The most frequently asked question in weight lifting is, "How do I get a bigger bench press?" And boy do I get asked that all the time. Isn't it funny that you never hear anyone ask you, "How much do you squat?" You only get asked that question if your legs are big. Well, I get asked that a lot too. But, when I tell people that the main roadwork for a big bench takes time, nobody wants to hear that and nobody wants to wait. Isn't that the truth! I didn't want to wait, and I'm still impatient. As a football player, one of the main things you're tested on is the bench press. It helps to have that strong upper body on the field too. I wanted a big bench fast when I played college football. That is all that was on my mind other then playing, going to parties and girls... not necessarily in that order.
How Do You Get A Bigger Bench? First, My Story...
So how do you find that quick fix to get a big bench? Well, unless you're a freak of nature or have a triple ply denim bench shirt that gives you an extra 100 pounds to your bench max then you are probably like me and need all the help me you can get. Yeah, a bench shirt can give you that much on your max bench. A competitive powerlifter using a bench press shirt has broken almost every state, national and World record. But that doesn't mean you should go out and buy one. It's not that easy.
Personally, I haven't used a shirt yet. When I started my trek in to the Bench Press Wars I wanted to bench 500 without a shirt. At my last bench meet, the USPF Venice Beach Bench Press Championships, I miss calculated my third attempt and smoked a 470. That's a raw 470 mind you. Though I had probably over 500 in me that day the only way I could show it was with a 4th attempt and those are allocated for state, national or world records. At the time, the California 275-pound class state record was 556. That's an 86 pound jump. I don't think so.
Five years later, I have acquired the following in pursuit of my personal bench press max:
- A partial pectoral tear on my right pec.
- Left shoulder damage because of a left biceps tear
- Let's not forget the fear that I am going to get injured again.
You can imagine it takes a lot of mental strength on my part to start a new bench program. That pec tear was over 4 years ago and I am just now getting the confidence and posture to try it again. It has taken me all this time to find out what is best for me benching. I did not get surgery as it was only a partial tear, and, yes, my fear of ripping it totally is always there. But, you have to get on that horse again when it knocks you off. When life shoves you down hard you have to get up and push back harder. Like in football, so is life. So, get up and strap it on.
The bench press is the most popular lift in ALL of weight lifting. It is also the most "over trained". No, that's the wrong phrase to use. The bench press is not excessively "over trained" it is more like "not trained properly". So, for the impetuous among you here is my bench press program and my top bench breaking tactics to improving the bench press that hopefully will help you achieve better results.
Increasing Your Bench In Record Time
The very first step is to limit your benching to only twice a week with a light day and a heavy day while always alternating assistant exercises. Improper benching technique is the most common mistake for not getting the bench you want.
Bench Press Technique
Begin by lying flat on the bench, shoulder blades pinched together and pushing into the bench with hips and butt firmly on the bench with your feet on the floor. Feet on floor means your feet are secured and locked into the ground, not moving around. Place your index finger right on the "O" ring on the bar. Also on the descent and ascent of the movement make sure your arms are always at a 45 degree angle. What's a 45 degree angle? The easy way to explain this is have someone place his or her hand up like a boxer would do in training. Punch that spot. Now where did your hand come from and go? It sure as hell didn't come with your elbow in a 90-degree perpendicular to the floor motion did it? We all punch at a 45-degree angle.
Now move the bar down to the base of your pecs or slightly below the nipple area, and then press the bar in a straight line being careful NOT to arc the bar towards your chin or face. Again NOT arcing towards your face. I once was at a coaches clinic and a NCAA division IA strength coach was telling us he instructs his football players to bench press in a arc towards their face during the intermission I approached him and asked why? His response was that it was a football field movement to move the hands in an arc manner. I told him Incline Bar or dumbbell pressing is better suited for what he was implying with proper football stance and positioning and that benching his way was only good to throw the other teams players off his guys when they've been pancaked.
So, for all those who have been asking me how to get a bigger bench it first starts by working on correcting your technique, which we've discussed. Follow these simple do's. First and foremost, keep your elbows at no greater than 45 degrees away from the sides of your body when pressing. Nothing puts more stress on the anterior joint capsule, the rest of the shoulder structure, and pectorals than benching with your elbows straight out. And if you watch everyone bench, most have bad technique. Benching with elbows out is the worst tendency I see individuals do. Bodybuilders do it for isolating their chest, which is not our goal.
Next, Strengthen Yyour Triceps.
