The bench press is easily the most popular exercises in the gyms across America. In fact, whenever you tell somebody that you are into working out their next question is usually, “So, how much ya bench?”
As annoying as that question is, most guys still want to be able to say they can bench press some serious weight. Heck, I’m no different!
Needless to say, developing a big bench requires a lot of hard work and patience. Fortunately, we’ve outlined some of the basic principles that will help you get there in previous articles. However, with that said, there are some other techniques that I believe are worth noting that may help you get to your goal faster.
Here are my 5 tips for developing a stronger bench press:
1. Proper set up
This is probably the most important tip of all. You need to ensure that you are bench pressing with a correct set up. A correct set up in the bench press is the following:
- Feet flat on the floor
- Butt on the bench
- Tight arch in the lower back
- Shoulder blades/scapula pulled back together
- Comfortable full grip on the bar
This type of set up is important if you want to have a serious bench press because it aims to put your body in the most bio-mechanically advantageous position.
I see far too many guys in the gym bench pressing with their legs in the air, flat blacks, and no lower back arch support. This is not a recipe for a big bench!
2. Full body tension
One of the keys to a good bench press is having a stable platform from which to press from. This requires you to ensure that your entire body is tense and rigid as possible. As strange as it sounds, the bench press really is a full body lift. That’s why elite level bench pressers will tell you to keep your abs, glutes, and legs as tight and tensed as possible because doing so allows you to take advantage of leg drive to help you press more weight. Even the way you grip the bar is important. You should be gripping it like you are trying to crush the bar. Make sure everything is super tight. Remember, a tensed muscle is a stronger muscle.
3. Paused reps
In a previous article I discussed the benefits of doing paused squats. Well, believe it or not, similar benefits can obtained from performing paused bench presses. By pausing the bar on your chest for a brief moment before completing the concentric portion of the lift, you inhibit the body’s natural stretch reflex system. This, in turn, allows you to overload the muscles of the chest and shoulders more effectively which ultimately leads to a stronger bench press over time.
In my experience most raw (i.e. non-equipped) bench pressers are weak coming off of the chest. In other words, most guys seem to struggle the most on the bench press when the bar has just come off of their chest (2-3 inches). Once they get past this “sticking point” most guys have no problem with the last ¼ of the lift (or the lockout). That’s precisely why I find paused bench presses so beneficial. Much like paused squats, they overload the key muscles of the exercise in the most difficult part of the movement, allowing you to become stronger so you can overcome the sticking point.
4. Speed sets
The purpose of speed sets (i.e. the dynamic method) is to enhance your explosive power, which is a key trait in any strength sport.
For those who are not familiar with this method, it essentially involves training with submaximal weights with maximal speed. This usually means using 50% to 60% of your 1 rep max and doing multiple sets of single, doubles, and triples as fast and explosively as possible.
The key benefit of speed sets or dynamic work is that it trains the ability to achieve maximum force as quickly as possible after a muscular stretch (i.e. enhances explosiveness). This means that you will be able to bench press more weight over time because in the end a more explosive athlete is also a stronger athlete.
One of the most popular powerlifting programs out there – the Westside Barbell Conjugate Method – incorporates speed work into its system. I highly recommend guys look into this program if they are at all interested in using dynamic work to improve their bench press.
Louie Simmons (from Westside Barbell) explains some of the ins and outs of speed work and the bench press:
5. Strong lats
Believe it or not, but your lats actually play a role in how much you can bench press. That’s because having well developed and strong lat muscles allow you to maintain a stable position when you have your shoulder blades retracted together. In this case, the lats become a key stabilizer when you bring the bar down to your chest. That’s why some of the strongest bench pressers in the world recommend you incorporate db rows, pull-ups, and/or pull downs in order to help you build a stronger bench press. Hopefully this will cause you to think again if you have been skimping on your back development.
In this article I went over 5 techniques that can help you increase your strength in the bench press. These methods are hardly anything revolutionary or groundbreaking but they do work. In my opinion, the application of these methods coupled with some hard work and patience will no doubt improve your bench press numbers. But don’t just take my word for it, give them a shot and see for yourself!