The bench press is undoubtedly the standard by which upper body strength is measured.
It’s a movement that’s as popular now as it was when Arnold Schwarzenegger was “pumping iron” at Gold’s Gym Venice in the 70s. And that’s because it’s a compound movement which allows you to lift the most weight possible to target the chest and all of the upper body “pushing” muscles.
Hence the reason why Mondays are notorious for occupied bench stations and Black Friday lines formed by eager young males waiting to get their turn (ok, maybe we’re exaggerating a little).
But in all seriousness, a bigger bench press is highly sought after and it can be very beneficial for your overall upper body development. You simply can’t get big pressing light weights (although you don’t have to be a powerlifter). So, we’ll help you maximize the movement so that you can continue to progress.
After all, the bench press is scientifically proven to be superior in its strength and muscle-building potential. (1)
Here are 11 ways to improve your bench press…
These first few methods are courtesy of leading strength and conditioning specialist Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS (Athlean X)
1. Pause Bench Press
The pause bench press is an excellent way to increase your strength. And the reason being is that you must get the weight moving without using momentum, so you naturally recruit more muscle fibers; which also requires a lot of leg drive.
Just think of it as if you have no choice to push that weight up or you’ll remain crushed under the barbell. Your survival instincts (they call it intimidation in the video) suddenly kick in and that’s where you pull additional strength from.
But your chest, shoulder, and triceps are also working to hold the weight in place which contributes to increased strength as well.
To execute the pause bench press hold the weight on your chest for at least 5 seconds and then push through your legs and press as you normally would move the weight up. It’s always recommended to have a spotter in case of anything!
2. Dumbbell floor press
The dumbbell floor press takes the bottom half of the movement out of the equation and helps to improve the lockout phase.
But… Jeff Cavaliere prefers dumbbells because they’re easier and you also get more adduction which promotes more activation of the chest muscles. And not to mention, the floor provides a stopping point for the elbows which is beneficial for preventing shoulder injury.
But the dumbbell floor press is awesome in that it forces you into a proper pressing position with the elbows as you’ll notice in the video. However, it’s definitely more challenging than if you were doing the barbell version.
How to execute the dumbbell floor press:
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you with a dumbbell on each side.
- Place a dumbbell on each thigh and keep your torso tight to prepare for when you lie flat on the ground.
- Lie flat on your back while bringing the dumbbells with you so that you’re in the bottom of the pressing position.
- Now, press the dumbbells and repeat the movement.
3. Static Incline Dumbbell Press
Alright, so this movement has a whole lot going on and it is NOT easy by any means. But as we all know, making lasting gains takes hard work and willpower.
The static incline dumbbell press challenges both isometric (static) and concentric strength. But, the execution of this exercise also requires eccentric control.
And these are very necessary components for being able to maintain optimal strength and balance when it comes to the barbell bench press.
How to execute the static incline dumbbell press:
Adjust the bench to a 45-degree angle and use moderate to relatively heavy dumbbells where you can effectively complete the movement.
- Get into a pressing position on the bench and do one full press.
- Then, drop the left dumbbell down halfway between a full a repetition and hold it there.
- Now, lower the right dumbbell halfway and continue to perform 5 repetitions.
- Then hold the right dumbbell in a halfway position and perform 5 reps with the left arm.
- Finally, perform 5 full repetitions with both arms at the same time.
Now, here are some very helpful tips from professional powerlifter and gym owner Mark Bell who has achieved an unbelievable 832lb bench press.
4. Mental Preparation
A good portion of the lifting process is mental. So, you want to develop a routine before you get into position. And once you have this habit down, you’ll just be able to hop on the bench and get right into the ideal position necessary for you to be able to lift effectively.
So, practice how you mentally and physically approach the process as this is unique to each individual.
5. Getting Into Proper Position Utilizing The Barbell
Mark Bell explained how it’s important to utilize the barbell to get yourself into an ideal position to perform the lift. So, when you unrack the bar, it’ll be much easier for you to be in a comfortable and effective position.
This will allow you to effectively arch your back and tuck your arms while retracting your shoulder blades down toward your butt and together so that you can keep everything tight. Now, you want to arch your upper back more than your lower to decrease the range of motion but it’s also ideal for stability and protecting the spine.
But lat engagement is also an essential component for a successful lift due to its role in stabilization. Keep your lats tight and use them to assist in the movement.
And sometimes it’s difficult to arch the back properly while lying on a bench. So, Mark Bell explained that you can stand behind someone as they get into position and simply press on their shoulders toward their butt to help form a good mid/upper back arch.
6. Don’t Overpress
Sometimes we forget to maintain proper body positioning during the execution of a movement. And pressing too high up can cause the chest to cave in and the shoulders to lift off of the bench. So, remember to lift the chest and draw the shoulders back down when pressing.
7. Practice… A lot!
To become good at anything, it’s very important to practice a lot. But you don’t want to practice wrong, so lighten up the weight if you have too and practice perfect form.
8. Try Weight lifting Shoes
A weightlifting shoe is beneficial in that it can prevent your heel from rising too high off of the ground. But, it can also prevent your feet from moving too far back which is not good for your back. But Mark Bell talked about warming up the lower body to open up the hips before doing a bench-pressing session because the movement is tough on the lower body.
9. Pull The Bar Toward You When Using A Spotter
Pulling the bar off of the rack will allow you to keep the lats engaged and chest up. So, rather than pushing the bar up toward the spotter, keep it close to your body and pull which will make it easier for the spotter as well.
You don’t want to lose your tight positioning which will allow you to move the most amount of weight possible.
10. Use Other Lifts To Improve Lockout Strength
As Mark Bell explained in the video, the top half of the movement is a struggle for many people. But practicing certain lifts which improve strength in this area is very beneficial.
Close-grip press training, incline barbell presses, overhead presses, tricep work, and even the slingshot contraption (Mark Bell’s invention) used in the video will help drastically improve lockout strength.
These methods will allow you to overload the muscles in the top part of the position through constant tension. But this also helps with the speed in which you perform the lift, especially with the slingshot.
11. Push Up and Back
Mark Bell says to press the barbell up and back more toward the rack rather than straight up and down. This will allow you to move naturally and keep the lats engaged throughout the movement.
We sure hope you learned a lot from the bench pressing tips and methods so that you can increase your own lifts.
You really cannot go wrong with this expert advice from a few of the best in the business and applying the information to your own training will benefit you greatly. And the great thing is that making these adjustments can quickly improve your bench press numbers.
But always make sure to practice proper form, use a spotter if possible, and never lift outside of what you’re capable of to ensure your safety while maximizing your training.