How much ya bench? If you’re like most of us the answer to that question is “not enough.”
The bench press can be a frustrating exercise. A small percentage of lifters are naturally able to press a ton of weight, while the rest of us struggle to hit 225 pounds for reps. Is there anything you can do to improve your bench press numbers? Absolutely.
Read on. The following 20 tips are guaranteed to help. They certainly helped me. My bench press started at a paltry 95 pounds for reps and peaked at nearly 430 pounds years later.
Tip #1 – Row The Bar
Row the bar? Yes, row the bar. Row the bar towards your chest. We all know that keeping a tight back is an essential aspect of good form. To help achieve a tight back, concentrate on rowing the bar towards your chest as if you were performing a barbell row or lat pull down.
Tip #2 – Plant Your Feet
One of the hidden keys to a bigger bench press is leg drive. Stop shuffling your feet, and learn to plant them firmly in a position of leverage and power. Start each bench press rep by driving fromthe floor. If you focus on turning the bench press into a full body exercise, your pressing numbers will improve.
Tip #3 – Be Patient
Stop expecting to add 20 pounds to your bench press each month. This isn’t going to happen. Instead, focus on small steps like trying to knock out an extra rep per set. Over time these small steps add up to big gains. You’re better off pushing for consistent improvement rather than putting an extra 50 pounds on the bar and trying to grind out forced reps.
Tip #4 – Get Racked!
No spotter? Bench press in a squat rack. Adjust the pins to a safe depth that can catch the bar a hair below chest level if you fail on a rep. And if you have no squat rack and are without a spotter, avoid the Smith machine at all costs. You’re better off doing dumbbell bench presses.
Tip #5 – Beef Up Your Back
When training for a big bench press you also want to build up your back strength. A powerful back assists your pressing drive, and will also help prevent injuries. When you only train “push” movements and ignore “pull” movements, you create muscular imbalances. The back is your bench press table. Beef it up with heavy rows.
Tip #6 – Squeeze The Bar
After finding your proper grip width, squeeze the bar and pretend you are trying to bend the ends of the bar inward towards your feet. This will help you keep your elbows in a better position, improve your eccentrics, and assist with keeping your upper body tight and strong.
Tip #7 – Don’t Forget The CNS
The CNS, or central nervous system, plays an integral role in moving heavy iron. If your CNS is not properly warmed up, the weight will feel overly “heavy”. There is a way to help make a weight feel lighter. Instead of adding a lot of weight to the bar for each warm up set, jump by smaller increments - say 30 pounds - and perform only a few reps per warm up set. This will help prime, or prepare your central nervous system for your heavier sets.
Tip #8 – Take Your Time
Take your time in between heavy sets. It may be necessary to rest as long as 3-5 minutes between each intense effort. When training heavy, give your body a chance to recover before having at it again. Remember, you are training for strength and not for speed or endurance.
Tip #9 – Eat!
If you want to get strong, stop undereating and worrying about your abs. Add some food to the plate. No one is asking for you to get fat, but you do need to eat enough daily calories and protein so that you can properly build strength (and muscle).
Tip #10 – Train Your Triceps
The bench press is not just a chest movement. To be a strong presser you also need to have powerful triceps. When working the triceps directly make sure you use quality compound exercises such as close grip bench presses and board presses. Even exercises such as dips will help build tricep strength, and are a much better choice than tricep extensions or dumbbell kickbacks.
Tip #11 – Don’t Max Out
You don’t need to max out each and every session. In fact, you really don’t need to max out at all. Pick a rep range you enjoy, generally between 5-12 reps per set, and focus on doing more reps per set each workout. This will build strength. Once you have built a substantial amount of strength it may be beneficial to use lower reps, but until that point, stop maxing out!
Tip #12 – Bench First
Sounds like an obvious tip, but it needs to be stated. If you want a beefy bench press, make sure it’s the first lift you perform that training day. Devote all your energy and strength into the bench press, and then move on to other exercises.
Tip #13 – Eyeball The Ceiling
After unracking the bar, keep your eyes on the ceiling. When completing each rep try to press the bar back to the same spot on the ceiling each time.
Tip #14 – Stop Flaring Your Arms
This is by far and away the biggest bench press mistake. Stop flaring your arms! This is horrible on the shoulders, bad form and not good for strength. It is far better to have your elbows at approximately 45 degrees from your torso. This is a good starting point, and minor form adjustments can be made from here.
Tip #15 – Focus On Form
If you want to get strong, stop trying to “feel” your chest working when pressing. Train the lift, not the muscles. When you focus on chest, and only chest, you are taking your attention away from proper form. And when you stop thinking about form, you open yourself up to decreases in strength and the possibility of injury. No one ever masters form. You must be giving form your constant attention. Forget about the “mind muscle“ connection and train the bench press as a lift.
Tip #16 – Explode!
Power involves speed, and speed requires an explosive force. Stop trying to baby or power each rep up. Instead, focus on pressing the bar in an explosive manner. This will not only help complete an extra rep or two, but will also help build strength in the long run.
