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.
How to Improve Your Bench Press Fast
Bench press is a classic exercise for strength, muscle mass, and athletic performance that also tends to be the most-bragged-about lift among fitness freaks. Bench pressing is fun and fundamental!
While the bench should be a piece of your foundation, it should neither be the cornerstone of your whole fitness plan, nor should it be gathering dust.
Be smart about your bench press form and programming and you will be happy with both your physique and performance. Be dumb about benching and you will turn into a knuckle-dragging ape full of muscle imbalances and wrecked shoulders.
Read on for six tips on how to improve your bench press fast. These tips will help you add weight to the bar as well as pack musculature onto your chest and shoulders.
Six Tips on How to Improve Your Bench Press Fast
Bench Press Tip 1: Perfect Your Setup
A shoddy setup for the bench press will sabotage your set faster than you can say “Schwarzenegger”. Let’s get started by going over what you need to get in place for a solid set up.
First, set the bar to an appropriate height; that is, a height that allows you to unrack the bar by merely straightening your slightly bent elbows and moving the bar forward out of the hook. Don’t set it so high that you can’t unrack on your own, or so low that you can’t rerack without significant elbow bending. Some bench racks, sadly, just have one or maybe two awkward settings, so just do the best you can with the bench you have.
Next, before you grasp the bar, position yourself with your forehead under the racked bar, not your mouth and certainly not your neck or chest. That way, when you are in the locked out position at the top of each rep, your elbows and wrists can stack directly over top of your shoulder in a perfect lockout for a tiny rest between reps rather than being skewed forward, increasing your risk of dropping the bar, or backward, clunking into the hooks.
Squeeze your shoulder blades tight behind your rather than letting your midback lay limply on the bench. Your low back will arch slightly (or will arch a lot if you are lifting in certain styles–just don’t go for a huge arch unless you know what you are doing or you will hurt your back). Keep your deep abs contracted inward during your reps no matter how much of an arch you are going for. Prepare to breathe out on the press up and in on the lowering phase.
Bench Press Tip 2: Solidify Your Stance
An often-overlooked component of the setup is the stance. You may be thinking, I’m lying down for bench press…how can my stance possibly be a factor? Well, you can lift significantly more weight more safely to boot by achieving a firm stance on the ground and creating either leg drive or hip drive. That means using your lower body muscles to dig your feet into the floor and create more force through legs and hips which will translate into your core and ultimately your chest and shoulders.
Some people will prefer putting their feet closer to their butt and digging the balls of their feet into the floor to create leg drive. Others prefer taking a more splayed stance with feet directly under the knees to dig in their heels and create more hip drive from the glutes.
Either way, your butt must not lift off the bench as you drive with your lower body, so experiment with light benching in different stances to see where your feet need to go to dig in without your butt lifting, as well as to find which stance makes you happiest and able to lift the most weight with the most facility.
Bench Press Tip 3: Grip the Bar Properly
Your grip is so important that I’ll devote a whole tip to the grip! This is not just a tip on how to bench press more; gripping the bar properly is essential to your life and limb! Bench press is one of the few exercises whose equipment can easily crush your very windpipe if you drop the bar, so get a handle on it. There is a reason they call the thumbless grip favored by some clueless lifters the “suicide grip”.
Instead, grasp the bar a little wider than shoulder width with what’s referred to as the “bulldog grip”. Rest the bar down low at a slight angle running from the middle of your hand on the pinkie side down to the fleshy, meaty part near the web of your thumb. Wrap your fingers and thumbs around the bar and squeeze tight with your hand and forearm muscles. Pretend you are trying to “break the bar”.
If you get the bar in the right position across your hand, the weight of the bar will be borne properly down the long bones of your arms rather than rolling backward. Letting th bar move back onto your hands and fingers places undue compressive stress on your wrist joint as it bends the joint into excessive extension (not a good thing). As you press, never let your grip shift; keep that “bulldog grip” intact and lead with your knuckles up toward the ceiling as if you are throwing a punch.
Bench Press Tip 4: Work With a (Competent) Spotter
You don’t always need a spotter when benching if you are working with small loads, however, if you are going heavy, having a trusted spotted who knows what they are doing is a beautiful thing. They can help you safely achieve personal records that you could not (read: SHOULD NOT) attempt to hit lifting solo on bench press. Benching solo and getting pinned is a scary feeling (I speak from experience, so don’t be me!).
