Build A Bigger Bench Press: 20 Tips To Improve Your Bench Press Strength

Refine your bench press technique, improve your chest workouts, train your upper body for maximum performance, and eat so you can press some real BIG numbers.

Bench press tipsHow much ya bench? If you’re like most of us the answer to that question is “not enough.”

The bench press can be a frustrating exercise. A small percentage of lifters are naturally able to press a ton of weight, while the rest of us struggle to hit 225 pounds for reps. Is there anything you can do to improve your bench press numbers? Absolutely.

Read on. The following 20 tips are guaranteed to help. They certainly helped me. My bench press started at a paltry 95 pounds for reps and peaked at nearly 430 pounds years later.

Tip #1 – Row The Bar

Row the bar? Yes, row the bar. Row the bar towards your chest. We all know that keeping a tight back is an essential aspect of good form. To help achieve a tight back, concentrate on rowing the bar towards your chest as if you were performing a barbell row or lat pull down.

Tip #2 – Plant Your Feet

One of the hidden keys to a bigger bench press is leg drive. Stop shuffling your feet, and learn to plant them firmly in a position of leverage and power. Start each bench press rep by driving fromthe floor. If you focus on turning the bench press into a full body exercise, your pressing numbers will improve.

Tip #3 – Be Patient

Stop expecting to add 20 pounds to your bench press each month. This isn’t going to happen. Instead, focus on small steps like trying to knock out an extra rep per set. Over time these small steps add up to big gains. You’re better off pushing for consistent improvement rather than putting an extra 50 pounds on the bar and trying to grind out forced reps.

Tip #4 – Get Racked!

No spotter? Bench press in a squat rack. Adjust the pins to a safe depth that can catch the bar a hair below chest level if you fail on a rep. And if you have no squat rack and are without a spotter, avoid the Smith machine at all costs. You’re better off doing dumbbell bench presses.

Tip #5 – Beef Up Your Back

When training for a big bench press you also want to build up your back strength. A powerful back assists your pressing drive, and will also help prevent injuries. When you only train “push” movements and ignore “pull” movements, you create muscular imbalances. The back is your bench press table. Beef it up with heavy rows.

Tip #6 – Squeeze The Bar

After finding your proper grip width, squeeze the bar and pretend you are trying to bend the ends of the bar inward towards your feet. This will help you keep your elbows in a better position, improve your eccentrics, and assist with keeping your upper body tight and strong.

Bench press tips

Tip #7 – Don’t Forget The CNS

The CNS, or central nervous system, plays an integral role in moving heavy iron. If your CNS is not properly warmed up, the weight will feel overly “heavy”. There is a way to help make a weight feel lighter. Instead of adding a lot of weight to the bar for each warm up set, jump by smaller increments - say 30 pounds - and perform only a few reps per warm up set. This will help prime, or prepare your central nervous system for your heavier sets.

Tip #8 – Take Your Time

Take your time in between heavy sets. It may be necessary to rest as long as 3-5 minutes between each intense effort. When training heavy, give your body a chance to recover before having at it again. Remember, you are training for strength and not for speed or endurance.

Tip #9 – Eat!

If you want to get strong, stop undereating and worrying about your abs. Add some food to the plate. No one is asking for you to get fat, but you do need to eat enough daily calories and protein so that you can properly build strength (and muscle).

Tip #10 – Train Your Triceps

The bench press is not just a chest movement. To be a strong presser you also need to have powerful triceps. When working the triceps directly make sure you use quality compound exercises such as close grip bench presses and board presses. Even exercises such as dips will help build tricep strength, and are a much better choice than tricep extensions or dumbbell kickbacks.

Bench press tipsTip #11 – Don’t Max Out

You don’t need to max out each and every session. In fact, you really don’t need to max out at all. Pick a rep range you enjoy, generally between 5-12 reps per set, and focus on doing more reps per set each workout. This will build strength. Once you have built a substantial amount of strength it may be beneficial to use lower reps, but until that point, stop maxing out!