Tip #17 – Practice Proper Alignment
When the bar is at chest level, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor. Also, make sure your wrists are directly over your elbows, and that your knuckles are pointing towards the ceiling. This is proper bench press alignment.
Tip #18 – Work Your Sticking Points
Where are you the weakest? Is it off the chest, or do you have a hard time locking out each rep? Learn to train your weaknesses. If you are weak off the chest, try using pause-reps. If you have a weak lockout, incorporate some board presses or pin presses.
Tip #19 - Gain Some Perspective
Youtube is full of videos featuring powerlifters benching 800 to 1000 pounds. These guys are using bench press shirts that add hundreds of pounds to their lifts and are competing in non-drug tested meets. For a natural trainee a 300 pound raw bench press is a great accomplishment. A 400 pound raw bench press is rare, despite all the bro-speak and posturing on forums.
Tip #20 – Work The Rear Delts And Traps
Don’t forget the rear delts and traps. Small and weak upper body muscle groups can limit your pressing power. If you want to bench big, build stronger rear delts and traps.
I'm 58.Been lifting a year and a half. Max 350. sets at 280 @7-8 reps two sets. Rep out at 225 from 15-19 reps. My goal is 400.As in the article I believe that triceps, traps, and rear delts will get me the Ethe extra power to reach my goal. Good article ok
I am 39years of age an I did bodybuilding for many years o am getting lot of injury lies in my body how do I do my heavy training for mass in muscle
I agree with some im 16 and bench 450lb but you gotta just train everyday and eat tuna and train hard
Very well written with all of the tips being helpful. I am a world champion presser and still liked this page. Good information for everyone no matter you lifting level..
Every time I read a great article on here and reach the end, I see "Author: Steve Shaw". I like you Steve.
...are you related to Brian Shaw by any chance? Haha.
thanks steve i had notice lot tips from your article i hope i will see more improvement towards my self
Hi Steve been reading ur articles for a while now and i like this one a lot thanks a bunch, i have been lifting for only 3 months 2 on 1 off routine on a push pull legs and my bench has rocketed from 60kg to 110kg 1 rep max while only taking whey protein,bcaa, and creapure i feel so much stronger and better within myself, so please keep the articles coming from a happy 36 yr old ))
Some good points here that, while simple will definately help people to increase their bench! www.ritefitness.co.uk
Well Steve it was an good article
Any tips for a newbie like me ....
I'm 20 , 170 cm and 75 kg.
Great tips Steve! I have been pushing myself in the gym for the last few months, and I must say that some of these will be very helpful!
Thanks steve ...very helpful tips just joined here and start following ur tips very effective thanks...bro
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Im like Rhyno I agree with all of what you said except the smith machine. 39 yrs old 6'3 240 I raw bench 350. I dont use the smith machine a bunch but I do use it and have had very good results with it. Our smith only has a 15 lb let off so 365 for 3 is the most Ive done on it.
I'm 15 and i am just above 215 (bench) so i think i on the right track!
After doing deadlifts, back hurt bad!! i had a history of back injury.. please suggest something.
I am very confused about your Smith Machine comments. I have been a personal trainer for years, and currently on regular flat bench, I can bench 435lb raw. I can bench 475lb twice on the Smith Machine, but the biggest difference for me is that on regular bench, my shoulders ache for two days afterwards. So I agree with pretty much everything, but the Smith machine. I think it can come down to a personal choice more than "DO NOT USE IT"...as for some of us it does quite well...and I dont care who you are..either 435 or 475lbs..both are still heavy...
Why are a bunch of ppl talking crap. This guy is light years above any of you. He know what he's talking about. Do any of you have any research or anything to back you? I think not. Great article as always Steve
Great stuff, love the reality check especially #19.
Hmm. I think something might need inclusion here: heavy negatives. On a Nebula leg press, which is rated by their site as 30 degree/ 60 percent of true weight leg press, I went from using a maximum of 500lbs in 3sets/6reps to using 1310lbs for 3sets/6reps (28-45lb plates plus 2-25lb plates) in a little over a year of concentrated effort. I broke ninety degrees on each rep, kept my fingertips pressed to the outsides of my knees for the heavy sets, no pushing with the hands. The key was in making myself do negatives...after I failed. I'd always get 6reps on the 1st set, maybe 5 on the 2nd maybe 4 or 5 on the 3rd. But I would always assist with my hands on the failed rep and do 4 FORCED NEGATIVES, allowing my legs alone to lower the sled, and push up on the back of my knees with my hands for 4 reps. It put 50lbs a month of my 3x6rep sets, and it worked amazingly. I imagine it would do wonders for bench pressers, if only I could find someone to help reliably.
I need help I need excersises to help my bench because I have pinched nerve In my back currently I need tips to help my bench improve right away for football.
what would you recommend to help with a poor bench press due to pinched nerves in the neck muscles once im better I need to gain wait or strength quick to compete in football any workout or tips would be appreciated
So im 17 and a junior on my football team and mu current bench is 290. Which is third on my team i was wondering if theres anything i could do to help increase my bench like what type of triceps workouts or anything. I am not satisfied with being in 3rd can u please give me some tips..
