Improve Your Bench Press
If you are aspiring to improve your bench press it does not necessarily mean that you have to do it all in the gym. You can add additional workout sessions or even just train completely at home. To improve on your bench press ensure that you have an adequate weight bench at home first of all. (One that can handle heavy enough load that minimises any potential risk of injury)
If you do not have a weight bench then click on the highlighted link to check out the Top 10 Best Weight Benches in a comparative view of features and benefits.
There are many factors that one needs to master and to be made aware of to increase bench press. If you are a beginner are lucky need not to worry as you should be able to lift more each weak with progressive overload.
In opposition experienced lifters will probably agree with me with proper implementation of progressive overload your bench press strength will sooner or later start to halt.
Keeping in mind that your nutrition, sleep and everything else is good and consistent, eventually you hitting a plateau on your bench press is inevitable. Whatever your reason to make it your goal to improve your bench press you are in luck as you have landed in the right place.
8 Ways To Improve Your Bench Press
I will highlight 8 ways to improve your bench press, things that you can implement into your training pretty much instantly. First let me just address that I have over 10 years of experience in fitness and weight training. My specialty is in bodybuilding and hypertrophy in which I will give to you great insights on how to improve your bench.
However I would be dishonest if didn’t mention Mike Westedal, an expert on increasing bench press. To increase bench press means increasing strength and power. Mike Westedal has a powerlifting background which means the man is extremely strong. He has dedicated his time in which he developed a system that enables anyone to add 50 lbs (22.7kg) and increase bench press in 10 weeks.
Check it out by clicking here. Critical Bench: Increase Your Bench Press Up to 50 lbs. In 10 weeks.
Here are the 8 ways to improve your bench press:
1. Improve Your Bench Press Technique
The first step towards improving bench press is learning the correct technique. Anyone can bench press a weight up and down but not everyone can do it with an impressive weight.
Learn the correct technique to increase bench press, promote chest hypertrophy and injury prevention.
Here are 7 aspects of your bench press that you should correct to ensure your form/technique is optimal for bench pressing in the body’s strongest position:
The positioning of your elbows during the bench press is critical. Keep your elbows at the bottom of the bar and have them in close to your body. (tuck elbows close to the body) This puts your chest, arms and shoulders in a better position for bench pressing.
By bar path I am referring to the path in which the barbell travels from the bottom of the movement to the top. So when you begin you lift the bar and lower it to your chest. The bar should be in line with your nipples (can be slightly under or above depending on individual body proportions). Then press the bar up it the direction of your shoulders. The bar at the top should be at shoulder level.
That gives you a diagonal shape from start to finish. The actual bottom and at the top position of bar will differ slightly depending on individuality as everyone’s limbs; arm length, chest width etc. are different. The most important thing to remember in regards to bar path is that it should always travel diagonally in the direction closer towards your face.
This is more natural for the human body and will allow you to bench a heavier load.
You are trying to increase your bench press not close grip bench press. So in terms of width grip is concerned for optimal benching power depends on what feels right for you. At the most narrow grip width you should use is shoulder width anything less will target more on Triceps which will weaken your bench press as the chest muscles are always stronger.
If you find that your chest muscles are one of your strongest body parts then you may benefit more from a wider than shoulder width grip. Most people tend to be stronger with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip.
Have your wrist directly under the bar and keep them straight. If your wrists are bent, leaving your palms facing up then you are not bench pressing at the most optimal angle. By keeping your wrist directly under the barbell you will be able to exert all your force to the weight.
Having bent wrist will make the weight feel even harder on the bench press. This is because the force that you exert will divert away from the bar. When you wrists are directly under the bar and straight the force will be concentrated into your wrist and travel directly under the bar making the movement more natural and thus easier.
It may feel unnatural at first so spend extra time bench pressing with straight wrist even if you have to lower weight. You will benefit greatly when you become accustomed to correct wrist position.
Engage Your Back
Retract your back during the entire movement of the bench press. Keep them engaged throughout. This will create a more powerful bench press.
Keep a natural arch of your lower back during bench press movement and engage core. Never round or over arch your lower back as it will lead to injury.
