How to Bench Press
Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with a colleague, friend, or family member where the topic of the gym comes up and when you mention that you’ve been weight training for X number of days or weeks, they ask “how much do you bench?”
“How Much Do You Bench?”
This question is extremely common! You will not be asked how may pushups can you do, how much weight you can squat, or how many pull-ups you can do.
This is a common reason why it is very common for people to seek information about how to improve their bench press, but definitely not the only reason.
- Bench press strength is a very good indicator of your pushing power, which is beneficial in numerous sports.
- Powerlifting is an obvious example, because the bench press is part of the event.
- Bench press is a good way to help build your chest and also fun and challenging, not to mention an ego thing.
- As a guy, the bench press is the ultimate ego lift.
A Strength Coach’s Infinite Wisdom
A star athlete approached his grizzled old strength coach after practice. His performance on the field was great but he wasn’t satisfied with his results in his strength and conditioning program. He broke down and asked his strength & conditioning coach, “Coach, can you tell me the secret for lifting heavier weights?”
“The Secret to Lifting Heavier Weights is to Lift Heavier Weights”
Said the strength and conditioning coach to the athlete. The athlete looked to the side and thought for a second and looked up at the strength coach and nodded his head and jogged back into the locker room. This is so obvious yet so often overlooked by people who want to know how to bench press more as well as lift heavier weights for any lift. Powerlifters know this because it directly involves their competition, but others do not seem to understand this.
Whether you are a recreational weight lifter or seasoned athlete, the intensity which will cause your body to adapt comes from heavier weights. Lifting heavier weights is the first tip to remember if you want increase your bench press list.
How Do You Know How Much Weight to Use?
This depends on your level of training. If you have just begun weight training, you should focus on your form and lift light to moderate weights until you have the form down perfectly before you try to increase your bench press. If you are an intermediate to advanced weight lifter and want to learn how to bench press more, there is one thing which is most important:
In Order to Properly Determine the Right Amount of Weight to Use, You Must Determine Your 1RM
Your One Repetition Maximum or 1RM is the most important determinant of the amount of weight you should use on the bench press. If you want to increase your bench, an accurate 1RM will allow you to accurately use bench press charts. The charts tell you how much weight to use for a set of any given number of reps. This will allow you get the most benefit from each set because the weight will be right on.
If you are not comfortable with doing a 1RM test you can also use the bench press charts to estimate your 1RM based on sets of up to 10 reps.
Determine your 1RM
The importance of the 1RM for bench press has already been made clear. It is equally important to get an accurate 1RM by proper testing.
Before we get into the actual lifting, it should be emphasized that in order for you to get a true 1RM, your body must be fresh.
This does not mean you went out drinking the night before and only got 3 hours of sleep.
It also doesn’t mean you just did a tough shoulders and triceps workout the day before. You should not even do a leg workout the day before. Generally, before you attempt your 1RM, you should not have done any workouts for around at least 2 days or preferably more.
If you are a seasoned gym veteran this may be hard, but it must be done. If a heavy bench press is important to you, you can sacrifice 2 days in the gym for an exciting try at your 1RM.
When the Conditions Are Right, it is Time to Try to Determine Your True 1RM
Get a spotter. A workout partner you are familiar with is best. A spotter allows you to have confidence that you can go for an absolute maximum lift without killing yourself.
Perform your general warm up to circulate your blood to your extremities. 5 minutes on an average level on a stationary bike will do.
Next, do a quick warm up set with the bar. Go through the range of motion for just a few reps to see if your shoulders and chest muscles feel 100% If everything is a go, you are ready to start the process of determining your 1RM to begin learning how to bench press more.
For the warm up sets before you try your true 1RM, make sure you do each rep through the full range of motion. Lower the bar all the way to the nipple line of your chest under control, touch lightly and press back up to a locked-out position. There is nothing set in stone for the weights of your warm-up sets. You should do around 3-4 warm-up sets before you attempt your 1RM.
Your first set could be 8 reps of 50 percent of your rough guess of your 1RM. Never perform any more than 8 reps for your warm up sets. If you perform high reps, you could build up acidity in the muscle which will interfere with performance.
