Here you’ll find the 5 basic tricks you can incorporate right now into your workout routine to bench press bigger weights. Here they are:
1. Don’t train to failure!
There’s this false notion perpetuating throughout the fitness community that every set needs to be done to the point of muscular failure, where you push yourself to the limit, grinding out the last few reps with everything you’ve got. This usually comes from guys who have years of training experience and have their fair share of handling heavy weights.They understand the progressive overload principle and they know that the key to progress is either using small weight increments over a longer period of time, increasing reps, or increasing the overall training intensity.
The main problem with this is that as you push to the limit and train to failure each training session, you can get overtrained very fast, and your progress can stall or even go backward.
If you push yourself too much on each bench press workout session, you’ll end up breaking down too much muscle, too fast, which won’t be enough for them to fully recover for the next session, while taxing your central nervous system tremendously. The fatigue will slowly creep up on you, and even if you bench press only once per week, you might become overtrained and burned out without even realizing it. If this is what you’ve been doing so far, going to failure on every set, every week, it’s better if you too a week or two off to rest. If bench pressing more weight is your goal, rest is vital. Come back to the gym recuperated, and don’t train to failure. Keep a couple of reps “in the tank”. Rack the bar a few reps before complete failure. The nervous system will thank you for this, and you’ll start progressing again.
2. Make your triceps stronger
Even though the majority of people consider the bench press a chest movement, what they fail to realize is that the triceps are also heavily involved in the exercise, sometimes even doing more of the lifting. On any rep, once you get the bar “out of the hole”, or when it’s 5-6 inches off the chest, your triceps are doing most of the work. If you want to increase the amount of weight you bench press, it is essential that you make your triceps stronger. Pro powerlifters, which build their entire career on three main lifts, one of which is the bench press, know how valuable triceps training really is and they special attention to this part.
They have found ways to engage the triceps from different angles in order to strengthen them for a stronger bench press, with many of the exercises involving bands, chains, wood blocks and heavy weights. In order to illustrate this, we will take just one example of the powerlifting book, the close-grip bench press. In essence, this bench press variation is a standard bench press exercise, only with your elbows tucked in. This means that when the barbell reaches your chest, the elbows should be touching the sides instead of flaring out.
It’s important that you keep the elbows in line during the press. If you are doing it right, you’ll be pressing a lot lighter than your bench press weight and the triceps will be trashed like never before after you’re done. Incorporate this movement into your routine as the first exercise for triceps, lift hard, do 5-8 reps per set, and you will find yourself pressing a lot more on the bench press in a matter of weeks.
3. Eat and sleep more
To become stronger in the big compound lifts, the body needs lots of fuel and recovery. The body has its priorities and if you’re deprived of sleep or aren’t eating enough food, it will not put as its priority the building of new muscle tissue or strengthening neuro-muscular pathways. If your main focus is bench pressing more weight and keep increasing the weight week after week, your first priority should be to be in a well-rested and anabolic state, which means an adequate amount of sleep (7-8 hours per night) and a caloric and protein intake surplus.
Here, the common rules of weightlifting nutrition apply, i.e. 4-6 meals a day, lots of protein, complex carbohydrates, and water. If your diet is lacking any of these, you won’t see any noticeable changes in the gym. Increase your caloric intake – add an extra meal or drink 1-2 protein shakes a day. Drink more water to avoid dehydration. When you put your body into an anabolic state, you will find yourself quickly increasing the weight on the bar.
4. Use different bench press variations
Sometimes in order to progress you need to switch up the exercises. It’s been proven that a change in exercise can have a similar effect to a proper rest. Similar, yet distinct movements can cause your nervous system to send a different set of electrical signals to your muscles, which will stimulate different contraction patterns in your muscle fibers.
The result is that some muscle fibers are broken down more in different movements, even though the movement pattern seems similar. This means that you can increase your size and strength merely by changing your workout routine. So, how would you put this theory into practice? Quite easily. If you’ve been bench pressing with a barbell, switch to dumbbells for a certain period. Or, you can switch the flat bench variation for an incline or decline bench.
Sometimes, even changing the order of the exercises when training chest might be enough to stimulate growth. Then, when you go back to your old exercises, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to bench press, even more, weight than before and set a personal record. It’s important to note that you will still need to free-weight movements. Cable flyes or pec-deck machines won’t strengthen the chest in any significant way to become stronger on the bench press. Stick to the basic movements, and switch them every now and then.
5. Improve your technique
The fact is that the majority of people in the gym simply don’t know how to bench press. Most personal trainers don’t know either. So, unless you’ve had the privilege of having a powerlifting or strength coach to guide you through the motions, then it’s very likely that you have all kinds of imperfections in your form, big or small that prevent you from fully applying maximum strength to the movement. Here are some common tips to improve your bench press technique and move more weight:
Place your feet firmly on the floor! There’s this misconception about getting your feet off the bench will make you stronger while pressing. The truth is that this is such a poor way to perform this exercise that it’s laughable. Any serious powerlifter will tell you that the legs constitute a base of strength for your body and in order to lift as much weight as possible, your feet must be placed firmly on the floor, imagining you’re pushing your heels through the floor as you press.
Always tuck the elbows! Don’t tuck them as close as you would in a close-grip bench, but make sure that you don’t flair them out too much. Seen from above, your upper arm and torso should form a 45-degree angle between them. This positioning will engage your triceps and shoulders a lot more and it will take a portion of the stress of your chest for the initial 5-6 inches of the pressing movement. This will result in increased weight on the bar once you get used to the form. This positioning is also healthier for the shoulders and the rotator cuffs.
Arch your back. Arching the back is not dangerous when doing it for the bench press. There’s another misconception that it places too much stress on the vertebrae and your lower back. This is not true. When bench pressing, the generated force is in a downward direction through the arms and born by your shoulder blades and upper back which are placed on the bench. This remains the same whether you arch the back or not. When you arch the back, you tense the entire torso, creating a stable base from which you lift the weight. This translates to much less work for the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles when it comes to stabilizing the weight and they are free to exert more force upwards. In the end, you press more weight.