Wow, this paragraph is pleasant, my sister is analyzing such things, so I am going to convey her.
gotta question for ya. im a marine in afghan. I have tons of free ime in between missions was wondering how to increase my bench on this 8th month deployment. was also wondering what muscle groups you would say are ok to work out twice a week and what muscles should be worke out together
It’s hard to search out educated individuals on this matter, however you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thank
WHY THE DISDAIN FOR THE SMITH MACHINE? I AM OVER 50 AND FEEL SAFER WITH IT.-THANKS!
Hey steve im a freshman from njj. I maxed out at 265 a little over a month ago and i dont want to go heavy after i max but we have football workouts every day so ive had to do those. Today i was going for 225 for 4 on my last set but i only was abel to rep it without the spotter one rep. Im either in plateau or my cns and muscles just need rest and recoery. should i take a week off or should i use light weight over spring break? (Spring break Friday-sunday of the next week)
hi steve ...i recently went for a bench press competition i was maxing out at 400pounds and i wiegh 92kgs .i read your article on how to get a bigger bench press a few hours before .i did a few minor adjustments to my technique and i maxed out at 440pounds ur article is brilliant thanks for the tips .i wana know how to get a bigger deadlift
hi steve, i was wondering what are some good lifts to help my bench increase.
I'm in 8th grade bench 200 and I won 2nd place in the weight meet
Can you show me a squat form.
watsup people im a 17 year old football player in high school i bench press 385lbs but i weight 337 lbs ive only been lifting about a year i set a goal for 315 and i over achieved by being competitive with other athletes so nothing is impossible my first maxout was 115 lbs and i just worked hard and was dedicated so you can do the same
I'm a 16 year old sophomore I weigh 295lbs I'm 6'1 and I'm an offensive and defensive lineman and bench 320lbs lm on the varsity football team and benching and squats are a main focus for the lineman.but my goal this year was to get 315lbs on bench but it doesn't seem like I've hit my wall yet how do I get up to 350lbs by the end of the year any protein recommendations?
Im 16 and love benching and doing chest press. im stuck at 185 5x and really want to increase my lift and get out of this plateau.
Hello Steve good article, I started working hard about a year ago. I got shot in the leg a little over a year ago.I weighed 180 when I got shot "and not in a very fit way"My weight plummeted to 140 in just a month, the next month I bought amplified creatine 189 and started doing pushups and dips the next month I weighed 180 and could do 1,000 pushups in a day I started getting depressed and went to 170. I then got a bench set. I've been bencing for about 7 months and my bench went from 150 10 rep max and now I'm at 295 ten rep max. I also squat 300 20 times and deadlift 275 6 times and barbel row 200 5 times and I weighed myself today and I'm 193. So why doesn't tip 3 apply, I've been doing Mehidi style lifting, from strong lifts.
absolutly, 100s for ten on the flat
Steve...i have an issue with the psychology of weight lifting..i hurt my self with 315onceu and now im scared of it..i can hit 275 for a solid 6 at the end of a session..i can unrack three plates hold it half way off my chest for m inutes..but when i go to bring it down..my right shokuder wants to buckle..thats what i hurt previously..any suggestion
If your shoulder wants to buckle, that's physiological and not psychological. I would suggest avoiding that exercise. Are you able to do dumbbell presses?
Hey man, seeing as it's many years later, I'm wondering what happened to your bench and this issue? I hope you were able to make progress and get past the 315?
i think persepective was very key. it is very hard to find realistic motivation even in the suppliments we may try to use. I'm not pointing juice fingers weither, but i will agree that a natural 300lb bench is quite a feat by itself and 400 is fully note worthy.
I agree. 300 is very hard to achieve and not as many people get there as one would think.
which is a better grip, the "hook grip" or the other one (I don't know how to call it)?
Never use a thumbless grip.
I agree. I use thumbless on machines myself. Also some machines are harder too. At least I notice this on the Cybex leg press as apposed to the hack squat where I can press more. I also use the Smith bench press at times because I have no spotter.
Ok... I passed on commenting on some of your "off" comments or tips...such as smith machine.... It WAS NOT designed to make a lift easier...it was designed to be safe...and in many machines is ACTUALLY HARDER....... the NEVER GO LIGHT tip is also off...speed work is very important....l but the never use thumbless is totally off. Thumbless allows you go keep your elbows in better, thus firing your triceps first...which is foremost ...even according to your own advise (elbows at 45). Also puts much less stress on wrist by not having slight twist in wrist... Good overall article...but you need to let some of your PERSONAL OPINION not come off as "sure fire perfect advise". IN MY OPINION. Safe lifting everyone!
Ah i wanted to say i bench 405 not taking nothing but fish oil and people taking all kinds of things cant even get to that what is that called? And was woudering Steve what do you bench at?
My best bench was 430 raw.
I compete in powerlifting and am currently ranked #6 in the US for my class. I also squat 602 raw and deadlift close to 700.
Hello Steve, I have horrible wrist. I push 195, I'm 15. I feel like my wrist are holding me back,what should I do?
Are you saying you have wrist weakness or pain?