'What do ya bench?'
Let's face it, we've all been asked this question several times since we took up lifting. The bench press, for the majority of the human population, is visualised as the true test of strength, a depiction of man's masculinity if you like. While the experienced lifters out there know very well it's not the be all and end all, admittedly, it's always great to possess a huge bench press, there is no denying that!
So, just how do you break through current plateaus on bench press and kick on with your progress? There's actually a variety of techniques and strategies to overcome this. The bench press is a very difficult exercise to make consistent progress on as opposed to squats and deadlifts for most. The miniscule increments added to the bar week-in week-out can be frustrating and often result in stagnation for many.
Yet all is not lost. Read on and find out with these short, massively effective techniques how you can make huge strides on your bench press from your very next training session. It's simple. If you have enthusiasm, hard-work and commitment in your arsenal, you'll soon be taking your position amongst the elite!
Technique. Without perfect execution, you'll fail fast!
Learn to Arch
Bench pressing, especially for those with long arms / limbs, is a movement that travels over a long range of motion. The biggest benchers in the world all know how to properly arch their back to perform a bench press more effectively.
Why Arch? Simple really, it reduces the range of motion during the lift and makes it easier for you to lift heavier weights! Have you ever wondered why most people's decline bench press is stronger than their flat bench? It's quite simply because there is less range of motion for the bar to travel and you can use more power through the triceps. By mimicking a decline position, you will reduce ROM, thus resulting in more poundage being used. And we all know what that means from a bodybuilding perspective; more of a stimulus to grow!
As a rule of thumb, try to have it so somebody can slide a fist underneath your back quite easily so you know you're getting the technique right.
Retract the shoulder blades / keep upper back tight
Intertwined to the arch, retracting the shoulder blades and 'pinching' them together is essential on bench. This will enable you to drive more weight using the rear deltoids for support in assistance with the press, an often overlooked component of this powerful movement.
So, raise your sternum and get that chest up high, pin the shoulders back at all times and squeeze them together tightly.
Gripping the bar
This is a simple yet neglected part of benching. Here are some quick fire tips to getting perfect hand positioning;
Keep your elbows tucked
Too many people bench with extremely flared elbows, often to failure. This is very dangerous on the bench press and can put you at risk of serious injury.
Benching correctly requires that your elbows are tucked into the body. As previously mentioned, the triceps are the strongest muscle group on bench above the deltoids and pectorals, so we want to prioritise them by making them strongest on the movement. Put your elbows between perpendicular to and parallel with your torso, and simply press in a straight line. You will be shocked at the difference this makes to your bench!
Assistance exercises. The best exercises to compliment a massive bench
Board presses have became a valuable tool for the best benchers in the world for increasing their overall press. What board presses do is emphasise certain sticking points in your lift and train that segment to become stronger. For most, it's around 4 inches off the chest where their triceps tend to fail.
To perform a board press you will require an additional spotter to hold the board in place. Simply lower to the board, pause and press to lockout. A fantastic assistance exercise, that can be rotated into your training frequently.
Decline close grip
As previously stated, the triceps are an essential part of pressing that are often neglected when trying to develop a huge bench press. Decline bench isolates the triceps more, and will allow you to build functional strength that can transfer directly to your flat bench press.
Lower the bar to your sternum / lower chest, and press in a straight line hard through the triceps until lockout. You may wish to add these onto a separate day away from chest / flat bench so you can focus exclusively on building powerful triceps.
Dips are a great movement that build brilliant strength in the upper body. They also significantly strengthen your lockout strength.
Perform the dip upright and make sure you lockout the elbows at the top. As a tip, try to keep the reps high on dips as they can be dangerous in the lower rep ranges and may make you susceptible to shoulder injuries or pectoral tears.
The floor press is traditionally used to strengthen the mid-point of the bench press. They will build phenomenal triceps strength when performed correctly and can be used very effectively to compliment certain portions of your bench press too.
To perform a floor press, lie on the floor and have your partner either pass a pair of dumbbells to you, or a barbell, dependant on your choice. Pause at the bottom of the movement and then explode through the triceps until lockout. Higher reps are preferred on floor presses as low reps again can be dangerous
Of course, there are many more assistance exercises you can perform to help your bench press, but these are some of the most popular and effective. Along with the techniques outlined above, if you implement these into practice you can expect to see some rapid gains immediately in your bench press.
This article was delivered to introduce some concepts to a wide audience from beginners to advanced athletes. Shortly, we'll be constructing an article for advanced lifters on improving their bench press and how to overcome certain problems, sticking points, injuries amongst other things. Stay tuned!
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