How to Bench Press to Impress!
The Bench Press is probably the most popular exercise in the gym, yet how many people bench badly or know the most important techniques during each rep?
In this article I will give you tips to increase your bench press now! No specialist equipment, no additional supplements and no secret recipes. These straight forward bench press tips will instantly help you to increase your bench press to a weight that can impress.
Gripping The Bar
The starting point to any bench press rep starts with your grip on the bar. If your grip is too wide you use more chest and expend energy pushing outwards, too narrow more triceps and expending energy pushing inwards. The perfect grip for you will be able to incorporate both muscle groups but slightly favoring where you are strongest and then all power goes into pressing straight up.
- Start with no weight on the bar.
- Lie on the bench and unrack the bar.
- Lower the bar to the bottom part of your chest about to the sternum.
- Adjust the position of your hands and bar until your forearms are as close to vertical as possible. You might need the help of a training partner with this.
- Remember this hand placement and bar position.
You have now found your optimal bench press position.
Bench Positioning and Body Locking
It’s finally time to add weight to the bar. Lay back on the bench, not too close or far away from the struts as this can either waste valuable energy when taking the weight off or hitting the struts when you press the weight up.
Plant your feet firmly on the floor with your knees bent to an angle of approximately 80 degrees. I prefer to keep my feet flat and heals on the floor due to the federation I lift in. There are some immense bench press athletes who arch up onto their tip toes, however, I have never felt stable in this position.
Grip the bar as determined previously and ‘lock’ your shoulders back into the bench. My technique for doing this is as follows:
- Press the bar back into the struts and raise your glutes and back off the bench.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and puff your chest out.
- Drive your shoulder blades back into the bench and ‘lock’ them into position.
- Now lower your bum back down onto the bench and squeeze your glutes.
You will now be tight through you whole body and will feel locked and secure on the bench.
Cardinal Sin– Do not put your feet on the bench as this will make you very unstable.
The Downward Phase
Take a large breath in. This has two effects:
- It blows the chest out more so there is less distance for the bar to travel.
- It locks the body to the bench even tighter.
Allow a spotter to remove the bar and guide it to a position above your lower chest (sternum) and take firm control. Begin to lower the bar as you did in the first section keeping your elbows locked tightly in against your sides and your hands trying to pull the bar apart. This technique brings more lateral strength into play.
Whilst lowering the bar imagine you are storing up the energy in your chest and when that bar touches your chest the energy will literally explode out driving the bar straight up.
Touch the weight to your chest.
Cardinal Sin– Bouncing the weight off your chest can cause injury and also takes away the tension that has been built up in your body.
The First Pressing Phase
As you change the direction of the bar and begin the press up, drive with the legs. This is probably the one technique that taken alone could easily add 20kg to your best lift. The leg drive is not straight up but more attempting to push yourself along the bench, however, you will not move due to the weight on the bar and the body locked position. This transfers the power drive from your legs into pressing the bar quickly upwards.
Practice this technique with an empty bar, you will probably slide up the bench, but it will give you some idea of the movement required.
The Second Pressing Phase
Drive the bar straight upwards as hard and as fast as you can. If you kept your elbows close to your body in the downward phase these will now be driving straight up, going from A to B in the shortest route using the greatest power. Exhale forcefully throughout the press as this will help you maintain torso stability.
Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor. As soon as your feet lift off the floor you break the locked position and your power base.
Drive the bar straight up as this is the shortest possible distance to lockout. Most trainers will maintain you should have a slight backwards arc as you press, moving from your lower rib cage to over your face at the end of the rep, however, this can add a couple of inches to the movement and this is a waste of energy. Also if you start to use a bench shirt it will automatically start pulling you backwards and this can throw you badly off line if you are already pushing backwards.
If you find that there is a specific part of the lift where you struggle try to drive through that part even quicker if possible. I will talk about sticking points in a future article.
The Final Phase
Keep driving the bar upwards as fast as you can and with as much power as you can until your elbows ‘lock out’ and your arms are straight. There are many specific lock out exercises but I will delve into these deeper in another article.
In 2005 I could bench press what I though was a very respectable 120kg and then I met my friend Dave ‘Bulldog’ Beattie and he changed my perspective of what I thought was a good bench press. Watching him bench press close to 300kg made me realize I had to improve. He taught me the above principles and in 2009 I finished second in the WPC World Powerlifing Championship and benched 285kg just six months after injuring my pectoral muscle in a raw competition. My best ‘raw’ bench press in competition is 225kg in 2008.