How to Increase Your Bench Press

How to Increase Your Bench Press

Have you been struggling to increase your bench press? Some athletes struggle for years to see a mere five-pound increase in their max! It’s one of the most infuriating things for any lifter to experience. However, I am here today to give you some advice on what it takes to elevate your bench press.

The bench press is the king of all upper-body lifts. It is a testament to someone’s true upper body strength and continues to dominate conversation amongst gym-goers everywhere. To improve your bench press, though, requires effort in a multitude of ways besides performing the bench press exercise...

In this article, we will highlight these 8 ways of increasing your bench press. We will talk about what the bench press is, what muscles it works, and why each tip is important in the grand scheme of bench pressing. Without this article, you could spend even more time under a pressing plateau.

Take a seat, put the wrist wraps away, cancel your evening plans, and dive straight into this article to become a bench-pressing machine!

What is the Bench Press

The bench press is a fundamental strength exercise that serves as a cornerstone for developing upper body strength, particularly in the world of powerlifting. This compound movement engages multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously, making it a highly effective exercise targeting various upper-body muscles. This exercise involves the coordinated effort of recruiting the chest, shoulders, and tricep muscles.

This pushing exercise exists in all types of strength training programs. Whether you’re a competitive powerlifter or an aspiring bodybuilder, anyone who advocates for strength training is going to experience this fundamental strength exercise within their program.

The bench press can serve a purpose in both hypertrophy and strength training programming. So whether you’re looking to build size or strength, the bench press is a top choice for those looking to improve their physical condition.

What Muscles Does the Bench Press Use?

The bench press is a compound exercise that recruits the following muscles:

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps

Chest

The chest (also known as the “pectoralis major”) is a large muscle that spans the chest. The pecs play a central role in the bench press, providing the primary force for horizontal adduction of the arms. During the lowering and ascending motion of the bench press, the pecs contract to facilitate this pressing motion and can be used for both strength and hypertrophy goals.

Shoulders

The shoulder consists of three muscle fibers - the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid. For the bench press, the anterior deltoid is the most recruited. The anterior deltoid is located at the front of the shoulder, supporting the bench press in both shoulder flexion and extension. Although not highly recruited, the lateral deltoid assists in stabilizing the shoulder joint throughout the movement.

Triceps

The triceps are placed at the back of the upper arm, with three heads (long, lateral, and medial) used for extending the elbow joint. The triceps are essential during the upward phase of the bench press. As the lifter pushes the barbell away from the chest, the triceps contract to straighten the arms, providing the necessary strength and power to lift.

Top 8 Ways to Increase Your Bench Press

Train Variations of the Bench Press

Many people who hit a plateau on the bench press have become too familiar with the bench press. Meaning, they need to start performing a challenging variation of the bench press which is a new stimulus that would increase muscular recruitment. Variations to the bench press that have helped my clients become better at bench press are:

  • Tempo Bench Press
  • Dead Bench
  • Isometric Bench Press

Tempo Bench Press

The tempo bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press exercise that incorporates a specific tempo, especially during the lowering phase. In this variation, individuals control the speed at which they lift and lower the barbell, usually with a deliberate and controlled pace. The tempo bench press is often used in strength training to enhance muscle engagement, control, and overall form.

Dead Bench

The dead bench is a lift that is performed to a dead stop on the safety pins, eliminating any assistance from the stretch reflex to make it harder to press. Unlike a standard bench press, there is no bouncing or momentum generated from the initial descent. This variation is often used to improve starting strength off the chest, enhance muscle control, and eliminate any reliance on elastic energy during the lifting phase.

Isometric Bench Press

The isometric bench press is when the lifter performs a bench press against the pins that are motionless to increase strength in a specific range of motion. This is a great variation of the bench press that isolates a specific phase of the bench press that a lifter could be struggling with. Lifters typically perform this movement for 5 sets of 6-8 seconds against pins to overload a specific range of motion.

Train Your Accessories

Picture of someone doing dips

Lifters need to focus on accessory exercises to pinpoint lacking muscle groups to increase their bench press. Training accessories means training movements that aren’t directly related to the bench press. Some of the top accessory exercises that I recommend for increasing your bench press are dips, chest flies, and tricep extensions.

When performing these accessories, they begin to recruit the top muscle groups of a bench press, which are the chest, shoulder, and tricep muscles. However, each of these accessories might require more or less of these pressing muscles, so they are great for pinpointing and isolating muscle groups you feel need to grow and get stronger.

An example of how to integrate an accessory in your bench pressing program would be using dips to help someone become stronger with their tricep and shoulder muscles. The dip does train the chest, but it might recruit more of the triceps and shoulders due to the elbows being aligned closely to the body and the lifter performs a pressing motion vertically instead of horizontally like you would on a flat bench. You should also alternate between using barbells, dumbbells, and cables as forms of resistance.

Strengthen Your Weak Points

To become a better bench presser, you need to pinpoint your weak points in performance and develop a plan to strengthen them. This means you need to understand where your bench press struggles and how to train them. The most common weak points of the bench press are:

  • Off the chest
  • Middle of the press
  • At the end of the press

Off the chest

If you struggle off your chest, you want to try to perform exercises like the pause bench press, dead bench press, and dips to improve your bottom press tremendously.

Middle of the press

If you struggle inches off your chest, you need to consider performing exercises like the board press, close grip press, and implementing accommodating resistance to your bench press like chains or bands to teach you how to accelerate through your press.

At the end of their press

If you have a tough time with your lockout, you want to consider tricep dominant variations of the bench press, plus the isometric bench press to increase your lockout power. Exercises that are tricep dominant could be JM press and tricep pushdowns.

