The moment conversation turns to the gym invariably the next thing uttered out of anybody’s mouth is, “how much do you bench?”
Figuring out how to improve bench press max doesn’t need to be a mystery; all you need to do is look beyond the muscles primarily involved in the movement (chest), and to take a serious look at where you are weak in the course of the actual lift.
Developing serious bench press strength is a long term endeavor, and something that should also be a part of a balanced fitness regimen. All too often you see guys at the gym who focus only on their bench, much to the detriment of their overall wellness (and appearance, in my opinion).
The following three tips will not only help you drastically improve your bench press max, but it will also help create a more powerful, balanced you as well.
1. Improve Shoulder and Tricep Strength.
Sometimes in the race to increase our bench press numbers we forget the “secondary” muscles that are just as crucial for getting those big numbers. You can have the strongest chest in the world, but without a strong set of shoulders and triceps to support and finish the movement, your bench press numbers will get punished.
How to Do it:
- Decrease the sets and reps of chest. If you rae doing 5 sets of 8-10 reps, take it down to 2-3 sets over the course of several weeks.
- Pump up the shoulder and tricep volume. Take those missing sets from your chest workouts and add them to your shoulder and tri sets.
Exercises to focus on in order to maximize bench increases:
- Overhead shoulder press. Excellent for developing finishing strength.
- Narrow grip bench. A narrower grip means more load is focused on your triceps, the muscles that help you close out the top end of the movement.
- Wide grip bench. This will help you develop the “lift” or beginning phase of your bench lift.
2. Improve Back Strength.
Even though your chesticles are the things you are looking at when you are doing the cursory post-workout flex-down, your back is playing a massive part in your lifting success while on the bench.
Next time you are on your back notice how it clenches and stabilizes your upper body when you are lifting. Adding rows with a landmine attachment, for example, really helps you feel out how your back is the missing equation to a stronger bench.
How to Do it:
Super-set bent-over row with bench press next time you are at the gym to insure that you are developing a strong back and a balanced upper body.
3. Address Your Weak Points.
Get a spotter to help you through a set of up to 5 reps (to fail, at the least). Notice the points where you struggle. There are three common spots—
- The lift: Getting the bar off your chest. Using a wide grip will help you develop the strength to power out of the lift. Be careful with this one, as going to wide puts undue stress on your shoulder. Just outside of shoulder width is sufficient.
- Mid Range: This is about where your arms hit 90 degrees. An exercise to hit this particular part of the exercise is to do a floor press; lay down on your back to the floor with a dumbbell or barbell. You’ll be forced to unleash torque from almost exactly the mid-range point of the lift.
- The close: Finishing the press. As mentioned before, incorporating narrow grip bench and shoulder press will help you punish the last part of the movement.
See where you need work and dial in with the exercises mentioned above. Increasing the max amount you can bench doesn’t need to be overly complicated; start by addressing your weaknesses and continue to be consistent and you will see results in no time.