On the other hand, having a crappy spotter is useless, counterproductive, and can even dangerous if you are in a jam and your spotter is zoned out on their phone or checking out yoga pants down the way instead of doing their job.
Here are the essential pieces of spotting bench press: Make sure you’ve verbally established how many reps are being attempted. Spotter offers a “lift-off” if desired (help with the initial unracking of the bar; this is especially desirable if your bench doesn’t have a setting that is “just right” for your arm length). Spotter watches lifter closely throughout the set, only offering assistance when it is asked for or obviously needed, for example if the lifter is hardcore failing a rep and unable to communicate because they’re straining too hard. Don’t destroy someone’s completion out of that last rep because you grabbed the bar too early. If you step in to assist, grab the bar from above, help the lifter complete the rep and get the bar back in the hooks. If you have a regular lifting buddy, you two will get to know each other’s lifting styles very well, cutting down on miscommunication during spotting.
If you are lifting solo and find yourself in need of a spot, it IS appropriate gym etiquette to ask someone nearby if they can spot you. Ask when they are obviously not otherwise engaged, i.e. not in the middle of a set or getting set up to start a new exercise. Be cautious who you ask, though; there are not-so-hot-spotters out there who think they know exactly what they are doing. Of course, it’s best to approach someone you have seen competently spotting other individuals.
Bench Press Tip 5: Focus on the Negative
This next tip goes hand-in-hand with having a good spotter on deck. If you have a spotter, they can help you accomplish negative reps, in which they are help you with the press up and you complete the controlled lowering phase on your own. Our muscles can handle higher loads during the lowering (AKA eccentric) phase of a lift than they can during the raising (AKA concentric) phase. So negative reps are a neat little trick you can use to introduce overload to your muscles and make faster progress. Expect to be super sore from negatives!
I don’t do a ton of negatives, but do experiment with mixing them into your heavy bench days and they should help you stack poundage onto your bench press as well as ripped musculature onto your chest (once the soreness subsides).
Only try negative reps if you have a spotter you really trust that you know can safely lift the amount of weight you are working with.
Bench Press Tip 6: Do Complementary Exercises
Don’t be one of the people that does nothing but bench press. Your posture and shoulder health will suffer greatly. Instead, make sure you are balancing your bench press work with plenty of pulling exercises such as pull ups and rows. Also, do other forms of pressing such as push ups, dumbbell chest press, and dumbbell shoulder press, and barbell overhead press. Don’t expect to even approach the neighborhood of the weight you can bench on any kind of dumbbell press. The weights moving independently introduces a great deal of instability to the exercise. At appropriate weights, learning to stabilize that non-center-fixed instability is great for you and helps develop motor patterns as well as shoulder stability and flexibility, which translates to better shoulder health and pain-free bench pressing for years to come.
Also add exercises involving the rotator cuff, such as dumbbell, cable, or resistance band external rotation and open-handed side raise. Lots of people start out with a nice strong bench but puny little rotator cuffs and end up setting themselves up for failure and pain down the road if they don’t put in the ongoing work to stabilize that RC. Planks and side planks are also helpful for stabilizing the chest, shoulders, and rotator cuff.
How to Improve Your Bench Press Fast: The Bottom Line
Improving your bench press is all about balance. If you bench too much, you will sabotage your progress by overtraining the chest and ruining your shoulders, while if you bench too little, your muscle strength and mass will not be provided with enough stimulus to provoke change.
Naturally, there are different schools of thought on this point, but I recommend benching heavy no more than once or twice per week and benching even moderate or light weight no more than two to three times per week. No matter what, always take at least one day off in between bench press sessions. If you simply must work those pecs more often, mix in some push ups and light dumbbell presses on non-bench days.
I hope you have fun applying these tips to your lifting sessions and making great progress on your bench press!
Bench Press Charts
Use the following bench press charts to determine your 1 rep max from a set of up to 10.
Then use it to estimate the correct weight to use for sets in your desired rep range.
If you are able to perform more than the suggested weight, you can move up one level in the chart.
