How To Increase Your Bench Press
The bench press, the most favoured compound lift out.
You won't find many guys out there that'd rather deadlift or squat over the bench press, so it comes as no surprise that everyone is looking for that little tactic, assistance exercise or technique to skyrocket the numbers they're pressing on the bench.
Five years ago I struggled to press an olympic barbell (45lbs) off my chest without a spotter, after years of grinding away I've been able to build myself up to the 300lbs~ mark for a few reps...
Did I just hit the bench day after day?
I hit plateaus, I encountered rotator cuff issues from overtraining... below are the 5 techniques I utilized to increase my bench press the right way.
#1 - Use Proper Form (Arched Back, Squeeze Shoulder Blades, Legs In)
The setup for the bench press is FAR more crucial than most guys realize.
If you're benching with incorrect, inefficient or lazy form you won't be putting up anywhere near the numbers you're capable of on the bar - you won't be able to drive the barbell over your chest with the power only possible with solid form.
You should NOT be flailing your legs in the air while you're pressing, you should not stretch out as wide as you can across the bench during your bench press.
When setting up for a powerful bench press ensure you've hit the following points in your form before your unrack the barbell...
- Your feet should be in close to the bench
- You should just be able to fit a fist in the gap between your lower back and the bench
- Your scapula (shoulder blades) are squeezed together and down as you take grasp of the barbell
#2 - Warm Up Your Shoulders (Rotator Cuff Stretches, Shoulder Dislocations)
Neglecting a shoulder mobility routine before performing any upper body movements not only increases your risk of injury, but your performance on the exercise - in this case the bench press will be far from ideal.
You haven't 'greased the groove' so to speak, you haven't warmed up the path you're going to be moving through.
Now, you don't need to spend an entire workout or anything excessive preparing your shoulders for your bench press, I recommend using a broomstick handle or a theraband and hitting 3 - 4 sets of rotator cuff stretches and 3 - 4 sets of shoulder dislocations (you can see these in my video below).
#3 Work In The Lower Rep Range (Press Heavy! 3 - 6 Reps)
Studies have proven it time and time again, if you want to increase your strength (and size!) you NEED to lift heavy.
10 reps per set is the default for most guys.
10 reps per set will not help you build up to smashing out powerful sets in excess of 300lbs on the bench press naturally.
The 4 - 6 rep range is key for building strength on your heavy compound movements.
Regardless of whether you are in a cutting or bulking phase your workout does not need to change at all, you won’t get increased vascularity or striations by performing a higher number of repetitions, that’s a load of crap. I keep my rep structure the same all year round and simply manipulate my caloric intake based on whether I want to gain mass (calorie surplus) or burn fat (calorie deficit).
I’m certainly not the first person to advocate lifting heavy for fewer reps…
“If you must use dumbbells for daily training, use heavy ones with fewer repetitions rather than light bells with numerous repetitions” – Arthur Saxon, 1906
If you don’t generally train in the lower rep range I recommend you give it a try, stop lifting in the 10 – 15 rep range for at least a month and focus on heavy, low rep sets. Once you start to see results you won’t want to go back.
Now, you may still think high reps are beneficial, but let me tell you they’re far from it.
High repetitions result in increased stress on your CNS, increase in localized inflammation and increased soreness.
“Movements or exercises that do not give the muscle the required resistance, but are the kind that involve a great number of repetitions, never break down any tissue, to speak of. These movements involve a forcing process that cause the blood to swell up the muscle, and simply pump them up”– George F. Jowett, 1926
#4 Don't Neglect Your Triceps (Hit Some Isolation AKA. Heavy Dips)
Hitting the triceps directly is often dismissed or neglected as triceps are the secondary muscle group when we're training chest.
Here's the thing, showing your triceps some love with a couple of key exercises directly will translate into increased strength and power on your bench press too.
Forget the triceps kickbacks and one arm cable pushdowns...
The weighted dip and the barbell skull crusher are king when it comes to adding functional strength and size to your triceps.
Once again, keep the rep range low - there's no need to go above 6 repetitions on your weighted dips or barbell skull crushers.
Here's my sample triceps workout routine I recommend hitting once per week:
- 3 x 6 - weighted dips (+100lbs)
- 3 x 6 barbell skull crushers
- 3 x 6 dumbbell overhead extension
Now It's Your Move...
Bench press not progressing how you'd like it to? Been stuck on a set weight for a period of time?
Set up your lift properly, ensure your form and position on the bench are solid BEFORE your unrack the barbell
Warm up your rotator cuffs and perform 3 sets of shoulder dislocations with a broom stick handle or theraband before commencing your chest workout
Train in the low rep range, hitting 4 - 6 reps per set and applying progressive overload
Perform a small amount of direct triceps work