It’s extremely frustrating when – week after week – you just can’t seem to get any stronger on the bench press.
It’s every bros favorite lift. I mean, walk into any gym – particularly on a Monday (“international” chest day, of course) – and you’ll see guys lined up to test their strength at the holy grail of all lifts.
I won’t lie to you – I’m as guilty as the next bro – I fucking love to bench press… And I’m always pumped when my strength goes up and I can load a little more weight on to the barbell.
Getting stronger on the bench press will allow you to build bigger triceps, a thicker chest, and also give you some bragging rights among your gym buddies. But how do you get stronger? Well, there’s really only 2 ways:
- Eat more, bulk up, and build new muscle
- Improve your technique
In this article I’ll share 5 uncommon techniques you can start using today to improve your bench pressing strength.
Note: You can see me demonstrate all of the techniques below by watching this video:
But before we get into the techniques, you must get down the basics.
The fact is that the vast majority of guys are doing it wrong… And none of the tips below are worth a shit if you have poor form.
So before getting into the tips below, check out this article and see if you’re making any the 6 most common bench press mistakes.
1. Find your strongest starting position
When you begin to bench press, after you unrack the barbell, you move it horizontally over your chest before dropping it downwards. This positioning of the barbell at the top of the movement is crucial for allowing you body to move the weight with optimal efficiency.
You want it to feel “weightless”. To test this out and find your optimal position – unrack an unloaded barbell and move it back and forth over your chest, with your arms straight, until it gets to a place where it feels “weightless”.
2. Squeeze the shit out of the bar
You want to grip the bar with as much force as you can. This is important for 2 key reasons:
- It will ensure your wrists aren’t loose (which can lead to injury)
- It will assist in allowing you to activate maximal motor units and fully contract your chest, arms, and lats (and this, in turn, will allow you to move more weight)
3. Apply “leg drive”
Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is a full-body exercise – not just a chest movement… and using proper “leg drive” is big part of this equation.
Your feet should be planted firmly into the ground to begin with – preferably back behind your knees to “tense” up your quads. Now to apply proper leg drive all you need to do is press your feet forward (keeping them planted) as if you were trying to push your body backwards off of the bench (or slide the floor forwards in front of you). Because the bar is loaded with weight, applying downwards force to your body, you won’t actually slide backwards.
Instead the force generated by your feet will act to contract your lower and upper back, and create a more stable base for you to bench from. In addition to this stability, it may also create some opposing force, giving your upward press a small boost in the process (this is a minimal difference to be honest).
It will also act to keep your shoulders from shrugging and help protect them as a result.
4. Take huge breaths
Proper breathing is important for every exercise you do – and the bench press is no exception.
At the top of each repetition you should take a huge inhale that fills both your stomach and your chest with air. This will help you
- Contract your “core” (abs, glutes, and lower back)
- Fully open up your ribcage and keep your shoulder blades back and tight
- And, in turn, put you in a more stable and better all-around position to lift more weight
Hold this deep breath to maintain the benefits above until you have the bar moving back upwards, and even then don’t exhale 100% (keep some air in your chest and belly to maintain the tightness).
5. Do “pause” reps
A final technique more guys should be using is doing “pause” reps. In a traditional pause rep you hold the bar just barely above your chest at the bottom of the movement for 1-3 seconds before exploding back up. This builds power out of the bottom of the bench press – where most guys get stuck. If you’re sticking point is a little higher up, you can also do a pause rep that stops at that point instead of at the bottom.
Note: Start with a light weight when you do pause reps, because they’re much harder than a regular rep.
You can incorporate them into your program by doing them instead of regular reps for a particular day or by adding in a set of pause reps after you’re done with your normal benching routine.