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Bench Press Blunders: Don't Let These 8 Mistakes Sabotage Your Bench!

The bench press is a core fundamental exercise for developing upper body strength. I've listed eight mistakes that people make and suggestions to improve.

Did you know the average weight training enthusiast can barely bench press their own bodyweight? That statistic doesn't even account for the people that don't work out.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you've conquered the feat of benching your own bodyweight. Don't worry if you're not there yet, you're about to learn eight sure-fire methods that will help you earn bragging rights in and out of the gym.

The Importance Of The Bench Press

So what's the big deal about the bench press anyway? You're not playing sports or trying to compete, why is this legendary exercise so vital to an attention grabbing physique?

In fact for those of you who think the bench press is simply for the ego, you're wrong. It's true no other exercise is more frequently talked about. However it's not so strange when you think about it. The bench press is a core fundamental exercise for developing upper body strength.

You're not only working your pectorals (chest), you are also working your anterior deltoids (front shoulders), triceps brachii, and latissimus dorsi (back). If you could pick just one exercise to acquire a full round chest with some functional power to go with it, you would be wise to go with the bench. You just can't develop the same upper body with any other exercise.

As a personal trainer I have seen hundreds of people strive for a 300-pound bench. The truth is most people make the same mistakes, but they can easily be changed to help you start an explosive growth spurt of your own.

Mistake 1 Less Is More

By far the biggest mistake people make is "wanting it" so bad that they overtrain. It's human nature, if we don't see the gains we're looking for the common sense solution is to work harder and harder.

I can tell you from personal experience that last time I hit a plateau in my training I took a week off from the gym and came back stronger than the last time worked out. Be on the look out for warning signs of overtraining such as lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, poor nutrition, and of course lack of progress.

Mistake 2 Full Body Workouts

Let's get you set up on a new split where you can give each muscle involved in the bench press the attention it needs. Remember, there's more to the bench press than just your chest. For maximum recovery you should only train each body part once per week with an optimal workout split.

If you still think you need to bench two or three times a week, see mistake #1. You have time to workout 45-minutes a day, 4-days a week don't you?

Mistake 3 Self-Doubt

Hopefully you don't need a pep talk, but here it goes anyway. Excuse me as I impersonate motivational speaker Anthony Robbins for a moment.

Your subconscious mind believes whatever you tell it, so do yourself a favor and program it with positive thoughts. I cringe every time someone asks me for a spot and they bash themselves before they even start the lift.

Comments like, "I don't think I'll get very many reps," or "I can't do this much, but I'll try." If you're not confident, fake it, and tell yourself you're going to succeed. Trying is a part of failing. If you're afraid to fail, you're afraid to try.

Mistake 4 Bad Form

Let's work on some mechanics. After practicing a few of these techniques you should be able to boost your bench press by a minimum of 25 pounds.

  • Widen Your Grip A Little Bit: The wider your grip, the less distance the bar has to travel. Therefore it makes sense that you'd want to grip the bar as wide as possible. If you have been benching with a closer grip this will take some getting used to, but will make a big difference in a few weeks. To determine your grip, assume a natural push-up position and then bump it out approximately 3-inches.
  • Retract Your Shoulder Blades: Another way to decrease the distance the bar has to travel is to retract your shoulder blades. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together during the entire movement. This will give you a more stable surface to bench from.
  • Keep Your Feet On The Floor & Drive With Your Heels: If you see someone kicking or flapping their legs in the air, as they turn blue trying to push the weight you'll know that they are off centered and it's costing them some serious poundage. Keep your heels on the floor to help you generate power.
  • Arch Your Back: Your butt, shoulder blades, and head should always be in contact with the bench, but it's okay to arch your lower back. If this isn't natural for you, you can place a foam roller under your lower pack for practice. Many people have asked what the point of this technique is. Again, it shortens the distance the bar needs to travels.
  • Is this cheating? Not at all, this is a regulation lift. If you want to completely isolate your chest head over to the pec deck machine to finish up. It's good that you're learning to use more than just your chest when you bench press. Don't be surprised if two days later you feel sore in your back, chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Mistake 5 Too Many Warm-Up Sets

Don't get me wrong you certainly need to properly warm-up. However you should do so with some very light weights, push-ups, and stretching. You don't want to exhaust your muscles before you get to your working sets.