Tip #12 – Bench First

Sounds like an obvious tip, but it needs to be stated. If you want a beefy bench press, make sure it’s the first lift you perform that training day. Devote all your energy and strength into the bench press, and then move on to other exercises.

Tip #13 – Eyeball The Ceiling

After unracking the bar, keep your eyes on the ceiling. When completing each rep try to press the bar back to the same spot on the ceiling each time.

Tip #14 – Stop Flaring Your Arms

This is by far and away the biggest bench press mistake. Stop flaring your arms! This is horrible on the shoulders, bad form and not good for strength. It is far better to have your elbows at approximately 45 degrees from your torso. This is a good starting point, and minor form adjustments can be made from here.

Tip #15 – Focus On Form

If you want to get strong, stop trying to “feel” your chest working when pressing. Train the lift, not the muscles. When you focus on chest, and only chest, you are taking your attention away from proper form. And when you stop thinking about form, you open yourself up to decreases in strength and the possibility of injury. No one ever masters form. You must be giving form your constant attention. Forget about the “mind muscle“ connection and train the bench press as a lift.

Tip #16 – Explode!

Power involves speed, and speed requires an explosive force. Stop trying to baby or power each rep up. Instead, focus on pressing the bar in an explosive manner. This will not only help complete an extra rep or two, but will also help build strength in the long run.

Tip #17 – Practice Proper Alignment

When the bar is at chest level, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor. Also, make sure your wrists are directly over your elbows, and that your knuckles are pointing towards the ceiling. This is proper bench press alignment.

Tip #18 – Work Your Sticking Points

Where are you the weakest? Is it off the chest, or do you have a hard time locking out each rep? Learn to train your weaknesses. If you are weak off the chest, try using pause-reps. If you have a weak lockout, incorporate some board presses or pin presses.

Tip #19 - Gain Some Perspective

Youtube is full of videos featuring powerlifters benching 800 to 1000 pounds. These guys are using bench press shirts that add hundreds of pounds to their lifts and are competing in non-drug tested meets. For a natural trainee a 300 pound raw bench press is a great accomplishment. A 400 pound raw bench press is rare, despite all the bro-speak and posturing on forums.

Tip #20 – Work The Rear Delts And Traps

Don’t forget the rear delts and traps. Small and weak upper body muscle groups can limit your pressing power. If you want to bench big, build stronger rear delts and traps.

About The Author
Muscle & Strength's Content Team is a group of fitness industry experts dedicated to publishing the highest quality articles, workouts and guides on the M&S Website.

91 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 09/21/2011 - 16:31

Nice article! Tip 19 is a hard one to swallow, but a good one.

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Posted Thu, 04/26/2012 - 11:38

hey guys im 17 and if theres one thing ive learned within the past15 months. its that you cannot believe everything you read, even though some of it may be true. its a mental barrier your creating whenever you read something like tip 19. in february i put up 295 at 16 years old. and everything ive leard haws been from the internet. hardly from trainers since i dont know any good ones. dont limit yourself. If you look at people like (i know this is somewhat off topic but...) martin Luther King Jr., he chose not to accept everything people were telling him. he went ahead and fought for wat he thought was right. now if you want a 500lbs bench press your not going to keep that tip 19 in your head, your going to invision yourself with ronnie colemans body pushing yourself to the limit!!! not oh.. i guess its not realistic to want to bench 500lbs... YOU GOTTA WANT IT MAN!!! LOL

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Posted Mon, 12/10/2012 - 11:00

man you are totally right im 17 also and i just reached the 400 pound bench mark and you got to want it to get not following tips you get off the internet do it don't read about it.

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Posted Tue, 04/23/2013 - 12:07

i do more then 300 pounds.and im training for 11 months.

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Posted Wed, 09/21/2011 - 17:20
Gavin MacFarlane

Excellent article, ust wish someone had warned me about the dangers of 14! I ripped my shoulders "flaring" my arms! good info for all! Not flaring arms has to be my favourite tip!