Always Wait the Full 2.5 to 3 Minutes Between Warm Up Sets While Testing for Your 1RM
The second set should be around 75 percent of what you think your max is. Perform around 5 reps and rest another 2.5-3 minutes. Next, try around 85 percent of your guesstimated max for 2 or 3 reps. By this time, you should have a good feel of how much to try for your 1RM.
It is now time for your first try at your 1RM. Get psyched and go for it. Make sure you spotter does not touch the bar until you either stall out, or complete the lift. If you complete the lift, congratulations, you now have a couple options. If it was easier than you thought, wait 2 or 3 minutes and try again with a few more pounds. If you missed your chance, lower the weight and try again after 2 or 3 minutes.
If You Are Not Comfortable With Testing for You Actual 1RM, You Can Estimate it Accurately
You can estimate your 1RM by using a load assignment chart (bench press chart). Pick a weight you think you can do from 2-5 reps and do it as many times as you can. Use the same warm up as the actual 1RM test, but your actual result will be a 3RM or 5RM or however many reps you can complete.
Once you determine your x-rep max, you can look at the bench press chart and figure out your 1RM with fair accuracy. For example, say you lift 225 four times. In the 4 reps column on the chart, find the number closest to 225 and follow to the left into the 1 column. This will be your estimated 1RM, which in this case is 255.
When you estimate your 1RM, a lower number of reps is more accurate. A set where you fail at 3 reps is better than a set of 8 reps, etc. Once you know your 1RM, you are one big step closer to knowing how to increase your bench press.
How Does Knowing Your 1RM Help You Bench Press More Weight?
Now that you know your 1RM, you can create the most effective bench press program. Every set of bench press will now be effectively challenging your muscles.
You are on this page because you wanted to learn how to improve your bench press, so you most likely want to perform bench presses twice a week. Some people even bench press 3 times per week, but 2 is recommended. A single weekly session of the bench press is enough for some people. You just have to experiment and see what yields the best results for you.
On the day you decide to work your chest, perform 3-5 sets of the bench press. Your sets and reps should be based on your bench press chart. The previous example used a 1RM of 255.
Using the 1RM Chart, Here is an Example of a 5-set Bench Press Workout
1st set: warm up ( i.e. bar x 10, 95 x 10, 135 x 10)
2nd set: 10 x 185
3rd set: 8 x 200
4th set: 6 x 210 or 215
5th set: 6 x 210 or 215
You should use feedback while you perform your sets. If the chart says to do 185 for 10 reps, and you do it very easily, you may want to jump up a 5-pound increment on your 1RM. This strategy works best with heavier sets.
For example with a 255 pound 1RM the chart says 212.9 for 6 reps. You can either go up to 215 or down to 210. If you do a set of 210 for 6 reps very easily, you may want to try 215 for the next set.
You can constantly test yourself with the weights the chart suggests. Eventually, you will notice your bench press weights suggested by the chart becoming easier. If this is the case, you have learned how to bench press more and should retest your 1RM. Retest your 1RM no more than once a month.
There are many ways to challenge your body which will help you adapt to become stronger. It is always better to have a spotter when you bench press with heavy weight. It will allow you to lift more weight on average for every set. You will also be able to perform the following more-advanced sets.
The negative part of the lift is called the eccentric. During this phase your muscles lengthen while under resistance. During the eccentric phase, you can control significantly more weight than you can lift up.
A negative rep is when you lower a weight which is heavier than your 1RM. You shouldn’t perform more than 2 or 3 and always have a spotter. Negative reps should be used sparingly, at most twice a month.
Forced reps is when your muscles are completely fatigued and your spotter helps you perform a couple more reps than you could do by yourself. It is good to do 1 or 2 forced reps.
Some people can handle forced reps each set, but it is usually better to use them sparingly so your don’t overstress your joints. Many people believe that more forced reps is the best way to press more weight, but this isn’t necessarily the best strategy.
