I've written several bench press articles over the years and for good reason, too: all you dirty punters love them. Everybody wants a bigger bench, a better set of pecs, and bragging rights when it comes to National Chest Day (Monday, of course).
So, it's only fitting that I followed up 5 Ways to Improve Your Squat with an article in equal measure about the bench press.
'What do ya bench'? is also a very personal question. It's almost like a call to masculinity for most listers. So if you've hit a plateau on the bench or are just generally looking for tips to enhance your progress, here are 5 nuggets of wisdom I've learnt over the years that should help you on your quest.
Let me set one thing straight: the bench press is a full body, compound movement. As such, it requires that we utilise as much of our body as possible to complete the lift with proper form.
Overlooking the involvement of your quadriceps specifically during the lift is very foolish. Why would you want to completely disengage half of your body? This should be where the lift starts. Next time you sit on the bench and lie backwards, I want you to consciously drag your legs back as far as possible until your hip flexors feel the stretch. It should aggravate you slightly, and it will also help to create a better arch, mimicking the decline position which will also enhance strength favourably.
Before you lift the bar off at all in this position, expert strength & conditioning coach Mike Robertson also has some salient advice: 'Try to imagine somebody slapping your quads', he says. This will engage your legs and make them more rigid and allow you to create a rock-hard platform from which to push up on. This is great, because big ass lifts require a ton of stability to move the bar fast and with purpose.
After you've got the correct set up and done all of your last point checks (back arched and chest out mimicking a decline position; legs stable and pulled back hard; shoulders retracted into your back pocket; elbows tucked in slightly to engage the triceps), there's one last thing you need to engage before un-racking the bar. And that is, gripping the shit out of it, so to speak, in an analogy I first heard as 'breaking spaghetti'.
You may think this is a trivial issue at best, but it's not. Gripping the bar as hard as humanly possibly will transfer an unbelievable amount of power through your limbs and also allow you to generate the maximum force possible. If you're asked to choke a live cobra out, would you softly massage its body or attempt to strangle the absolute life out of it before it destroys you? That iron will be equally as ruthless, and you need to approach it with absolute aggression and force before you even take it off the rack. Remember this and watch how much more powerful you are next time you step onto the bench platform.
Disengagement leads to a lack of activity, and that's precisely what we want to avoid when bench pressing. We want to engage as many muscle groups as possible and not overlook any critical components.
You must figuratively 'drag the bar' in with your lats towards your sternum (lower chest). This will generate more power during the concentric phase of the lift, allowing you to press more rapidly on the way up. Ignoring the lats involvement in the bench press is neglectful, but it's understandable for many. A lot of folks think their back is simply used for stability during the bench press, but that's wrong. Your back will also play an active role in pulling the bar inwards towards your sternum, as aforementioned.
I can't believe the feedback I've received off this quick, simple tip and its ability to generate power and produce results. I was reminded of it by a close friend and excellent person trainer a few months ago when he was observing my bench press form. People are literally shell-shocked by how effective this technique can be in improving their power output. Pretty neat, eh?
Ok, so now we're at the point where the bar lands at your sternum, what next? In addition to the obvious answer of 'pressing the motherfucker back up', a swift tip I've found that increases full body utilisation and interestingly, triceps involvement, is imagining pushing your traps hard into the bench press as you push outwards and upwards. It's a contrast of two opposing directions, but it produces very good results and again, will improve your power output and speed in which you move the bar during the concentric phase.
Like I finished off with on my last squat article, I want to provide an assistance exercise that should really help you guys crank up the poundage on your bench press, and that is the decline close grip bench press (DCGBP), which I've written extensively about here for you to read.
It's not a magic bullet, but it will significantly strengthen your triceps which are, of course, the primary movers through any pressing exercise and need to be strong. If you have a weakness in your triceps, it's imperative you rectify this and the DCGBP is the best exercise I've found for handling raw poundage and progressively adding resistance upon. Definitely hit them up.
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