You may have seen people have their feet on the bench as they bend their knees. Do not do this as you are weaker in this position. To get set up on the weight bench firmly place your feet and plant them the floor. Let the energy flow through your feet by pushing the floor with your feet (leg drive). Remember that strength generally starts with your feet to your legs.
2. Bench Press More
Bench press more to improve your bench. This sounds obvious but it is crucial towards helping you increase your bench press.
For most of us we do a body split routine that usually trains each body part once a week. That means you train your chest and bench press only once a week. That is 52 bench press sessions a year. What I recommend is adding an additional bench press within your workout routine which doubles the frequency in which you are bench pressing.
To really improve you need to consistently perform the exercise repeatedly. So add more volume and increase the sets of your bench. One needs more practice to master an exercise. Practice does not make perfect as for improving power and strength there is only perfect practice.
Training with perfect form is the only the way to practice as this preaches hypertrophy gains and strength gains. You can train as many times as you like but if your form sucks you do not reap the rewards.
3. Position of Elbow
The position of elbows has already been mentioned in the ‘Improve Your Bench Press Technique’ section but it deserves its own section because it is that important. Improving your bench press means becoming stronger at bench pressing.
Keep your elbows tight and close to your body. Do not have them flared out as if you are a chicken wing. Your elbows should be pointing forward. If you can do this after a few practice sessions you will then notice an increase in your bench.
Having your elbows positioned this way utilises the strength of your chest more and does not overly engage your Anterior Deltoids (front shoulder). Furthermore a lot of the emphasis of the bench press is placed on your Triceps. Therefore having your elbows in this position keeps your body compact and in a powerful position. Elbows close will utilise your Tricep muscles in a better way than if your elbows were to be flared out.
4. Focus On Your Synergist Muscles
You must focus on your synergist muscles to improve your bench press. Synergist muscles are muscles that assist the primary muscle/muscles in a particular movement. In terms of bench press the primary muscle that is called into action is your Pectoral (chest) muscles.
The synergist muscles for the bench press exercise will be your Triceps and your Deltoids (shoulders). Strengthen your Triceps and Anterior Deltoids and this will immediately pack on extra weight on your bench press.
Synergist Muscle Exercises
I recommend these exercises to strengthen your Triceps and your Anterior Delts to increase bench press. These exercises replicate the movement of the bench press. If you get stronger in the exercises given below then you will definitely notice an improvement on your bench.
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Barbell Military Press
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Check out Mike Westedal’s bench press system Critical Bench: Increase Your Bench Press Up to 50 lbs. In 10 weeks
5. Focus On Your Weaker Aspects of Your Bench Press
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of the bench press. To really improve your bench you have to analyse your bench press movement as a whole. So know how to perform the bench press with correct technique but where during the lift do you struggle the most?
Do you struggle at the bottom portion of your bench press? Or is at it the top during the lockout position? Figure out the movement you are weakest on the bench press, and then you can begin to improve that weakness to improve your bench.
As there are 2 portions of the bench press movement that the majority of people struggle with I will address ways to improve those weaknesses below (top lockout position and bottom):
Bench Lockout Position
If you struggle at the top of the lift this is when you have already lifted bar off your chest but find it difficult to press it up at the top.
Generally when you are weak during the lockout position of the bench means that your Triceps are lagging behind. Look to strengthen your Triceps by adding a few isolated Triceps exercises after your bench press exercise. You can also do board presses (see video below) or even do dumbbell or barbell floor presses.
Have a look at the videos below as they are specialized techniques that you can use to improve your bench if you are weak at the top lockout portion of the bench:
Reverse Band Presses
Reverse band bench press helps you target on the upper portion of your bench press. The bands reduces the weight of the resistance when lower the bar therefore allowing you to really focus on the lockout portion of the bench.
Board presses are great as they allow the Triceps to endure more time under tension.
Bottom Portion of The Bench
The majority of people are weak at the bottom of their bench press. Lift the bar of the rack and lower the bar till it touches your chest (for some it might be just above). The next part of the movement is pressing the barbell from the bottom. This is what we mean if you are weak at the bottom portion of the bench.
Why is it that most people tend to struggle during the bottom part of the lift?
