Let’s do an experiment. I'm sure you’ll figure out how it ends.
Take a buddy to the gym today. But don’t say a word about the workout. Let him slip on his workout gear, tighten his lifting belt, and grab his water bottle. As he enters the gym, what piece of equipment will he be looking for?
The bench press, of course!
Every freak that’s ever touched a weight wants a beastly bench press. There is just something so behemoth about being able to toss heavy loads off your chest. And to have two steak-sized slabs of beef hanging on our chest – well that would be priceless. Nothing screams leave my girlfriend alone like massive pecs.
"Train heavy and hard. Work every aspect of the lift. Off the chest, lockout etc. Keep plugging away, but at the same time, don't be scarred to change things if they stop working." - Brian Carroll
8 Bench Press Tips
Tip 1 – Titanic Triceps
Whoa, Nelly! The first thing you need to do if you want a big bench press is to train the triceps. I’m not talking about performing 12-20 sets of isolation or shaping exercises either.
To strengthen your triceps, you must use pressing movements that involve heavy weight. Exercises like the JM press, close grip bench press and incline bench press. You also want to add in heavy overhead dumbbell and barbell extensions.
And remember this... the bench press is about triceps strength, not pec strength. Focus on the triceps, first and foremost.
Tip 2 – Plane Back Training
Notice, I said plane... not plain. When working your lats, train them primarily along the same plane that you train the bench press. This removes pull-ups and pulldowns from the equation.
Stick with exercises that “pull” the weight towards your chest, like dumbbell rows, Yates rows and (especially!) barbell rows. Barbell rows should be your staple. You can also use low pulley rows, and t-bar rows.
Plane training adds balance and strength to your bench press.
Tip 3 – Shoulder Blades
This is an often neglected aspect of bench pressing. You need to pull your shoulder blades together, and keep them clenched tightly together during a bench press.
Keeping your shoulder blades tight creates greater pressing stability, and shortens the distance that the bar has to travel. Both of these factors aid in pressing more weight.
Tip 4 - Bend the Bar
You need a tight grip on the bar. With a tight grip, un-rack the weight. From this position, visualize yourself bending the ends of the bar together along the horizontal plane. This technique serves two purposes.
First, by bending the bar, you will be focused on keeping a tight grip during the full range of the movement. Secondly, the visualization of bending the bar will assist you with keeping your elbows in tighter towards your torso.
Pressing with your elbows flared out at a 90 degree angle is a sure-fire way to lower your bench press total, and a good way to strain the shoulders.
Tip 5 - Leg Drive
The bench press starts with leg drive. The first movement of any good bench press effort is an explosive push with the legs. This leg drive will assist you in putting your weight properly on your upper back and traps, and will help propel more weight up.
On the other hand, if you lay completely flat on the bench, and use no leg drive at all, you are short-changing your performance. It takes practice to master leg drive. Take your time, and use lighter weight at first to get the feel for this technique.
Tip 6 – Proper Breathing
This might seem like a trivial tip, but it’s not. Listen up! You need to learn how to breathe into your stomach when you bench. Do not, under any circumstances, breathe deeply into your lungs. If you’re a chest-breather – someone whose chest rises and falls as they take deep breaths – you will be creating lift instability.
Suck the air into your belly, and hold it during the pressing movement. Try not to breathe in and out during the lift. This is a mistake, and might weaken your press attempt.
Tip 7 – Upper Back and Traps
Not much to this tip. When you set up for a press, grab the bar, clench your shoulder blades tightly together, lift yourself slightly upwards, and lower your body so your weight is resting on your upper back and traps. Got all that?
It will take practice to master this slight benching nuance, but it’s worth it. Placing your weight on the small of your back will reduce the effects of leg drive, as well as lengthening your total pressing line. Keep your weight on your upper back and traps.
Tip 8 – Strong Shoulders
Developing strong shoulders can really propel a bench press to the next level. The shoulders are an often neglected muscle. It is quite common for bodybuilders to use laterals as the staple of their shoulder workout routines.
This won’t cut it if you want a big bench press!
It was only when I began pushing serious weight with overhead dumbbell and barbell presses, that my bench press hit 400. And don’t rule out the importance of incline dumbbell and barbell presses either.
Hit the Gym!
Don’t go slapping heavy weight on the bar while trying to learn these techniques…that’s a good way to injure yourself. Practice these tips and techniques with light weight and good form. Slowly integrate them into your bench press. Soon, they will become second nature.