Bench Press Secrets?
Would you be Disappointed if you were told there was no Secret to the Bench Press?
Secret is a catch phrase in the world of marketing which always gets people’s attention. To mention the word secret tells the listener that very few people know about something. It is the listener’s natural reaction to become intrigued by the idea of having an edge on the competition or the infamous easy way.
There is No easy Way When it Comes to Strength feats of the Human Body
Whether you look to add some pounds to your bench press or build your chest there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.
If you are just a beginner there are some things which may surprise you about the bench press. Even if you are an advanced weight trainer, or ex- athlete there are some pieces of knowledge which some may consider bench press secrets.
If you want to increase the amount of weight that you can bench press, this page details how to do so. A heavy bench press is good for some sports, overall strength and is always good for the ego.
Tone Up Chest
This is a common goal for women with the annoying fat near the arm crease. They have the weight training myth of spot reduction in mind. The bench press cannot spot reduce fat.
It is also common for men to have the belief that the bench press will magically melt fat off of the chest area.
Some men with flabby chests try to tone the chest with high reps bench press, which is related to another weight training myth.
The good news is that the bench press utilizes a major muscle group which includes your chest, anterior deltoids, triceps and shoulder stabilizer muscles. If you look to tone up your chest or any part of your body, the bench press is one of the few essential exercises.
Build a Bigger, Better Looking Chest
This the most common goal for people seeking bench press secrets. If it seems to you that building your pecs is an impossible task you may try everything in the book for your chest. If you never got results despite a large amount of effort there must be some bench press secrets that nobody is telling you right?
Top 3 Bench Press Secrets or Facts You May not Know
1. The Bench Press is Not the Best Exercise to Build Your Chest
If the bench press is the best exercise for building the chest then the best exercise for building the biceps must be the seated row. The point is, bench press is a multi-joint movement. Much of the work is done by the triceps. If you want to build your chest chest flies are more important. This is not to say the bench press is not a good chest exercise, for building the chest the isolated, full range of motion muscle contraction of dumbbell flies is better to build the pecs.
2. The Muscles of Your Upper Middle Back may be the Reason Why you Cannot get Results
Many people suffer from a protracted shoulder girdle. Forward shoulders is a common posture problem which people do not realize causes their body to have incorrect muscle recruitment patterns. You may not be able to recruit enough muscle mass. You may develop synergistic dominance where other muscles take over for the target muscle.
In either case you will never be able to improve your bench press optimally without strong and stable rhomboids and trapezius muscles, the muscles in your upper middle back. You must be able to stabilize your shoulders in a retracted position for a successful bench press.
3. You Do Not have to Lower the Bar All the Way To Your Chest
Many hardcore bench press aficionados claim that you must bring the bar all the way down until it touches your chest. If you are a power lifter this is 100% true because it is a rule of the competition. If you are a competitive athlete this may be true depending on what your coaches say.
If you are an average Joe or Jane who wants to build your chest, this is false. Especially if you have poor flexibility, lowering the bar all the way down can cause extra stress on your shoulder joint. If you lower the bar down to where your arms form a 90 degree angle you will work your pec muscles fully. You will also be able to do more exercises in the workout than if you lowered the bar all the way down because you avoided extra fatigue on the synergist muscles.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Bench Press Secrets
Can bench press shirts help you bench press more?
Bench press shirts do indeed help you bench press more (compare the world record of over 1000 pounds aided with a shirt compared to the 700 pound record without a shirt) but they are essentially worthless unless you are going for a world record. Bench press shirts work by a combination of the elasticity of the material and compressing your body so they fail to add functional strength that raw (without shirt) bench press training can provide.
More Information Which you May Consider Bench Press Secrets
Top 5 Common Bench Press Mistakes To Avoid
Bench presses are one of the most powerful upper-body workouts on the planet.
If you’re looking to build bigger chest and shoulder muscles, you’ll want to incorporate bench presses into your workout routine.
Although there are dozens of different upper-body exercises, nothing compares to good old fashioned bench presses for upper body strength training.
To maximize their muscle building benefits, however, you should avoid the following bench press mistakes.