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Posted Wed, 09/21/2011 - 17:24

NUMBER 9!! easiest way to break through plateau

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Posted Thu, 09/22/2011 - 12:12

Always great stuff Steve.

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 09/22/2011 - 12:15


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Posted Thu, 09/22/2011 - 23:33

I dont get when it says not to flare elbows and how should your wrists be ?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 09/23/2011 - 14:22

Hi Christopher,

Arms flared at 90 degrees are bad for the shoulders. Your elbows should be "about" 45 degrees out from your side. Wrists should be perpendicular to your elbows.

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Posted Mon, 09/26/2011 - 21:46

thanks mate appreciate my writs always seem to hurt first on most my chest ones

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Posted Thu, 09/29/2011 - 14:11

Your truly a great man! I very much appreciate your articles as yours always seem to assist me the most. I can't thank you enough


Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 09/29/2011 - 14:28

Thanks and best of luck.

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Posted Thu, 09/29/2011 - 18:05

When benching i know you said to keep your elbows at 45 degrees, now are you supposed to touch the bar to your chest?

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 09/29/2011 - 19:40

You don't try to touch the bar to your chest. You let it touch where it will naturally touch, generally lower pec upper abs.

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Posted Mon, 09/02/2013 - 12:35
Thomas Van Dyk

Hey Steve, great article! I have a question for you though. I hurt my AC joint in my shoulder a few years ago and it still gives me problems with bench pressing. Any pointers on how I can strengthen that while increasing my bench. Also, do you have any good inner chest workouts?

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Posted Fri, 09/30/2011 - 01:27

Please suggest me some excercise to reduce fat of my chest.
Height-5' 8''
weight-70 kg

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 09/30/2011 - 09:28

Hi Gourab,

Exercise won't reduce fat from your chest, only a good diet will.

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Posted Fri, 11/30/2012 - 15:41
charlie simpson

incline bench light weight more reps try doing 4 sets of 20 or 25 with about a 95 lbs really helps

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Posted Wed, 10/05/2011 - 20:51
Walter Last

Thank you Steve I enjoyed reading your article on the bench press.

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Posted Wed, 10/05/2011 - 21:42

Why avoid Smith machine at all costs?

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 10/06/2011 - 00:04

Smith machines are designed to make a lift easier. They also take the natural movement and lifting curve out of the lift, forcing the body to adapt to the movement. As they weight gets heavier and heavier, it's simply not a quality option because of these reasons.

If you want the best results stick to barbell and dumbbell movements.

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Posted Tue, 04/23/2013 - 12:13

but the advantage of the smith is that you dont have to stabilize the bar with your shoulders.

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Posted Wed, 10/05/2011 - 21:52

Exercising your chest most certainly will reduce fat from your body, not a certain part or your body but training muscle absolutely burns fat. The combination of weight training and cardio, with the implementation of a "clean" diet will have you on your way to the body you are working towards.

Steven's picture
Posted Thu, 10/06/2011 - 00:02

The fat loss from a few sets of chest each weak is negligible. Studies have revealed over and over again that exercise by itself does very little for fat loss.

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Posted Sun, 10/09/2011 - 20:52

From #19 what is a "raw bench"? I can hit 335, I don't use a bench shirt, just a belt and gloves with wrist strap.

Steven's picture
Posted Sun, 10/09/2011 - 23:33

A bench without a shirt.

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Posted Sun, 10/13/2013 - 19:00
Summer S

A raw bench is when you don't use a shirt! :)

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Posted Sat, 10/29/2011 - 01:40

Got any tip's for an older guy that hasn't done workout's on a regular time frame?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 10/31/2011 - 11:03

What are your goals?

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Posted Mon, 10/31/2011 - 15:52

To loose 40 lbs more and build uper body area. And also leg strength. I guess a compleat make over at 62.

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 11/01/2011 - 12:31

You want to focus on two things to maximize results:

1) Pushing yourself in the gym. Using good form, always push yourself on every set. When you can perform the recommended number of reps for a set, add weight.

