There is no mistaking the fact that the bench press has become the ultimate measure of manhood. Whenever you meet a fellow lifter the first question is almost always “How Much Ya Bench?” Now if your number is smaller than you want it to be then that question might make you cringe. So what do you do?
Most people who want to increase their bench press just start benching more and more thinking that will help. In their obsession they keep increasing the volume, and they wonder why they aren’t making progress. On top of that they usually max out once a week to track their progress. None of these are optimal.
So how do you increase your bench press?
Tuck Your Elbows
Many of the people that are trying to increase their bench press have horrible form. In fact before you worry about your strength you should make sure you technique is spot on. For one thing, some tweaks to your form can really increase your max. You also want to make sure your technique is right to prevent injuries as you start lifting bigger poundages.
Tucking your elbows is one of the first steps to optimal technique. Most people bench with flared elbows, which causes them to bring the bar down high on the chest. This also requires a huge amount of shoulder rotation. This is where people get hurt. Rotating your elbows In so that they are at a 45 degree angle to your body reduces shoulder rotation, allows you to lower the bar just below your nipples, and decreases the range of motion. This puts you in a very powerful yet safe position to start the press.
Decrease Range of Motion
Changing your elbow angle helps with this, but there are other ways as well. Retracting your shoulder blades can make a huge difference in both your overall stability and your range of motion. When you set up on the bench you should pull your shoulder blades together just like you are completing a seated row. This allows your shoulder blades to have maximum contact with the bench pad which increases stability. It also pulls your arms back which decreases range of motion. Be sure that when you unrack the bar you keep your shoulder blades retracted. Some people press the bar out of the rack and in doing so they flatten out on the bench. Once you lose your initial position you can’t ever get it back. It takes practice to properly pull the bar out of the rack.
Arching is another way to decrease the range of motion. This is does not have to be exaggerated, but when you set up you should try to get your hips as close to your shoulders as possible. You have to be sure that your glutes don’t come off the bench. It really depends on foot placement though. If you tuck your feet then you can actually use your quads to grip the bench and hold you in place. If you put your feet out in front of you then you will not be able to arch as much and you have to be careful of coming off the bench.
If you want to bench big weight then you have to generate big force. You should add some dynamic benching into your workouts to practice developing force. When you start to press the weight from the bottom of the bench press you have to drive as much force into your upper back as possible. This is just simple physics; the more force that you can drive into the bench, the more force that can be transferred into the bar. For that to happen you have to use as much leg drive as possible. If done properly the bench press is a full body movement, not just a chest movement. You have to think of benching as a controlled shove. If you were a football lineman, the motion you use to fire off the ball and into your opponent is pretty similar to the proper bench except for the laying down part.
All that force is lost if you cannot stay tight. One of the keys to staying tight is to hold your air. Many people will tell you to breath during your sets, and that is ok if you are using the bench to do high reps for muscle building. If you are training the bench as a movement, and want to lift maximum poundages then it won’t work. If you let your air out during a max attempt then you will lose all your stability and chances are the weight will crush you.
You should also squeeze the bar as tightly as possible. This seems like it would be common sense, but you would be surprise how many people don’t do this. This obviously helps you to control the bar, but it also helps to activate more muscles of the upper body. You can contract a muscle much harder if you contract the muscles around it.
Triceps, Triceps, Triceps
Once you are in the proper benching position the bench press is no longer a chest building movement. The triceps are the most important muscle for the bench press. You should use partial movements to overload the lockout. You should also use bodybuilding type movements to increase the size of the triceps. The bigger the tricep muscle the more muscle there is to recruit. The majority of your bench press lockout strength comes from the area around the elbow so that is where you should concentrate your efforts. You will never bench big weight if you have small, weak triceps.
This really is a simple tip, but it is true. It has often been said if you want to increase your bench all you need to do is “gain weight and train triceps.” If your technique is correct and you do just those two things then your bench has no choice but to increase. Having said that, you can always gain weight and strength and then diet back down while trying to maintain strength if you have a weight class restriction. It is always easier to gain strength while your calories are in surplus, so if you are trying to stay in a weight class you might have to alternate back and forth.
There obviously are several other ways to increase your bench press. People are always coming up with new things. However, these 6 cover the basics. If you make one or all of these changes then your bench press will go up. The importance of technique cannot be overemphasized. The difference between making a weight and missing can be fractions of an inch. Get your technique right before you do anything else, and once you have it right keep practicing it so it is always right.