Lift Heavy, Lift Fast

To become a better bench presser, you need to train at different intensities to accommodate the strength and speed of your bench press. There is a difference between being strong and being powerful. People love being strong, but being powerful implies you have explosive characteristics that help lifters start to accelerate with their bench pressing ability.

To become a more powerful bench presser, you need to train at different intensities and speeds throughout the week. People also love to implement leg drive on their bench press, which is a big topic of its own. Once you have understood the idea of lifting heavy and lifting fast, you can start to implement leg drive more effectively.

An example of how to approach your bench pressing intensity would be:

Exercise

Volume

Notes

Bench Press

2x6

Start at 80% of your one-rep max

Dead Bench

1x3

Building up to the heaviest weight possible

Pause Bench for Speed

6x2

Use 65% of your one-rep max and 60 second rest breaks

In this example above, you train the bench press at a high intensity in two of the exercises. For the third exercise, you drop the intensity form 80% to 65% and work with explosive intent. The more you can incorporate a heavy and fast style of training, the quicker you’ll push past that plateau of yours.

Skip the Static Stretching

Picture of someone doing a chest stretch

There are two primary types of stretching – static and dynamic. Static is when you elongate a muscle and hold it in that position for at least 30 seconds. Static stretching is great for post-workout, but should not be used before a workout. If you perform a static stretch before a workout, you are taking away the elasticity of the muscle and it becomes weaker and unable to perform higher levels of tension.

The best option for those who are planning to lift weights is to do dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is when the muscles are performing short-duration stretches. It's a warm-up that occurs “in motion” and doesn’t stretch the muscle for a long amount of time. An example of what a dynamic stretch routine would look like before bench pressing could be:

  • Chest hugs: 20 reps
  • Arm circles: 15 reps
  • Push Ups: 10 reps

Tuck In Your Elbows

To be a better bench presser, you need to make sure you recruit the shoulder joint and elbow joint effectively. One big way to do this is to tuck your elbows, squeeze your scaps, and load the triceps for a stronger bench press off the chest.

Many lifters will just bench press and not think about where their elbows, shoulders, and wrists are situated. To make sure and effectively recruit your pressing muscles precisely, it starts with tucking your elbows and keeping them underneath the bar. When your elbows do this, your forearms become vertical and are in an optimal position to press. In addition to this, tucking your elbows will reinforce your scaps being retracted and keep your back tight for a strong bench press. If you struggle with elbow health, supportive equipment like elbow sleeves can help you better adjust your mechanics for support and comfort using this tactic.

This tactic requires more focus and precision, so I would recommend implementing this cue when doing tempo-style training. The tempo slows down the movement, giving you a chance to think and adjust to feedback based on how each rep is performing.

Control the weight

One of the most effective ways to improve your bench press is to slow down and control the weight towards your chest. The idea is that with your muscles being elastic, they store energy within motion. In fact, during the lowering phase of the bench press, the chest starts to stretch and builds elastic potentiation the more it expands. This elastic energy can only be stored with a conscious effort to slow down your press. You cannot be chaotic with the bench and come down with complete disregard, or else this tactic is pointless to implement.

With controlling the weight towards your chest, you need to internalize that you are “building tension”, not just moving weight slowly. A bodybuilder uses a controlled form of tension to help exhaust the muscle. However, someone who is building maximum strength and power, they are not controlling the weight to tire their effort. They are controlling the weight to build tension. As long as you internalize your effort as “building tension” and not “building fatigue”, there is a big difference in how the muscle responds. Also, bodybuilders and those focused on hypertrophy are controlling lighter weight and wanting the weight to tire their effort. Someone who is getting stronger is trying to control heavier loads, which makes this kind of contraction react differently.

Train your back

Someone doing bent rows

To bench heavy, you need a stronger group of back muscles to help decelerate the amount of weight on the barbell. Are you a fan of Sir Isaac Newton? He built the three laws of motion. His third law states that every action has a reaction. With the bench press, you directly train the chest muscles. The back muscles are opposite to the chest muscles. If your back muscles aren’t as equally strong and conditioned as your chest, the back can’t support the growing amount of weight on the barbell you plan to bench press to be a stronger athlete.

If you think about it, a bench press looks like a barbell row, correct? So what kind of movements should you do to grow your bench press? A ton of rowing motions, especially with an overhand grip. If you can start to think about opposing exercises within an exercise, not only will your bench press grow, but all of your lifts should grow!

Sample Program to Increase Your Bench Press

Below is a sample program used to help those increase their bench pressing ability:

Exercise

Volume

Notes

Bench Press

2x6

Start at 80% of your one-rep max

Dead Bench

1x3

Building up to the heaviest weight possible

Pause Bench for Speed

6x2

Use 65% of your one-rep max and 60 second rest breaks

Eccentric Dips

2xAMRAP

Control the weight down each rep for 5 seconds

Incline Chest Flies

3x12

Use dumbbells or cables as resistance

Cable Face Pulls

3x20

Don’t go too heavy and focus on form

This program highly recruits the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles for bench press success. I would suggest performing this workout program for four weeks, and each week increasing the weight in small increments except for the speed bench press. Keep this weight the same each set and work on power and speed each rep.

Conclusion

There are many ways to increase your bench pressing ability. In this article, we outlined the top 8 ways to effectively increase your bench press, followed by a sample program to follow. Each of these tactics is not a mere suggestion, as they have been reinforced in scientific research and my training as well. I have had many successes with athletes and their bench press. It’s the king of all upper-body lifts! Because of this, it is also one of the most frustrating lifts to conquer.

However, with the guidance of this article and the top tips for bench pressing success, you should be hitting big PRs in the gym in no time!

Sources

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7129720/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279349/#:~:text=As%20well%20as%20producing%20active,highly%20ordered%20structure%20of%20muscle.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11708701/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504579/