In my last post I had written about the Bench Press and some tips on how we can improve this lift and add strength to our Bench. Well, this time around I’m back again wit a few more subtle tips on what you can do to help improve your Bench press once again. I don’t need to retread a lot of the information I posted last time, just check back in the archives for that one, but as a refresher on why we should look to improve our Bench Press is that is a big compound movement that engages a lot of muscles in the body, and is great for upper body strength development. All that, and it’s the most commonly seen upper body movement pattern at the gym (bro).
So, let’s dive right in!
Strengthen your Triceps!
While the Pectoralis is the major muscle group involved in a proper Bench Press, the Triceps are the secondary muscle group, and vastly important if we are looking to improve our Bench. The Triceps are built to extend the elbow, which is exactly what we need throughout the Bench Press movement. Strengthening these can help get your lockout stronger and move heavier weight.
The key to training Triceps is ensuring you are getting a full stretch of the muscle during the eccentric phase of your exercise to get a maximal contraction through the concentric phase of the exercise. Overhead work is one big way to achieve this using either a dumbbell/kettlebell or cables. Implementing close grip bench pressing can also help improve your Triceps strength while also practicing the movement pattern of the Bench Press itself.
Don’t Neglect the Push-Up
Push-ups and Bench Pressing… they are basically the same movement, just in different positions. A lot of us eventually abandon the Push-up as we start to implement more Bench Pressing into our workout programs, but we are losing big potential gains along the way. While you won’t be coming close to the weight you’re Bench Pressing while doing Push-ups, the overall volume you are able to put onto the chest can elicit the same, and if not better increases to the muscles of the chest. It will help create more muscular endurance too which is huge.
Another big benefit of doing Push-ups opposed to Bench Pressing is that the Push-up is a closed chain movement, meaning the floor is not moving, which gives us a firm plant on where we are applying our force, whereas a Bench Press is an open chain movement, meaning the bar is free moving and requires more stability in the movement. It’s important to note as well that while Bench Pressing we do not allow our shoulder to move, as we are trying to press them into the bench, while a Push-up allows are shoulders to move freely which is much healthier for our shoulders and range of motion in the long run.
If we are finding push-ups too hard, start off the floor and work your way lower and lower. If we find them too easy, we should be increasing range of motion (push-ups on plates), adding load (weights on back) or by adding instability (using TRX or Gymnastic Rings).
While we are at it, add in dips as well! Bodyweight training can go a long way in our workout routine and we normally will overlook it for other exercises.
Take Your Time and Enjoy the Exercise
Ok, the title of this point might be a bit misleading. “Enjoy” the exercise may be a bit of a stretch, but we should be taking our time while we do this movement to ensure proper muscle recruitment and break through any plateaus. This is called tempo training, where we are trying to slow down the movement and increase the time under tension of the exercise. This can be applied in a number of different ways, you can slow down the eccentric portion of the movement (as the bar is moving towards your chest), the Isometric portion of the exercise (the pause between lowering and raising the bar) and the concentric phase of the movement (raising the bar). As you can imagine, this can dramatically impact the intensity and difficulty of the exercise. Adding this extra stressor can have dramatic impact on not just hypertrophy but with strength as well.
An example of this would be to take 3 seconds to lower the bar towards the chest, 1 second at the bottom of the movement, and then 0 seconds as you move the bar up for a more explosive movement pattern. There are a lot of different variations to add into this one, so play around with it and find the best one for our goals.
One More Tip…
If you’re looking to strengthen your Bench Press, don’t neglect muscular balance and work your back muscles. When the chest becomes too dominate (which is quite common) our shoulders get pulled forward and can create impingements which can not only throw off our posture, but our levers for our Bench Press as well. Typically aim for about a 2:1 ratio when it comes to back exercises to chest exercises. Aim for lots of Rows, Straight Arm Pulldowns and Face Pulls to help keep things balanced.
There are a lot of different ways to help improve the Bench Press, and a lot of factors to take account. But these are some extra tips to help bring your Bench Press to the next level and help hit new PR’s. Are there other ways to improve it? Absolutely, but hopefully the tips we’ve gone over in the last two blogs can be a great start to getting our Bench Press much higher! Stay focused on making one change at a time, and don’t forget that we need to track our progress as well.
- Strengthen up the Triceps as the accessory muscle for the Bench Press
- Don’t forget to add in body-weight training
- Use temp training to break through plateaus
- Use your back muscles to balance out the body
CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer
RK Athletics – Personal Trainer