Partial reps are when you concentrate on a specific part of the bench press range of motion. If you have trouble locking the weight out at the top of the bench, you could do a set of just the top 1/3 of the bench press. If you have trouble getting the bar right off the chest, a set of the bottom 1/3 of the bench press motion may help you increase your strength.
What Other Exercises Will Help Increase Your Bench Press?
Just because you have a scientific, structured bench press program does not mean you can neglect other muscles in your body. The muscles which are important for a strong bench press, the triceps, chest and anterior deltoids can be worked extra with different types of presses. Here are some different bench press techniques which will supplement your bench press routine.
3-Grip Barbell Bench Press
The 3-grip barbell bench press is a great way to spread the love. The emphasis will change from the triceps, chest, and anterior deltoids during different points of this lift. You can determine which muscles are your weak link, which is a valuable tip to learn how to bench press more.
Start: Lie on the bench with your eyes looking straight up at the bar. Retract your shoulder blades and maintain this stabilization. At first, take a close grip right around shoulder width.
Begin the motion: Unrack the bar and bring the barbell above your lower chest. Lower the bar straight down to below your nipples. Your elbows should be as close to your side as possible. Raise the bar back up to the position straight above your lower chest. After you perform a given number of reps, rerack the weight.
The second grip on the bar is your normal grip. This is usually measured with a certain finger on the markings on the bar. Lower the weight to around nipple level and press it up in a slightly arching motion to where the finishing point is around your neck / chin. Perform a given number of repetitions and rerack the weight.
The third grip is a wide grip. Grab the bar pretty much as wide as you can without losing a finger when you rerack the bar. Lower the weights to around nipples again and press. Close to the finish of this set, you will notice your chest is working quite a lot.
Modifications: If you want to increase your bench, 3,3,3 reps would be a good set, but you can do it any way you like. You can change the order of the set once you find the weak link in your bench press chain.
Close Grip Dumbbell Presses
Close grip dumbbell presses are great for your triceps and anterior deltoids. If you have trouble during the bench press phase of lifting the bar from your chest, this exercise is a great way to help strengthen the muscles which will help you get the bar off your chest.
Start: Sit on a weight bench with dumbbells on your thighs. Keep your elbows in toward your body and lie back on the bench.
Push the dumbbells up straight at lower chest level. The dumbbells should be right above your elbows out to the side of your body.
Begin the motion: Slowly lower the dumbbells while you keep your elbows tight in towards your sides.
Lower the dumbbells all the way down until they touch your body and raise them back up making sure to squeeze your triceps.
Modifications: As with all bench press exercises, you can change the angle of the bench to shift the emphasis to the upper pectorals for incline and the lower pectorals for decline.
Knowing how to bench press more requires knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, and you should adjust the angle of the bench accordingly. If you are weaker from the bottom part of the bench, using an incline more often will benefit you because you will strengthen the anterior deltoids.
Stability Ball Bench Press
If you perform your heavy bench press on stability balls, you will help strengthen your stabilizers which will help you bench press more.
Start: Position a stability ball about a foot behind a barbell which is about 3 feet up on a squat rack. Sit upright with your chest about a foot behind the bar.
Take your best grip and walk forward until you form the supine bridge on the ball. As you are walking forward, unrack the barbell and position it above your chest. Your supine bridge should have your shoulders and neck resting on the top of the stability ball.
Begin the motion: Slowly, repeat, SLOWLY lower the barbell down towards your chest. If you do not have a strong core or scapular retractors (upper middle back muscles) you may notice intense shaking. Try to work through this as you push the barbell back up.
Modifications: It is best to have a spotter for this movement for safety reasons. You can change the angle by moving your hips down to use the stability ball as an incline bench. You can also perform any variation of the bench press which you could do on a bench, such as 3-grip bench press.
Improve Your Bench Press Via A Complete Exercise Program
- Secrets to Increasing Your Bench Press
- Bench Press Charts
Don’t forget to print out your load assignment chart, which will help increase your bench press by using the best weight for each and every set.
- Best Chest Exercises
All exercises for your chest will help you strengthen your pecs. What you learned here also applies to other chest exercises.