The bench press is the single most recognized standard of strength at the gym. Everyone wants to know, “How much do you bench?”
If you’re eager to increase your standing in the weight room, you want to bench more. These 6 tips will take you beyond your plateau to the kind of brawn you’re eager to boast about.
1. Thoroughly Warm Up Key Areas of the Body
Before you get started, make sure your body is prepared with a thorough warm up. Key areas to focus on include:
- The chest—Stretching the chest prevents injury and increases your range of motion. This is the most important area you can stretch before beginning your workout. Try holding one arm outstretched to your side. Then, grab an immovable object in your hand and turn your shoulder away slowly until you feel the stretch in your chest. Hold this position for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.
- The shoulders—Stretch your shoulders by grabbing your left elbow and slowly pulling your left arm across your chest. Repeat with the right shoulder after holding for 30 seconds.
- The triceps—Triceps are the muscles along the back of your upper arm. Stretch them by raising your left arm above your head and bending at the elbow. Then grab your elbow with your right hand and pull your upper arm behind your head. Again, hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
These are the areas that will be under the most stress during your workout, but it doesn’t hurt to warm up other areas of your body as well. And remember, warm up your cold muscles before stretching. Stretching cold muscles won’t do much good and could actually cause injury.
2. Use Proper Form
The way you lift can actually play a big role in how much you lift. Proper technique helps you build strength over time and ensures your safety.
As you lift, remember to keep your shoulders back with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your chest up and your chin back as you bring the bar down to your chest, parallel with your nipples.
Center the bar on your palms and make sure you don’t cock your wrists. Squeeze the bar hard so it doesn’t move. When you push upward, do so directly. You can also try breaking the bar apart like you would break spaghetti; this will work your triceps.
Remember to keep your elbows tucked as you’re pushing the bar. This makes it easier to improve your lats.
3. Use the 5×5 Method
The method you use during each training session matters, too. A 5×5 method is generally most effective, which means 5 sets of 5 reps.
The 5×5 method recommends working each body part at least twice a week, which means compound exercises should dominate. Isolation exercises are important too, and should be included to fill any gaps—i.e. muscles you don’t feel are fully worked with compound exercises.
Once you complete a 5×5 comfortably with your maximum weight, you’re ready to move on. If you hit a plateau, you can work that weight with a 3×3 set.
This takes some planning in advance, but it will be greatly to your advantage once you see the benefits roll in.
4. Add Weight Progressively
The quickest way to achieve a greater bench press is by progressively adding to your load each week. This way, every training session you participate in stresses your muscles and helps you grow in size and strength.
When you get to the gym, start your first set with significantly less poundage than your one rep maximum weight. Generally, a load up to 35% lighter delivers the best results. This weight should feel reasonable for 5 sets of 5 reps. During your session, you can slowly work up to your max.
Keep in mind that you should aim to increase your load by 5 total pounds every week until you hit a plateau. Once you get to a weight you can’t finish with the 5×5 method, stay on that weight until you accomplish the 5×5 without too much strain.
5. Always Use a Spotter
While you’re working out, it’s a good idea to have a spotter around. Not only does a spotter increase your safety quotient if you get stuck in a tight spot, he or she can help you finish sets. If you don’t have that option, you can try a power rack. Power racks have safety pins to catch the bar if you get stuck under it.
Another option is to do the so-called “Roll of Shame.” Simply put, you just roll the bar to your legs and then deadlift it.
Above all, stay away from heavy loads if you’re lifting alone. Stop your set short if you’re not sure you can do another rep, and wait until you can bring a spotter with you to tackle that new weight.
6. Strengthen Auxiliary Muscles
While you’re probably primarily focused on your chest and visible arm muscles, auxiliary muscles need attention, too.
Make sure to work out your triceps, front delts, and even your lats for a more well-rounded bench press. All these secondary muscles can hinder your progress if they’re not strengthened, creating “weak links” in the chain. This may mean sacrificing some time you’d wish to devote to your bench press, but it will be time well spent.
Don’t Give Up!
Hitting walls comes all too often in strength training and it’s easy to get discouraged. However, sticking to these 6 tips and paying attention to safety will help you realize your potential.
Even if you’re stuck on 3×3 reps for a while, know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Just pay attention to the signals from your body and don’t overexert yourself. You’ll be benching even more in no time.