No matter how much you might try to justify it, if you start talking fitness with most people, they aren’t going to care how much you squat or deadlift. On the other hand, they will almost always ask, “What’s your bench press?” If you’re like me, your head will drop and you’ll mutter something about how overhead pressing is cooler. Well here are some ideas about how to increase your bench so you have a respectable number to give someone next time they ask.
Bench More Often
The first thing you can really do to get your bench up is to simply bench more. Seems kind of silly to mention, but more volume = more strength. This doesn’t mean you should do the typical high school bro workout every Monday:
close grip bench
But you could bench Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The act of repeatedly doing the exercise throughout the week will give you a neurological benefit that will help increase efficiency in the lift. In other words, practice makes perfect. If you wanted to do something like this, you might do heavy 5×5 Monday, light 2-3×5 Wednesday and medium 3×5 Friday. Or maybe just do heavy bench Monday and light-medium bench Thursday.
Now benching three times a week would destroy my shoulders or maybe you simply want some variation to keep things fresh. You could do bench on Monday, close grip bench on Wednesday and incline bench on Friday. Or maybe just bench press Monday and incline bench on Thursday. The variation of the lifts throughout the week will help increase overall strength in your upper body that has direct transfer to your bench press bottom line. Also, varying the movement throughout the week can help alleviate common overuse injuries; adding in variations would allow you to train pretty steadily without any adverse affects if you’re a little more injury prone like myself.
You could potentially bench 4, 5 or even 6 times a week, too, but if you’re at that level, you’re way past me.
Grow Your Back
Beyond benching more to increase your bench, a few areas are often overlooked that will also help. First, and foremost, people will totally disregard how important your back is when it comes to bench strength. Your back has to provide a solid platform for you to press from; the bigger and stronger your back is, the more stable that platform becomes and the more weight you can press. Specifically, you want to do exercises that are in the same horizontal plane as the bench. For instance, chin ups are a great exercise in their own right, but bent over rows will have more “direct” transfer to your bench press. Bent over rows with dumbbells or barbells, chest supported rows, seal rows and t-bar rows should liberally be added to your programming.
Get Bigger Arms
Another overlooked area is your arms and more specifically your triceps. The triceps provide much of the locking out power when it comes to your bench press; stronger triceps have direct carryover to the bench and big triceps always look good. Your programming should include lots of dips (if your shoulders can take it), heavy pushdowns, JM presses, skull crushers as well as the aforementioned close grip bench press.
Increase Your Flexibility
Finally, the last thing people tend forget about when it comes to increasing their bench press is how well they move. Beyond avoiding injury, increasing your flexibility and mobility can help increase how efficiently you move meaning you’ll become stronger because you’re moving better. Here are 3 simple stretches you can do just about anywhere:
pec stretch – tight pecs means you can’t keep your shoulders blades locked together effectively while benching which not only leads to painful shoulders down the road, but it also means a less stable platform to press off of as I talked about earlier. Loop a band around anything, put your hand through the band and allow it to gently pull your hand back towards the wall. You should feel this mostly in your chest and a bit in the front of your shoulder. If you are feeling this a lot in your shoulder, especially inside your shoulder, stop, back off and readjust; you’re just stretching the ligaments/tendons in the shoulder capsule and cranking too much into your shoulder will just cause more pain and issues. This should primarily stretch your chest so play around with your positioning until you feel it mostly there.
lat stretch – If you want to be strong, strong lats are important, but strong, tight lats can lead to shitty shoulder syndrome as well. Take that same band, turn around, wrap your hand in the band, hinge from your hips and allow the band to gently pull your hand towards the wall. You should feel this down your lat/down the side of your back.
hip flexors – seems rather silly to talk about stretching your lower body, but leg drive plays a very important role in getting a big bench. If your hips are locked down, your can’t get your feet in a good position and your legs won’t be able to generate any force to get the bar off of your chest. Place your foot up on a bench, kneel down and squeeze your abs and butt while leaning forward slightly. You should feel this mostly down the front of your thigh. You should not feel this in your hip as, similar to the pec stretch, if you go too far, you’re stretching the ligaments in the hip capsule and just causing more issues for yourself.
All of these combined will not only have you benching more, but you’ll look bigger, be overall stronger and move better too.