The bench press, arguably the most discussed and debated exercise in the gym. Even the guy who can barely squat his own body weight or the guy that doesn’t know the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up can probably tell you his bench press PR.
It’s difficult to directly apply the bench press to any specific function, real life or in sports (NFL linemen excluded), but if your goal is to develop your pectoral size and strength, this is the exercise to master.
The key to mastering any exercise if to firstly leave your ego at the door and stop fixating on the amount of weight you are moving. Form is the most important factor. If you truly want to improve your strength you need to focus on all the components of the movement. This includes control, stability, endurance and power, not just the load on the end of the bar.
OK, so down to the real reason you’re here; to increase your bench press and grow those pecs. It’s going to be a gradual process and you’re going to have to be patient and committed, but below are some points to think about:
Pay attention to your positioning of your feet; ideally, you want a knee angle of less than 90 degrees with your feet flat on the ground. This is because you want to be able to exert force through the feet, which is not possible unless they are firmly planted.
Pay attention to the width of the bench; when pressing, the majority of the force will be through your scapula, therefore you will need a bench that allows for flat, firm base for you to press from, so no narrow benches. You also do not want a bench that is too wide as it will restrict the range of movement when lowering the bar.
Use a spotter; it’s hard to overlook the positive mental benefits you receive when you have a spotter to support you. You don’t have to think about the what if’s. What if the bar is too heavy? What if I can’t complete the lift? You can focus on the movement and nothing else knowing you’re safe. That said, no spotter is probably better than a bad spotter. We’ll look at the factors that make a spotter a great buddy or a liability in a future article.
Pay attention to the arch in your back; like it or not, to press some serious weight, you are going to need that arch. By doing this you decrease the distance the bar will travel, increases the contribution from the lower pecs and lats and creates an arch in the lift trajectory. All this means a heavier lift.
Remember you are not a powerlifter (unless you are); as mentioned before, an arch is crucial, but it is not necessary (or safe) to create the kind of arch you see powerlifters commonly using unless you know exactly what you are doing. For the everyday person, arching your lower back so that the scapula is sustaining the driving force of the movement is sufficient. Take the weight off the bar and experiment, you’ll soon find your sweet spot.
Keep your shoulder blades still; do not allow your shoulder blades to drift outwards (protract) as the bar nears the top of it’s path. If you do this, it’s close to impossible to reset yourself for the next rep without first racking the bar. Keep them back and still, simply by doing this you can expect a 5% increase on your bench.
Pay attention to your breath; hold your breath until you’re just past the sticking point of each rep, by doing this you retain a solid structure and base from which to drive the bar. Holding your breath whilst un-racking the bar will also help with that feeling of a heavy weight suddenly crushing you.
Remember the above points the next time you approach that bench. You may need to work with a lower weight than you’re used to in order to familiarise yourself with the techniques, but don’t let that dissuade you. You’ll soon be pressing more than you thought possible.
*The views and/or opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily those of Training Nation, but of the author