If there is any measurement tool which is used to compare strength athletes which has stood the test of time, it would have to be the eternal question of “How much can you bench?” Every lifter, from the moment they enter the gym until the last time they hit the iron before entering the nursing home, invariably finds his or her way to the bench press. It is, by default, the measure of strength that the majority of athletes use to measure their prowess in the gym. And that’s probably how it will always be!
The bench press is a very effective exercise. It is known as a compound movement because it targets multiple muscle groups. The pectorals, or chest, tend to carry the brunt of the workload. The back, shoulders, triceps and sometimes biceps and forearms are also called into place as secondary muscles, supporting and balancing the weight that the chest is working to move. Using the bench press on a regular basis will help the athlete to grow bigger, stronger, and leaner. It is a useful exercise and one with a progressive resistance result… the more weight you can bench press, the bigger and stronger you can become. Let’s check out some tips for moving more weight in the gym on the bench press!
Attack from more angles
If you have been training at home for most of your career, then you were likely limited to a select number of movements. You could bench press and use DB flyes, but your home gym probably didn’t have cable crossovers, dip bars or a dedicated Hammer Strength machine. Your chest development was likely limited as a result – and so was your bench press performance! Start training with a wide variety of chest movements, and hit your triceps and shoulders with some new exercises too. You may be shocked to discover adding some new muscle with a new movements allows you to push your bench press up by another dozen pounds!
Train with a buddy
Bench pressing can be a scary prospect at times, particularly when you are working to push yourself to a new max bench press. The bar is heavy, and it will land on your head, chest, or neck should you fail during a lift. Also, thanks to the many smart phone innovations of the past decade, our workouts are often plagued with Instagram-driven distractions which can keep us from focusing on safety and pushing ourselves to our absolute training limits. Solve both of these problems, and give your bench press a boost, by training with a partner! The motivation you have from a similar-strength athlete moving the bar after you will have you pushing more weight for more reps. Plus the confidence you’ll feel, knowing the buddy won’t let the weight come crashing down on your head, will have you digging deep for that last little bit of energy to move the bar for an added rep. Buddy up!
Very often, in an effort to stay rippled and lean, your “abs of steel” will be holding you back from making the best possible lift in the bench press in the gym. When your body is at very low levels of body fat, you will not be able to move as much weight on the heavier compound movement. Like it or not, that fat you are carrying does pad the joints and help your muscles to generate a greater amount of force. If you want to give your bench press a boost, try upping your daily caloric intake by about 500 calories per day. At this pace, you’ll consume an additional 3500 calories per week, which is the equivalent to 1 pound of new muscle! The new muscle will allow you to move more weight, and thus grow bigger and stronger as a result. Don’t let being too lean keep your bench press numbers down!
Bodybuilders bench press to FEEL the muscle group. The work to isolate the pectoral muscles and activate the muscle fibers so that they’ll appear bigger on the bodybuilding stage, or at the beach, or whatever the venue. Powerlifters, on the other hand, work to recruit some power and leverage from their back, hips, and core, and will use some additional techniques which will move more weight while isolating fewer of the chest muscle fibers. It’s not a technique you should be using all of the time. But if some back arching, shoulder planting, and toe pointing can help you to move a greater weight on the bench press than ever before, than it may be okay to use these techniques once or twice each month!
Split it up
Often, bodybuilders are locked into a mindset which says they have to always train chest with triceps, back with biceps, etc. They spend years fostering a training environment based upon this split, and their body grows to a point needed to accommodate this workload. However, as time passes, the impact of this training system lessens. When that happens, it is time to confuse your body into some new growth – which will push your benching number upward – by rearranging the splits you use for training. Chest/back combo training has allowed many lifters to achieve the pump and power needed to bench 5 or 10 more pounds. Give it a shot!
Climbing onto the bench press and pushing up 20 pounds you’ve never completed isn’t a likely event in your workouts, right? But there’s a good chance you could add 2 pounds to the bar right now, and you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference, right? Add 1 or 2 pounds to the bar each workout, and complete the same number of reps as you did during the previous workout. Repeat each week, adding just a very small amount of weight. Your body will be able to gradually adjust to the workload, and you will grow as a result!
Applying 1, 2 or more of these techniques may give you the boost you need to add a few more pounds to the bar each time you lift. Mix things up, and you may discover your bench press performance numbers start creeping up a little more each time. Good luck!