Mistake #1 – Gripping Exactly Shoulder Width Apart
One of the most common mistakes people make when performing a bench press is gripping the bar at exactly shoulder width apart. By gripping the bar this way, you’re emphasizing your triceps instead of your chest. Your triceps are forced to work overtime while your chest is gaining no real benefit. Of course, this is fine if you want to add mass to your triceps, but we’re talking about the pectorals here.
So, what’s the best way to grip the bar? Most professional bodybuilders will agree that moving your hands just slightly outward is the ideal grip location. Go ahead and grip the bar with your hands located right above your shoulders, and then move them about an inch or two away from your body. Doing so shortens the distance the bar must travel during your reps; therefore, making it easier to lift heavy weights.
It’s important to note that spreading your grip too far out will leave you vulnerable to injury. Your shoulder joints are in a suboptimal position that puts them at injury risk and decreases the amount of weight you will be able to push. So for a successful bench press, spread your hands just slightly away from your shoulders.
Mistake #2 – Focusing on Rep Numbers and Not Weight
When it comes to bench presses, weight generally trumps rep numbers. If you go the gym on a regular basis, you are bound to see an inexperienced bench presser performing dozens of reps using a low weight. The problem in doing so is that it limits the strain on your muscles. If you are performing bench presses for the purpose of building bigger upper-body muscles, then you’ll want to perform fewer reps using a heavier weight. For mass and strength, you will generally shoot for 8-12 reps using a weight that fatigues you within that rep range. If you are an experienced lifter benching for maximum strength, the reps will be even lower; as low as even just one if you are testing your 1 rep max.
That being said, when you are working on stabilizing your muscles and gaining endurance, using low weights for about 20 reps is recommended. If you are just starting to bench press, this is the best practice to set you up for success in the future so you can safely bench for strength and mass.
Mistake #3 – Growing Complacent
Another common bench press mistake is growing complacent with your weight set. You’ll end up lifting the same weights on each and every trip to the gym simply because that’s what’s you’re used to doing. As with any strength training workout, though, you must constantly push yourself to your physical and mental limits. Don’t allow yourself to grow complacent with a weight set. Instead, keep experimenting with heavier weights to see what you’re truly capable of lifting. After all, pushing yourself to the limits is the only way you’ll improve. Add a little at a time, not too much all at once. Remember that your competition is yourself and don’t pay attention to what anyone else is lifting. Choose weights that are safe yet challenging for you where you are at.
Mistake #4 – Not Asking For a Spotter
A fourth mistake that many people are guilty of doing is not asking for a spotter. Performing heavy lifts for the first time leaves you vulnerable to injury. To prevent this from happening, take a minute to find and ask someone if they will spot you.The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for newcomers, but you’ll quickly realize that most people are willing to give you a spot. Not everyone, but a great many experienced lifters are more than happy to share their knowledge and help beginners.
Of course, you should selectively choose your bench press spotter based on their physique. If they don’t look appear to be physically fit and capable of holding up the weights, choose someone else. If they have an underdeveloped chest, chances are they don’t know proper bench form. You’ll do better choosing a spotter that looks like they have benched more than once or twice! Also…make sure you approach someone when they are otherwise unoccupied, not in the middle of their own set!
Mistake #5 – Performing ONLY the Bench Press
Of course, the bench press is the best way to build brute strength and monster mass for the chest, but it’s not the only chest exercise you’ll ever need. In fact, your benching performance will improve if you add a couple other key chest and shoulder exercises. The first is the dumbbell chest press. This way, when your two sides are moving independently, you can work on improving the strength of your weak side. When you only ever do the barbell bench press, the strong side will overcompensate for the weak side. Since you’re only as strong as your weakest, isolating the weak side through the dumbbell chest press will allow your bench to become stronger across the board.
Another great and often neglected way to improve your bench press and make this lift safer on your joints is to spend some time stabilizing the rotator cuff. Add shoulder external rotation exercises to your routine using very light weights to improve the stability and the endurance of the often-overlooked yet vital muscles of the rotator cuff. You can use dumbbells or a cable machine to do shoulder external rotation exercises. Click here to watch a demonstration video.
The Bottom Line
When you avoid these 5 common bench press mistakes, you’ll be setting yourself up for ongoing bench press success. Dialing in your bench press is truly worthwhile as benching is generally considered the best way to build chest muscle mass and strength.
