Ever walk into a gym on a Monday and notice that almost every bench is taken? If you’re new to the fitness game I must warn you – Monday is national chest day and everyone wants a piece of that bench.
Can you really blame these people though? The bench press is one of the best lifts to feel anabolic strength. I mean besides the deadlift and the squat, bench press is perhaps the most primal display of raw pushing strength.
Enough pitter patter though – you came here to learn about how to improve your bench press.
Assuming you’ve built up a decent amount of strength and have some good form, building strength on the bench press will come down to three important principles:
If you can master these three important principles you will increase your bench.
How To Bench Press
I am not going to spend too much time in this and if you feel you have a good grasp of the bench press you can go ahead and skip this section.
1. Scapula Positioning
This is the first aspect to keep in mind. The better you can retract your scapula and press into the bench, the more power you will be able to transfer through the bar. This means working to suction cup the scapula to the bench while the bar is overhead.
Check out this video for a good look at where you should be positioned.
2. Hand Position
Typically I say that you should just find a comfortable position, but most people will work best at around 1 inch inside the first notch on your bar. There’s no need for any strange grip placements, just squeeze and control the bar through all portions of the movement.
QUESTION: Does the bar need to touch your chest?
In most strength applications as it relates to the average joe in the gym, there is no rule for touching the bar to your chest. With this in mind, all competitions will require you to hit your chest with the bar.
Not only will touching the bar off your chest allow you to press more weight with a bounce, but it also allows you to train a greater range of motion.
3. Rest Times
This is an important note to make for anyone who is new to the bench press. Since it is a large countermovement exercise you should be taking a long time to rest between sets. Most strength training will require at least 2 minutes of rest between sets.
Depending on your weight and skill level I’d shoot for 3 minutes between sets.
Principles of Bench Press
Before we get into these it is important to know that there are numerous ways to increase your bench – these are just some of the techniques I have found to be most successful for those who are relatively new to strength training.
On a very simple level, this is just the idea of putting more and more weight on the muscle to induce stress and recovery for growth.
With that said, if you are looking for a foolproof way to increase strength your overload technique should be a little more structured than that.
When it comes to bench press your best bet for overload is to use a % of max weights. In other words, you need to find your 1RM (one rep max) and train at a percentage of this intensity.
Your bread and butter for hypertrophy will be to train at around 70-85% of your 1RM.
For example, if your 1RM was 225 pounds, 80% of this load would be 180 pounds. Training at this intensity you would be able to stimulate the muscles to overload, record your results and progress with rep variability. This brings us to our second principle of bench press.
Always Use Rep Variability
As you start to grow stronger you will notice that rep variability is one of the most important aspects of any bodybuilding journey. If you are to grow stronger while avoiding injury you must consider some basic principles of overload and rep schemes.
Using the same example as above I would recommend training within an 8 x 3 rep scheme – that is, 8 reps by 3 sets. Remembering that we have around 3 minutes of rest per set, these 8 reps should be at a very high intensity (which is why we are training at 80% of your max).
Assuming next week you want to increase the weight on the muscle, the most effective method would be to create variability in your reps and sets.
Here’s how you do it: Instead of an 8 x 3, you can switch to a 6 x 4. In this way, you are still doing the same total reps (24) but you now have fewer reps per set, which allows you to increase the intensity (perhaps to 85% of max) and work in these rep schemes.
You can use this simple method to increase weight gradually and stimulate the muscles within a structured rep scheme.
Utilize Accessory Movements
Largely one of the most forgotten aspects of bench press. Yes, to a certain extent, if you want to get stronger in a bench press you need to bench – but this goes without saying.
If you want to keep your shoulders strong, avoid injury and allow for the best possible growth in your bench accessory movements are essential.
Your goal for any accessory work on the bench will be to strengthen and stabilize any working joints. This means training the wrist, elbow and shoulder to be more stable and strong.
Here are my favourite accessory movements for the bench press:
I really don’t think there is a better exercise to train the muscles to be strong and stable than a dip negative. Quite simple – start at the top ROM and lower your body to the bottom very slowly. Your goal is to now allow any elbow flare or any kinks in your wrist.
This is just a general term for any accessory work you do at the shoulders with a band. You can do dislocations, internal and external rotation, front raises – pretty much anything that provides more strength and stability at the shoulder.
Here is a video of awesome band exercises you can use to build strength.
You know we weren’t going to leave this off the list. Pushups are virtually the same exercise as bench press but with much lower intensity. You can use this exercise to build the best pushing pattern. Work various hand grips and always move slowly to train proper alignment and strength patterns.
If you want to be really specific you can also train in the same rep schemes as your bench press (8×3 and 6×4). Very slow eccentrically and powerful concentric movements.
How to Improve Your Bench Press
Improving your bench will come quickly. Unlike other exercises like the deadlift, you will progress very quickly under the bar on the bench. It is important that you are still patient and maintain a consistent overload of volume.
There is no need to train bench every day – 2-3x a week will be plenty and never get under the bar unless you are warm and ready to roll.
Enjoy the gains.