Most people pyramid up and then wonder why they can't get the weight on their last set. By doing lighter warm-up sets you will save your energy for the heavier weights and a big finish.

Mistake 6 Neglecting Your Back

Strong lats or "wings" are very important to the negative phase of the bench press. Your back is the center of support for the weight as you lower it to your chest. That's why blasting your back is so important and must not be skipped.

Try some T-bar rows, or bent over barbell rows to strengthen your back. You'll notice that it's almost the exact opposite or antagonistic lift to the bench press.

Mistake 7 Lack Of Goals

So you want to increase your bench press. That makes the two of us. The problem with this statement is it's much too vague. I want you to pull out your pen and paper. Write your goal down on four separate sheets of paper in bold letters.

The simple task of writing your goal on paper brings you closer to completion.

This act will make your goal more concrete, increasing the likelihood of achieving it. Now post these pieces of paper on your fridge, dashboard, computer screen, and dresser to constantly remind you of your goal.

Mistake 8 Lack Of Variety

The human body is an amazing system. Whatever you throw at it, it can adjust and learn to handle. Keeping it off guard, mixing things up, and adding variety to your workouts will ensure your body responds positively.

Always stay one step ahead by changing your workouts when you feel you're not making the gains you expect. If you're like me and want to look good while having some strength to back it up you've probably been training with reps between eight and twelve.

Try lowering the reps on your bench press sets to the six to eight repetition range for a few weeks. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how your body reacts if you haven't tried this before.

If you can avoid these common pitfalls and you're open-minded enough to try something new you'll soon be bench pressing more than you dreamed possible. Take it from me, the man who was stalemated at a 275-pound bench press for more than three years!

Learn from others mistakes and watch your bench press sore. Your wife or girlfriend will be admiring your muscular upper body while your friend's are dying to learn your secrets.

The Bench Blastoff Routine

The Split

  • Monday: Chest/Biceps
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Shoulders/Traps
  • Friday: Back/Triceps
  • Saturday: Watch the game
  • Sunday: Rest
Day 1: Chest and Biceps
Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip


Incline Dumbbell Press

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press


Cable Crossover

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Cable Crossover Cable Crossover


Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl

4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl


Preacher Curl

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Preacher Curl Preacher Curl

Day 2: legs

Barbell Squat

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Barbell Squat Barbell Squat


Leg Press

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Leg Press Leg Press


Leg Extensions

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Leg Extensions Leg Extensions


Seated Leg Curl

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Seated Leg Curl Seated Leg Curl

Day 3: off
Day 4: Shoulders and traps

Standing Military Press

3 sets of 6-8 reps
Standing Military Press Standing Military Press


Upright Barbell Row

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Upright Barbell Row Upright Barbell Row


Side Lateral Raise

3 sets of 10-12 reps
Side Lateral Raise Side Lateral Raise


Dumbbell Shrug

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell Shrug Dumbbell Shrug

Day 5: back and triceps


3 sets of 6-8 reps
Pullups Pullups


Bent Over Barbell Row

3 sets of 6-8 reps
Bent Over Barbell Row Bent Over Barbell Row


Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

3 sets of 8-10 reps
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

Standing Bent-Over One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension Standing Bent-Over One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Day 6-7: off

Points To Remember

  • Make sure you're not overtraining.
  • Work your bench press only once per week.
  • Ditch the self-destructing negative thoughts.
  • Don't waste your energy with surplus warm-up sets.
  • Train your back just as hard as your chest.
  • Set a specific goal.
  • Try performing less repetitions when benching.
  • Drive with your heels, widen your grip, arch your back, and retract your shoulder blades!