Four Bench Press Variations and Their Functions
Building a bigger bench is a common goal amongst gym goers. Bench pressing is an elegant balance between technique and brute strength. The exercise uses the legs, core, back, arms, and chest to move the weight and in many cases, timing is everything.
Rather than focusing on a standard bench press position during training, lifters should incorporate variations to the movement. By altering the variables– such as range of motion and angles– bench press enthusiasts will add pounds to their press without getting bored of the same movements day after day.
Whether you use competition grade or standard gym bench, here are four bench press variations you should try in your training program.
Four Bench Press Variations and Their Functions
#1. Spoto Press
The Spoto press is also known as the “invisible board press” in the training circuit. Named for Eric Spoto– an athlete who benches 722lbs raw— this variation is great for those who tend to get the weight a few inches off their chest before failing.
With a board press, you have someone hold a board on your chest to reduce your range of motion when benching. With a Spoto press, you have no tangible board but limit yourself as though one is there. The benefit of the Spoto over the board press is that you have no leverage with which to alter the course of the bar. You must alter the momentum while maintaining balance and form to complete the lift. While it looks easier than a standard bench press, the Spoto is quite challenging.
#2. Cambered Bar Press
The cambered bar is a title more commonly named in the squat rack than on a bench, but using a cambered bench bar has its merits. The protrusion of the bar forces you to increase your range of motion while benching. To touch the bar to your chest, you will have to extend your shoulders and pecs backward, past where they would usually extend during a bench press. However, they will not be pushed to the point of injury.
The increased range of motion you will experience while benching with the cambered bar will work different accessory muscles in addition to the main muscle groups used for bench pressing. This exercise will pay dividends when completing a standard bench press and attempting to get the bar off your chest.
#3. Pin Press
The pin press is also known as the dead stop press or the bottoms up press. With this movement, you will be starting from a dead stop at the bottom of the bench and pushing upward. To do this movement, you will want a bench with safety bars set to your desired range of motion. Alternatively, you can use a rack and set it up accordingly.
Get into position under the bar, setting up as you would for a standard bench. Press the bar from the pins until full extension. Repeat the process until you are done. On the last rep, rack the weight as you would with a standard bench press so you can get up. This variation requires more power than a standard bench, as it removes the eccentric part of the movement.
#4. Incline Bench
The incline bench press shifts the focus from the lower head of the pectoral muscles to the upper head. As such, incline benching targets a portion of the chest that is often neglected during flat benching, therefore increasing overall strength and pectoral definition.
When the bench is positioned correctly, the incline bench can also activate the deltoids more effectively than a standard bench press. This too contributes to a better bench and improved overall strength.
The Bottom Line
There are countless other variations you can try when it comes to building a bigger bench. Changing your grip and incorporating chains or bands can alter how the weight moves. Be open-minded when it comes to your training and your numbers will start to climb.
Barbell Incline Bench Press Exercise Tips
The nuts and bolts of what you need to know…
- The incline bench press is generally thought of as a “must do” when talking about building the “upper chest”
- Regardless of whether the incline bench press is actually a good upper chest builder is debatable, the fact is that this exercise can be effectively used to address several different situations
When someone wants to develop the “upper chest,” generally they are talking about increasing the size of the relatively smaller of the two pec “heads,” the clavicular head. And while there are many effective strategies to address this specific situation, more often than not, one will suggest that the incline press must be prioritized.
Now, whether or not the barbell incline bench press is a great upper chest builder is an argument for another time. The fact of the matter is that the incline press, like every exercise, is a very versatile tool that can be used as a solution for many different situations.
- On a side note – is the incline press a great upper chest builder? Well, considering that the work of Dr. Jim Stoppani (link) suggests that the incline bench press only activates 5% more of the clavicular head of the chest, at the expense of the front delt taking on 85% more stress when compared with the bench press, my argument is that it’s really not all that great. But there are a lot of benefits as a result of using this “tool,” so let’s take a look at some of the modifications that can be made to promote varying results.
But before we do, be sure to watch the following video for more great chest building tips.