The fact is the load is heaviest at the bottom portion of the bench press. It is during this portion of the lift that requires mostly Pectoral muscles and Anterior Deltoids. As a result of the barbell being all the way at the bottom you are pressing the full weight of the load against gravity. Try and strengthen your chest and shoulder muscles by adding additional Pectoral and Anterior Deltoid isolation exercises.
Dumbbell Bench Press is an awesome exercise to add into your routine as it recruits more muscle stablisers and allows for more range of motion. It allows your chest muscles to stretch further down compared to regular barbell.
Have a look at the video below that uses resistant bands to improve your bench if you are weak at the bottom portion of the bench. By using resistant bands you are working directly on your explosiveness.
Bench Press Resistant Bands
The higher the barbell is pressed the harder it becomes due to the additional resistance provided by the bands. The only way to press up is by exploding the barbell upwards, therefore you are utilizing your power and explosiveness.
Cambered Bench Press
Using the cambered allows you to lower the bar further than a conventional barbell. Cambered bench press really allows you to add on more weight compared to performing the dumbbell bench press.
6. Train Your Rotator Cuff Muscles
The rotator cuff muscles are a group of tendons and muscles within the shoulder. These tendons and muscles connect the Humerus (upper arm) to the shoulder blade (scapula). These group of muscle and tendons act to stabilize the shoulder joint, they also provide a range of movement including internal and external rotation.
The rotator cuff muscles consist of the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and the Subscapularis.
Train these as often as you can and remember that you will only need to use a light weight or a resistant band to target these tiny muscles. Rotator cuff tear is one of the most common injuries among bodybuilders, tennis players and even golfers. It’s the most common shoulder injury.
Don’t let your rotator cuff become a weak link, strengthen them and you will have healthy shoulders for a life time. Stronger rotator cuffs will allow the rest of your muscles to withstand heavier loads on all of your pressing exercises like the bench press and military press. It will no doubt help increase bench press.
7. Core Strength for Bigger Bench Press
Strengthen your core to improve your bench press. You may have heard that strength/power starts from your feet to your legs. That is 100% correct, it starts from your toes then travels to feet, legs and then your core muscles. The best way to visualise power being executed with perfection is to watch an old clip of Mike Tyson throw a punch. His toes twist, leg bounces and body (core) moves into the punch.
When you bench press the same principle applies. Your feet should be planted and then you drive with your legs. The core muscles have to be activated the whole time but more on the concentric part of bench press (barbell going up).
The core muscles consist of the lower back (Erector Spinae), Transverse Abdominis, Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, pelvic floor muscles and some even consider you Glutes.
Do exercises such as planks that activate your core to get all the core muscles working simultaneously. An improved core will improve your bench and all your compound lifts (bench press, bent over rows, squats and deadlifts).
8. Train Your Back Muscles and Retract
Do not neglect your back muscles. Remember that they are the opposing muscles to your Pectoral muscles. To increase bench press it is essential that one’s back muscles are also comparatively strong to the opposing chest muscle. The back muscles are critical for a big bench press as they need to be retracted throughout the entire movement of the bench press.
If you have a weak back then your muscle stablisers during your bench press will be weakened, this then translates into using more of your Anterior Deltoid muscles.
Focus On These Specific Back Muscles To Increase Bench Press
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
The Lats are one of largest back muscles in the back anatomy. This muscle is often referred as wings due to the way they look when a Lat spread is performed (Bruce Lee in ‘Way of the Dragon’). The latissimus Dorsi helps you drive that barbell up on your bench. Stronger Lats will enable you to press with more power.
- Pull ups
- Lat Pull Downs
- Pull Overs
The Traps can be divided into 3 sections. The Upper Traps, Middle Traps and the Lower Traps. The Trapezius is the muscle that is in contact with the bench, predominantly the Middle and Lower Traps.
- T-Bar Row
- Barbell Bentover Row
- Pulley Row
As you know the back muscles are extremely important to help you achieve a stronger bench press. Read our How To Get a Bigger Chest article which highlights the importance of scapula retraction and detailed instructions on how to retract your back (scapula) correctly.
Remember before you press the barbell you have to set yourself up. Do not just lay on the bench, retract the scapula then lay ready to bench press.
To increase your bench up to 50 lbs (22.7kg) Now: Critical Bench: Increase Your Bench Press Up to 50 lbs. In 10 weeks