Ask The $250/Hour Trainer: How Can I Improve My Bench Press?

I train professional athletes, A-list celebrities, and now I will train you. Read on and learn how to improve your bench with this routine!
Q

Any tips on improving my bench? I've been having problems with my left shoulder while performing decline benches or any movement at an odd angle. Any exercises or anything, period, I could do to help with this situation?

Intuitively, it makes sense that to improve your bench press, you should bench more. I thought that way when I first started training, but the more I learned about functional anatomy, biomechanics, and neuromuscular physiology, the more I realized that next to a current injury or previous injury, strength imbalances between various muscle groups are the biggest hindrance to making progress. So in many cases, an unbalanced training program can be the real reason for lack of improvement on the bench press, or any lift for that matter.

First, a disclaimer: without screening you in person, and given the limited amount of information you've provided, I can make only general recommendations. I can't be certain of the real issue undermining your performance. Seek out the opinion of an appropriate medical practitioner (e.g., a chiropractor, physical therapist) to make sure it's not a serious issue like a rotator cuff tear.

In the meantime, I suggest avoiding barbell bench pressing if it hurts your shoulder. If the shoulder pain feels like it's accompanied by instability or weakness, try the following programs to develop stronger, more stable shoulders.

Like the saying goes, if it hurts when you bench press don't bench press.

Each program includes only one horizontal pressing movement through a full range of motion, and it comes last each time. Focus on training the muscles of the upper back (i.e., posterior delts, rhomboids, middle and lower traps), the external rotators of the humerus (teres minor and infraspinatus), and the serratus anterior, an important scapular muscle that's often weak. Targeting these areas will improve the muscles that help stabilize the shoulder joint.

In contrast, the most important exercises relating to your training goal should always come first (or at least early on) in the training session. So I would perform the programs below in the following manner:

Week 1

  • Monday: Program 1
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Program 2
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Program 1
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

Week 2

  • Monday: Program 2
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Program 1
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Program 2
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

Week 3

  • Monday: Program 1
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Program 2
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Program 1
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off

Week 4

  • Monday: Program 2
  • Tuesday: Off
  • Wednesday: Program 1
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Program 2
  • Saturday: Off
  • Sunday: Off
Program 1
Superset
Superset


Program 2
Superset
Superset


Note: All exercises should be done with excellent form. The last perfect repetition that you can perform should fall within the prescribed repetition bracket.