Grip Width + Relative Shoulder/Elbow Angle (Wide vs. Narrow)
Where you place your hands, in terms of how far apart they are in relation to the width of your shoulders, will determine a lot of things. For one, the wider the grip, the higher on the chest you can safely lower the bar, while the narrower your grip, the lower on the chest you can safely lower the bar.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t take a wide grip and lower the bar lower on the chest, but rather that a wider grip is better suited for lowering the bar higher up on the chest – the same can be said of using a narrower grip and lowering higher on the chest. While it can be done, it’s just not ideal, as the cost-benefit analysis heavily favors the risk side of things, although a close grip with the elbows flared out can be an effective way to increase the range of motion that the upper pec is subjected to.
This is important because where you lower the bar will determine how much, of which muscles, are working the most. Remember, the muscle that is stretched the most, is recruited the most, and since there are a few contributing muscles responsible for the same planes of movement here, very slight modifications can have larger downstream effects.
Because of the orientation of the upper chest, and front deltoids, a closer grip which facilitates for a lowering of the bar, lower on the chest, will stretch the lateral portion of the upper pec, as well as front delt, to the greatest degree that can be achieved with an overhand grip, thus leading to an elevated level of recruitment for these muscles. The close grip also facilitates a larger range of motion, and therefore additional emphasis is placed on the triceps to complete the lift.
A wider grip which facilitates for a lowering of the bar, higher on the chest, will pull the medial portion of the upper pec (and sternal head as well) further away from where it originates, thus leading to an elevated level of recruitment for that specific compartment of the muscle. Because of the relative angle of the shoulder, this variation is of higher risk, and therefore relatively lighter loads should be used.
Knowing whether you want to prioritize the “inner,” or “outer” portion of the upper pec, or whether or not you want the shoulders and triceps to more or less contribute to the movement, should determine how wide you place your hands, and where on the chest you lower the bar.
Grip Position (Overhand vs. Underhand)
All barbell presses, whether they be flat bench, incline, decline, or overhead, are generally performed with an overhand grip. This places the prime movers in a positional of mechanical advantage, facilitating the use of greater loads, since the prime movers are comprised of an internal rotation component. By using an underhand grip, and placing the prime movers in a position of mechanical disadvantage (an externally rotated shoulder position), a greater percentage of the load is placed on the triceps (since they aren’t nearly as effected by the relative shoulder angle – since the prime movers can’t contribute as much, something else must pick up the slack).
As with a close grip facilitating a lowering of the bar lower on the chest, a reverse (underhand) grip offers the same benefits. With a reverse grip, it’s nearly impossible to lower the bar high on the chest, or flare the elbows out to the side, thus forcing the elbows to remain tight to the body. Because the front delts also have an internal rotation element, and the fact that the lateral portion of the upper pec is best stretched when the elbows are tucked to the sides and the bar is lowered lower on the chest, the reverse grip facilitates greater upper pec recruitment at the expense of the front delts.
Knowing whether you want to increase the contribution of the upper pecs at the expense of the front delt, of whether or not you want to direct more tension onto a specific area at the expense of being able to use a greater load, should determine whether or not you use an overhand or underhand grip.
Angle Of Inclination
When speaking of “incline” presses, the assumption is always that the bench is angled at 45 degrees – this assumption speaks for both modifications outlined above as well. But the angle of the bench will heavily determine how much, or which muscles, are recruited the most.
The angle of inclination operates on a continuum, in that the lower the bench, the greater contribution of the pecs at the expense of the front delts, while the higher the bench, the greater contribution of the front delts at the expense of the pecs.
Knowing whether or not you want to target more pecs, or front delts, should determine the angle of inclination that is used.
- On a side note, the reason a 45 degree angle increase the front delt activation by 85% in relation to the bench press is because, with a 45 degree angle the shoulder is stretched to a much greater degree, as it can almost be hyperextended in the fully lowered position, and this enhanced stretch is what facilitates higher levels of motor unit recruitment – remember, the muscle that is stretched the most, is recruited the most.
The Bottom Line
So there you have it. Multiple ways to use the same tool and promote a different result. Each of these techniques can be used in isolation, or multiple modifications can be used concurrently depending on the goal. The way you use the exercise should always come down to what you are using it for – meaning, what is your goal for using it, and what do you want to accomplish from it?