If you’re a lifter, most likely you want to learn how to maximize bench press. The bench press can be one of the toughest lifts to increase weight once you hit that wall. However, here are 6 tips that can help you blast and increase your bench press to new levels.
Some of the tips include focusing on shoulder and overhead workouts to keep your shoulders strong, which have a significant impact on your bench press performance. Another factor to consider is to maintain your body weight through proper hydration, because body weight also significantly impacts the amount that you can bench press.
- When trying to bring up the bench press, don’t focus on bench press variations at the expense of overhead work. For your bench to go up, you should make overhead work a priority, not an afterthought.
- Unlike the squat and deadlift, bench press performance correlates strongly with bodyweight.
- Band work between sets is a great way to keep the shoulders and upper back healthy.
- If you have wonky shoulders, consider using the thumbless “suicide” grip instead of a full grip.
- Never miss a rep. If you’re not at least 80% sure that you’ll make the lift, don’t even attempt it.
Raw bench press strength is highly correlated with shoulder size and strength.
I learned years ago that whenever my overhead strength increased (either push pressing or military pressing more), my bench went up significantly. Not only did I lift more weight, it felt easier and smoother. The fact is, my biggest bench press came at the end of a shoulder specialization program, not a bench press program.
While I understood how getting stronger shoulders helped with the bench press, for some reason it took me longer to realize how losing shoulder size and strength decreased bench press performance. It happened when I decided to drop overhead work in favor of more bench pressing. I figured that by increasing the volume of chest work that I’d progress faster on the bench press. My triceps certainly grew stronger, as did my chest. I also noticed that both body parts gained a significant amount of mass.
However, my bench press strength stalled and eventually went down. Soon, everything felt heavier, and my shoulders lost fullness. Only when I went back to overhead work did I noticed how much weaker my delts had become. It got me thinking: Every time I lost deltoid size my bench press suffered. Sometimes I was able to keep lifting similar weights, but they felt much heavier and more stressful on my body.
The moral of the story is that to bench press big weights you need very strong and large deltoids. (This obviously applies to raw bench pressing, not using a bench shirt.)
Real life application: When trying to bring up the bench press we tend to focus on bench press variations at the expense of overhead work. That’s a mistake. For your bench to go up, you should make overhead work a priority, not an afterthought.
One way is to start every bench press session with an overhead lift (push press, military press, dumbbell press) performed for 5 sets of 5 reps. At first your bench press poundages will go down as you’ll be more fatigued, but after a few sessions it should go right back up. Eventually you’ll be much stronger training that way.
The bench press is the lift most affected by weight loss.
Even losing water weight affects bench press performance. For example, a few years ago while I was benching twice a week, I hit a 425-pound bench press on Monday. On Friday my wife and I enjoyed a long hot tub session. The next day I was 6 pounds lighter (from dehydration) and while I still felt really good going into the workout, I failed to hit even 365 pounds! Certainly I didn’t lose any muscle in 24 hours, but the fact that I lost some water weight killed my bench press.
Furthermore, I’ve found that my bench pressing performance is highly correlated with my bodyweight. If I’m 195 pounds I can bench press 325. When I’m 205 I can bench press 365, and when I go up to 215 I can bench 385. At 225 I can do 405, and if I reach 230-235 I can bench press 425. This applies even if my muscle mass is about the same at each bodyweight; a phenomenon that even holds true for all bench press assistance exercises.
Also, if either my clients or I do a bench press session after a big cheat day, we can bench press a lot more because of water retention and increased glycogen stores. On the other hand, performance during a hard squat workout after a cheat day stays about the same, and for a deadlift session performance can actually go down.
Still, the bench press is the lift most affected by weight loss, the strict military press is second, the squat third, and the deadlift is the least affected, so it seems that any lift involving the shoulder joint is significantly sensitive to weight loss.
Use the reverse-band bench press when you have sore shoulders.
It’s easy to start experiencing tender shoulders when you bench press big weights. This can indicate bad form or a muscle imbalance that needs to be addressed. Most of the time when this happens people stop bench pressing altogether until their shoulders get healthier.
I’ve never had success with this approach. Upon returning to bench pressing my shoulders often started hurting again right away. I noticed the same thing with many clients – when you stop working a problematic area, it usually leads to even worse problems when you get back into it.
On the other hand, you don’t want to do a movement that causes pain. Powering through, biting the bullet, and continuing the exercise usually leads to a far greater problem.
A solution that works is to keep bench pressing, but with reverse bands – bands attached to the top of the power rack, hanging the bar from the bands. The reverse bands drastically decrease the amount of weight in the bottom position, which is the most vulnerable point of the bench press for the shoulders.
As a side note, I find the reverse band bench press to be superior to the regular bench press for chest and triceps contraction and stimulation, so you’ll likely build up some more mass while getting back to peak shape.
Band work between sets works.
My most successful bench-pressing phase was characterized by doing band work in between sets. Biotest founder Tim Patterson and I had been experimenting with various types of band-only exercises for the back – slow pull-aparts and holds in various positions – with the goal of finding weak or sore spots and spending time contracting against the bands in those spots.
Real life application: Perform band pull-aparts and holds for 30-60 seconds per set between sets of bench pressing to maximize progress on the bench press.
Consider using a suicide grip when bench pressing to eliminate shoulder or triceps pain.
When you take a regular grip, your hands turn in slightly. This automatically forces you into an internal shoulder rotation position, meaning that the “natural” path you take when lowering the bar will have your elbows pointed outward/flared out.
This puts stress on the shoulder joint and if you try to tuck the elbows in – despite the natural inclination for the elbows to be out – you create a lot of torque at the elbow joint. So you either increase the stress on the shoulders or the elbows, neither of which is good.
By using a thumbless grip you can easily keep a more neutral hand position, which makes it much more natural to lower the bar while staying tucked. This reduces shoulder stress without increasing torque at the elbows, resulting in a less stressful bench press.
Never miss a rep.
In his book, The Cube Method, Brandon Lilly says that you should never miss a rep in training. It got me thinking, and I can say with almost 100% certainty that I have not missed a single rep of the bench press in at least 5 years, probably more.
Real life application: Train hard, train to improve, and train to get better than you were last time you were in the gym. Do not attempt a set or a rep if you’re not 80% sure of being able to do it with good form. The fewer reps you miss in training while going as hard as you can, the stronger, healthier, and bigger you’ll end up in the long run.
Read the full article and images at t-nation.com