Here’s a shocker: I was always a fan of the bench press. I know, I know, not a big surprise since every male from 15 years old on up loves the bench press.
Like any Arnold-idolizing lifter, I wanted a huge bench press from the moment I started lifting and my story isn’t that much different from millions of others. For me, I wanted to bench press 300 pounds before I graduated high school, which was a pretty good feat considering I weighed just 165 pounds.
Well, I bench 300 on a straight press, getting 250 with a competition pause during a meet.
Like countless others, I always loved to bench press. It’s the ultimate ego lift for pretty much any lifter, but in theory, I was bound to get better at benching considering the vast amount of time I spent doing it.
I certainly made improvements, but I eventually stalled out. Still enamored with the lift, I took to studying different methods to get my bench improving again. I studied more powerlifting-specific ideas and I came across bench press training from the legendary Louie Simmons and the famous Westside Barbell.
I became engrossed with benching with boards, tucking your elbows and band pushdowns, a trio of great keys for improving a bench press. Benching with boards and band pushdowns improved my bench a great deal, and tucking my elbows was a massive technique improvement that helped my bench shoot up.
If you’re as pumped about improving your bench press as I continue to be these are two exercises and one form improvement that can make a world of difference. I will go over each one and, if followed, your bench could be headed in the right direction.
Tucking Your Elbows
What I realized quickly is that most people bench with their elbows way out, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the shoulders. In fact, they were out so much and so high, it’s a wonder one of them just doesn’t blow right off.
It’s also a surefire way to develop bicep tendonitis (a.k.a. benchers shoulders), which is something that happened to me along the way. My bicep tendon was overused, my rear delts were weak and weren’t even being activated during my benching, and anyone who is this way starts to develop that rounded, no-trap look. It’s not an ideal thing and it certainly doesn’t lead to a big bench.
By tucking your elbows, you essentially make the bench into more of a close-grip power movement. It requires more tricep involvement, less rotator cuff (and less stress on your biceps) and you activate your lats significantly more to stabilize the weight.
Your risk for injury is much less and, once you practice and get the technique down, your speed off the chest is increased significantly.
It’s not uncommon for people in normal gym to raise an eyebrow when they see a guy doing board benches. Maybe they think that guy is cheating or not going all the way down, so what’s the point.
Well, what that guy is doing is training his nervous system to handle some heavy-ass iron. If you know what that feels like then it becomes easier to handle and your body won’t be in shock once you start handling some heavy weight.
The exercise is used with 1, 2, 3 or 4 two-by-fours stacked on top of each other, and it almost looks like a grade-school paddle. It could also give you flashbacks to the famous paddle scene in “Dazed and Confused.”
Regardless, it’s a valuable tool and using them allows you to overload different areas of your bench. At my best, I was able to bench 550 in a shirt to a 3-board (video below), and I also did 455 raw to a 3-board, which really overloaded my triceps and allowed me to move some serious weight.
If you don’t have boards, simply find something else like a phone book or some random pads lying around in the gym.
Personally, I think the 2-board and 3-board are the most effective, allowing you to get stronger in some weird and difficult areas of the movement. Go outside the norm, use this proven lift and watch your bench reach new levels.
I found out all I needed to know and how important band press downs were in one article. According to what I read, Louie Simmons fixed a lifter’s bench one time simply by telling him to do 3 sets of 30 reps of band press downs every day.
This particular lifter had a strong chest, but his triceps were his weak point and he struggled to lock out heavy weight. Well, you’re only as good as your weakest link and this guy was failing at the end of the bench because of his triceps.
The band press downs were the perfect fix and they can certainly be a valuable tool for your bench as well. The band tension gives you an incredible burn and puts a serious amount of blood in your triceps, allowing you to really build up your triceps and improve your lockout.
These have become a staple in my training for the last few years and it’s really paid dividends as far as muscle growth and performance.
Go Build A Big Bench Press
Hopefully these introductions or reminders get your bench moving in the right direction again. Put these to good use, good luck and get to benching!