There are a few easy ways you can increase your bench press, adding some extra weight to arguably the greatest exercises for upper body strength and muscle building.
Bench press is a classic chest-building compound exercise. Being a compound exercise, it means that doing bench press activates many of your muscles at once, including triceps, shoulders, back and even your glutes.
Because bench press activates so many muscles at once, you should be able to lift more weight with this exercise than you do with dumbbells. Still, many people eventually “hit a wall” and plateau, struggling to add more weight to the bar. One way to try to break the plateau is to increase your protein intake, but that’s just be the tip of the iceberg.
This article will look at the mechanics of this movement, and give you some tips for safety and technique to allow you to increase your bench press!
Your bench press form
If you want to know how to increase your bench press, you have to get your form right! Because people are able to lift a heavier weight on bench press than they would with dumbbell exercises, the risk of injury is also greater. Shoulder injuries, such as pinched or inflamed tendons and rotator cuff injuries are very common, but can be avoided by using proper technique:
- Start by lying down on a flat bench. Grab the bar with both hands slightly outside of your shoulder width. (The inner markings usually found on the olympic bar indicate the maximum hand placement in powerlifting competitions). Lift the bar from the rack and holding it above your chest, as this will be your starting position!
- From the starting position, begin to lower the bar to the middle of the chest until it touches (Try not to bounce it). Do not forget to breathe-in as you lower to bar and breath-out as you push the bar back to the starting position!
- Focus on the ‘squeez’ in your chest, when you are pushing the bar back to the starting position.
- Repeat this movement for your desired amount of reps. The recommended amount of repetitions for building strength is 1-6 reps and 8-12 for building muscle-mass.
- Safely place the bar back on the rack once you are done. If you are not confident about performing bench press on your own, always use a ‘spotter’!
Slight tweaks to your technique
You can slightly tweak your bench pressing technique by implementing small adjustments. It is important to note that you should only consider these if you are experienced enough and feel comfortable with this exercise.
- The power comes from the legs, as it does in many sports and many movements. It is no different in bench-press! Plant your feet firmly on the ground and try to keep them slightly back, towards your butt. Planting them firmly will help you generate more power. Squeezing your glutes as you push the bar back to the starting position should also help!
- Lowering the bar should be done in a ‘diagonal’ line, rather than straight down from the shoulder to the middle of the chest. Many lifters make this mistake and experience pain in their shoulder or chest. The shoulder joint, which is involved in the bench-pressing movement is a ball and socket joint and bringing the bar ‘straight down’ puts an unnatural strain on the joint.
- Pinch your shoulders back! Push your chest out and your shoulders back against the bench, before you lift the bar to the starting position. Shortening the distance between your body and the bar will allow you to push more weight.
- If there is a spotter available, use them to give you a ‘lift off’! Some benches and power racks have their safety holes spaced too far apart or sometimes too close together. If the holes are too close together your overall performance may be affected because you have to bend your arms more in order to lift the bar off the rack. If the holes are too far apart it may cause your back or shoulders to come off the bench in order to lift the bar. A spotter could help you prepare for the lift in a more comfortable manner and remove the fear of failure.
Some esser known tricks
Unless you are an experienced athlete or a serious gym dweller you may be unaware of these ‘lesser known tricks’. These are commonly used by people to move more weight when bench pressing.
- For some reason this tip is often ignored or neglected, however it is probably the most effective one of them all – BENCH MORE. In order to get stronger the body must be exposed to new and increased stimuli. This is called progressive overload – a method, which requires you to perform a steady increase in volume (total reps), intensity (amount of weight) and frequency (how often). This method has been shown to increase muscle gain and strength!
- Even if your muscles feel ready for the next set, make sure you have given your body enough rest. Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue can happen due to high training intensity and decrease your overall performance. It can make you feel unmotivated and decrease your strength! If you are doing strength training, 3-5 minutes is a common rest period that is used between sets.
- Another trick for how to increase bench press is using the ‘ruler rule’. Whilst keeping your feet firmly on the ground, arch your back and retract your scapula. Try to rest your traps on the flat bench, pushing your sternum (chest) outwards. This will significantly reduce the distance between the bar and the body, allowing you to lift more weight. It is a common ‘trick’, which is often used in competitive powerlifting. The drive from your legs will also contribute to an increase in power! It can be dangerous so do no attempt it unless you are an advanced weight lifter.
This article first appeared on GYMNASIUMPOST.com 16th May, 2020.