4 Steps To A Bigger Bench Press
The bench press is regarded king of upper body exercises, but it can also be a very frustrating one. Whilst you may be able to Squat and deadlift two to three times your own bodyweight, the bench press involves relatively smaller muscle groups and many struggle to hit one, to one and half times their own bodyweight on this movement for even one repetition. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Yes, progression in the bench press will likely slow quicker than the squat and deadlift, and patience, persistence and consistency are definite requirements, but there are certainly steps you can take to improve your numbers. Performing the exercise properly with great form, correct weight selection, intelligent programming and selecting the appropriate assistance exercises are all great approaches to combat a puny bench press. In this blog post I will expand on these points and outline 4 steps you can use to achieve bench press success.
- PERFECT YOUR TECHNIQUE
Building a bigger bench press all starts with using the most effective technique. Just to clarify, I am talking here about lifting more weight, not building more muscle. The difference is that when the focus is solely on lifting more weight, the goal will be to increase effectiveness by using a technique which requires you to move the bar over the shortest distance possible. Whereas maximising muscle growth would require working the muscle through a greater range of motion and therefore, would limit the amount of weight that could potentially be pressed.
There is a ton of points to be covered on bench press technique which will be a topic of it’s own in a later post however, I will outline some of the most important points you should be focusing on:
- Set up a stable base – Keep the shoulders pinned back tight, driving them into the bench, the bum squeezed tight and in constant contact with the bench (but not resting on it) and the feet back as far as possible, keeping the heels on the floor. Maintain your arch and as much tension as possible throughout the whole body.
- Grip – Take a grip as wide as comfortably possible (if you’re used to a very narrow grip, gradually work your grip out, do not make massive changes right away).
- The Decent – Row the bar down to a position in line with or just below the nipples, whilst tucking in the elbows to keep them in line with the bar.
- Accent – Drive the bar up and slightly backwards from the chest, rotating the elbows out from half way up to lock out. The path should resemble a slight arc and should finish roughly at the base of the neck once locked out.
- Leg Drive – Maintain tension in the legs during the decent and drive hard through the heels on the way up, pushing the hips towards the head.
It should be noted, the points outlined above are in line with the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) rules. There will be certain differences compared to other powerlifting federations. Likewise, someone who wants the best of both worlds to build size as well as strength, may want to adopt a more “diluted” version of the outlined points. Either way, I highly recommend taking the time thoroughly go over your technique and perfect it to enhance your bench press. It’s been suggested that technical issues can account for up to 70% of plateaus and sticking points, so it’s 100% worth it!
- BENCH PRESS MORE OFTEN
A very simple strategy, bench press more. The more you bench, the more you practice, the better you will get. This doesn’t necessarily mean bench press 95% of your 1 rep max three times per week. As I have already mentioned, technique is key to enhancing your numbers, so the more you practice the proper technique, the more effective the movement becomes and the heavier weight you can begin to press. You can’t become better at an exercise you don’t do, so replacing the bench press with dumbbell presses every week or doing every chest exercise under the sun every Monday, is not a good approach. Rather, train the bench press twice, or even in some cases 3 times per week. For example, twice a week, have one heavy session on Tuesday and a lighter technique session on Friday, or three times a week, have a heavy session on Monday, a light technique session on Wednesday and a moderate, higher volume session on Friday.
- TARGET YOUR WEAKNESSES WITH ASSISTANCE AND ACCESSORY EXERCISES
Many people make the mistake of overdoing it on assistance work and as a result do not recover properly for their next session (I am speaking from experience here!). When it comes to powerlifting and trying to achieve a bigger 1RM, less is often more. Your strengths and weaknesses should determine your assistance and accessory exercises, not what muscles you think need to look a bit bigger on a Saturday night in the club! Assistance exercises will help to overcome sticking points in the movement and accessory work will help to maintain structural balance and prevent injury, whilst allowing you to lift most weight. For example, you may be weak in the mid to end range of a bench press and really struggle to lock out at heavier weights. In this case, a good assistance exercise for you would be a mid to high board press and it would be wise to include some tricep exercises for your accessory work. A good idea would be to video your bench press and watch it back to identify weaknesses, as well as seeking advice from an experienced coach.
4. SOURCE A GOOD PROGRAMME
An effective program requires well planned progression, prevents overtraining, stimulates muscle hypertrophy and reinforces proper technique. I’ve used the following bench pressing programme with a number of clients and lifters to help them build strength and consistently hit new PB’s within a matter of months.
Unless you’re an elite level powerlifter, there’s probably a lot you can do to improve your bench press in a relatively short space of time. Drop your ego and take the time to nail excellent technique, even if it means temporarily reducing the weight you’re used to bench pressing (probably very badly). Ditch your “bench day”, and train the bench press at least twice a week, find out where you’re weak and then get to work!!