. You’ll also want to touch the bar to the lower part of your chest with your elbows tucked, rather than higher on your chest with your elbows flared out.

Do what this dude does, basically

Monday: he’s doing it right.

3) Do some speed benching

Everybody hits plateaus in training; long periods of time when you just can’t make strength gains no matter what you do. When you hit a plateau, incorporating some speed work in big exercises like the bench press and squat can help you bust through that wall. If you’ve been stuck for a while, take a break from benching heavy and work with weights that are between 50-70% of your max for 2-3 reps. Focus on getting the bar off your chest quickly and driving the weight up as fast as you can. This will help teach your muscles to fire as quickly as possible and help to build power, which is the ability to move heavy weights in an explosive manner. Bar speed is a big factor when it comes to lifting heavy things, and improving bar speed will help you blast that sucker off your chest in a big hurry.

If you incorporate a few of these ideas into your workout, you’ll be in a good position to add some plates to the bar when benching in the future. And, as an added bonus, you can impress everybody at the water cooler on Tuesday morning. Happy benching!


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