Oh, do I have your attention now? Sorry to disappoint, but I do not have another great supplement or magic pill that will help you to increase your strength right away. Instead, I want to focus on the 30-40% of output all of us are wasting because we are simply not activating all fibers when training.
Before we get to the play by play on how to recruit more fibers per bench press set, let's make sure we are ready to train. Here is a quick checklist before picking up any weight.
- Do you have the workout planned out? Doing "chest", brah, will not cut it.
- Are you properly hydrated and nourished? If you did not eat anything for the last 3-4 hours, stop the presses and consume 30-40 carbs and 20 grams of protein before starting.
- Did you turn off your cell phone? Facebook selfies are only to be taken post-workout. The pump is better anyway.
- Did you check your range of motion?
Ok then. Let's get to the more technical part of it.
Core stability and bench press strength
Benching involves more muscles than just the chest, tris and delts. It also involves the core. Stay with me, I will not ask you to get on the pink ball (yet).
The core is crucial for a big bench. Why? Proximal stability promotes distal mobility.
What does this mean? Proper core stability allows for safe and more efficient movement. Because of this more weight can be moved.
The core, which is the area between the diaphragm and pelvic floor, is comprised of 29 pairs of muscles. These muscles support functional movement of the body by stabilizing the pelvis and spine.
With these stabilizing groups of muscles working hard, the result is maximum production of force (strength). So are all of these muscles working hard in your body, or are some of them slacking?
If you are caught in a strength plateau, then you may want to evaluate your movement and look for any compensatory patterns that may have developed. Make sure the core is firing properly and that any under-activated involved muscles are signaled to get to work. I do this regularly with my clients using movements I refer to as activation exercises. These exercises train neuromuscular control and/or strengthen underactive muscles.
It is common for muscles found in the shoulder girdle and glutes to remain underactive. So, for example, if you are unable to retract and depress (or "pack") your shoulder blades, this energy leak may be significant enough to weaken your bench press. Your front delts may be picking up the slack and stabilizing the weight. When this occurs, the shoulders will round forward, which can cause:
a) Shoulder tendonitis
b) A wimpy bench
6 exercises to help improve your bench press
To combat this compensated movement, we will need to practice a couple techniques that help to activate the muscles responsible for this: your lower trapezius, rhomboid, and serratus muscles. Here are a few simple exercises to try before your next bench press session.
1. No money
This helps you practice scapular retraction. Stand upright and brace your elbows to the sides. They should be bent to 90 degrees with palms facing the ceiling. From this position you slide your shoulder blades toward each other. As a result your arms will follow. Return to the starting position and do this for repetitions.
2. Wall slides
This exercise helps with scapular retraction and depression, targeting the typically weak muscles of the mid to lower trapezius and rhomboids. Stand with your chest against the wall. Place your arms on the wall in a W shape with the pinky finger side of your hand on the wall. Now, while pulling your shoulder blades down, slide your forearms up along the wall into a Y shape. Be sure to keep your abs braced and don't arch your back.
Lie prone on a bench or stretch table. Raise your arms directly out to the sides (imagine your body in the shape of a T) while depressing your shoulder blades. Point your thumbs to the ceiling by externally rotating your arms as you raise them.
4. Scap pull downs or reverse shrugs
An exercise focused on scapular depression. While on a lat pull down station and using the wide bar, take a grip that is wider than shoulder width and pull downward with the shoulder blades. Relax and allow the blades to be pulled upward by the weight, and return the blades down in repetition.
5. Low cable row
With your shoulder blades pulled down and back (packed), row a moderately heavy weight using a D-handle attachment. Hold peak contraction for 1 second on each rep.
6. Pullovers with the barbell
Focus on bringing the barbell across the body. Retract the shoulder blades and contract the lats. This is the feeling you should have when starting the bench press. You lats act like springs when pressing, so make sure to activate them.
Keep these exercises in mind on your next bench press set. Drive your shoulder blades down into the bench as you press the weight away from you.