Think about it! If you are benching correctly your triceps are the power to push the weight off your chest, not your pectoral muscles. It is way too easy to tire the chest and shoulders so don't do endless "other" pressing movements. Do many different forms of triceps work. I do about 12 different exercises for triceps alternating every two weeks. My favorite is doing pushdowns with a band for 4 sets of 8. For a full article on training your triceps for bench, check out my last article.
Also, simplify your program. I don't know you. I don't know what you do. But I'll bet your program is full of negatives, forced reps, and on every bench press workout you're maxing out. Not all of you are doing this but most. To simplify your workout, eliminate negatives and forced reps that you are doing on every bench day. Also, do some kind of rotator cuff work. This will aid in shoulder stability and protection from possible injuries. That's a good start.
Bench Breakers! Ways To Increase Results.
Here are my favorite bench breakers:
- Immediately after your last set of bench press use a different grip, so if you are wide use a close grip or if you use more of a narrow grip then widen it out about half a hand. Put a weight on the bar that is about 50% less than your top work weight was for that day and rep it out. I mean rep it out! You should be clipping out anywhere between 15-20 reps if you did your bench workout right.
- One of my other favorites is Front Plate Raises. I usually use the 100-pound plate for 3 sets of 6-8 reps after benching.
- Or I like doing some sort of conditioning high rep movement. Here's a few: Get a big workout ball and lie on it, like you're benching. (Shown to the right.) I use either the bar with about 135 pounds or 55 pound dumbbells. Now press for about 1 - 3 minutes. Yeah, try that one. A word of advice first, get into a grove and pace yourself, because if you go off screaming into it you'll never finish before the time is up.
- How about this one, immediately after benching do what I call "reverse" bench presses. Get into a power rack or a Smith machine, lie on your back under the bar, grab the bar like your going to bench or do bar rows, and lift your chest up to the bar for as many reps as you can. Do 3 sets with the same number of reps.
- Another great way for upping your bench is having a great workout partner... one that is as dedicated to the iron as much as you are. Trust me, it helps!
My Sample Workout
Here is Week One of my "Back in the Saddle Again" workout. Before I go on you need to know that I DO NOT bench regular anymore, I bench using a medium close grip, about 16 inches apart.
Bench Press 9 sets of 3 reps @ 50% (170) with mini bands.
Close Grip Incline Barbell Bench Press Sets of 3 working my way upto singles, i.e.: 185 x 3, 225 x 3, 275 x 1, 295 x 1, 315 x 1, 365 x 1
Plate Raises To The Front 3 sets of 6-8 with 100 pound plate (Can you do that?)
Side Lateral Raises With An EZ Curl Bar 4 sets of 10
Pushdowns With Bands 6 sets of 8 working my way up to the stack!
Dumbbell Extensions While On A Flat Bench with Elbows Out. 1 set to failure
View A Printable Workout Log Of This Workout.
Bench Press = Four Board Presses Sets of 3 working into singles until you cannot do anymore (I use a medium grip). Bar x 10, 95 x 10, 135 x 3, 185 x 3, 225 x 3, 275 x 3, 315 x 1, 350 x 1, 365 x 1, 405 x 1
Single Arm Dumbbell Flat Bench Presses 4 x 60, 1 x 60, 1 x 90, 6 x 100
Dumbbell Presses Off A Stability Ball 1 set for 1 minute with 55 pounds (Did 43 reps!)
Snatch Hang High Pulls 6 sets of 3 with 205
Hammer Strength Machine Shrugs 3 sets to failure
View A Printable Workout Log Of This Workout.
* Every two weeks I change exercises. Example: I will do close grip incline for two weeks and then change to Floor presses with chains or bands for two weeks, stability ball for two weeks, etc. I max out on those lifts each week.
It's Your Move
Everyone tries to do it all at once. My suggestion for a bigger bench press is to put all your energy into conquering a couple things rather than not making any headway in many things. Keep it simple and you'll see real progress in the bench press. One thing at a time and you'll see progress. Work on your technique first. I know this isn't what you want to hear but, like a great wine or a fine cigar, some things are better when they're not rushed! So, remember, continue to train your bench press technique and assistant work with quality reps and sets. Don't allow your ego or other egos push you into not getting quality work done.
Your bench press max numbers will reach new heights only if you work on your bench pressing technique. Then, and only then, will your bench-press strength increase, and soon you'll be benching for a World Record or at least have bragging rights in your gym. I hope these technique assistant and bench breakers will help you make bigger gains so when someone asks you what you bench, you can say, "More than you!"
Until next time, stay focused, load the bar and give me one more rep!