2) Eating to maximize muscle retention while cutting fat. Here are two articles that can help:

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Posted Tue, 11/01/2011 - 17:03

steve have been reading your articles for a year now and apreciate them a lot. having a problem with dumbell presses when i have a spot to help me get the weight up i'm fine but when i dont have problems getting it up should i not be lifting that heavy?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 11/04/2011 - 14:29

You always want to be pushing yourself. Moving to a lighter weight will only encourage the body to weaken and possibly lose both muscle and strength. Try placing the dumbbells on your knees and rocking back with your knees up.

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Posted Wed, 11/02/2011 - 08:58

Thank's Steve for your help. Keep u posted.

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Posted Fri, 11/04/2011 - 19:12

Hey Steve.You have any tips for someone who trying to get big.I'm only 150lbs and i basically been that same weight for a long time now and have a hard time making it pass that weight.What suggestions do u have.

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Posted Sun, 11/06/2011 - 08:26

thank's steve for your reply. but i can get the weight to the start point but can't get the weight up without a spot to get me going thanks

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Posted Wed, 03/21/2012 - 21:11

hi im in 8th grade benching 125 weighing 118, how do i get to a plate

Steven's picture
Posted Tue, 03/27/2012 - 14:57

Time and dedication! Keep trying, it will happen.

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Posted Tue, 04/03/2012 - 23:33

Hi Steve. I've been educating myself and hitting the gym for 2 months. Just read ur articles an they really pinpointed some of my questions. Thanks so much. I work a swing shift. My schedule is days and nights at 12hrs a shift. I'll work 4days w 7 days off. Then come back w 4 nights w 3 days off. Back to 3 days w 1 day off. Then 3 nights w 3 days off. Then back to the 4 days. Basically I only 14 12 hr shifts in a month, but it can't be good for the body. What do you recommend for a lifting schedule to add mass?

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Posted Fri, 04/13/2012 - 04:31

Hi, steve. m reading yo articles time to time. your articles are valuable and i hv noticable increase in my knowledge. thanx for posting the valuable info. its very helpful to guyz like me who r training without any coaches or instructers in small towns. steve pls suggest me sm effective exersices for big traps and beefy back. both muscles r weak of mine.

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Posted Thu, 04/26/2012 - 11:39

Other than what i just said, the article was extremely helpful thank you very much

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Posted Fri, 04/27/2012 - 13:36

Hello Steve, I have horrible wrist. I push 195, I'm 15. I feel like my wrist are holding me back,what should I do?

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 04/30/2012 - 14:16

Are you saying you have wrist weakness or pain?

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Posted Tue, 05/01/2012 - 04:35

Ah i wanted to say i bench 405 not taking nothing but fish oil and people taking all kinds of things cant even get to that what is that called? And was woudering Steve what do you bench at?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 05/04/2012 - 14:21

My best bench was 430 raw.

I compete in powerlifting and am currently ranked #6 in the US for my class. I also squat 602 raw and deadlift close to 700.

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Posted Fri, 05/11/2012 - 13:11


which is a better grip, the "hook grip" or the other one (I don't know how to call it)?


Steven's picture
Posted Wed, 05/23/2012 - 14:31

Never use a thumbless grip.

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Posted Sat, 10/06/2012 - 21:31

Ok... I passed on commenting on some of your "off" comments or tips...such as smith machine.... It WAS NOT designed to make a lift was designed to be safe...and in many machines is ACTUALLY HARDER....... the NEVER GO LIGHT tip is also off...speed work is very important....l but the never use thumbless is totally off. Thumbless allows you go keep your elbows in better, thus firing your triceps first...which is foremost ...even according to your own advise (elbows at 45). Also puts much less stress on wrist by not having slight twist in wrist... Good overall article...but you need to let some of your PERSONAL OPINION not come off as "sure fire perfect advise". IN MY OPINION. Safe lifting everyone!