I’m not a great Bench Presser. Lets get that out of the way right now. I’m crap at Bench Press and i always have been, i much prefer back training. Deadlifts, pullups, and rows are miles more fun to me than lying underneath a bar – plus you don’t need a spotter, so it’s great to train back when you’re strapped for time or train early in the mornings.
But whether i like it or not, the Bench Press (or variations of it) is a staple in chest development, and a major competition lift in powerlifting. You just can’t ignore it, especially since some meat-heads in the gym seem to want to train it three days a week and have absolutely no back development whatsoever. Okay, that’s enough of the bitterness. You’re not here for that.
You’re here to get a bigger chest, and a stronger bench, and by Arnold’s pecs that’s what we’re going to do! Just five simple tips worked into your training however you want, that’s all it takes. You may get staring, you may get laughing, but you WILL get stronger.
I used these techniques pretty sparingly over a 3 month period and my Bench Press improved by about 10% – if you put the effort in, i expect more than this from you. Like i said, i hate Bench Press!
Bench Tip #1 – Dead Press
This is top of the list because most people have huge trouble either getting stuck at the bottom of a heavy rep, or aren’t able to bench through a full range of motion (each rep, no matter how heavy, should go all the way down). If either of these sounds like you, keep reading. You’ll need a power-rack with adjustable pins or safety bars for this, or something you can rig up to do the same job.
Lie down on a bench in the power-rack and do a few reps with just the bar, leave the pins out of it for a second but take note of where the bar is when you’re at the bottom of the rep. When you’ve judged this, put the pins in, set the bar down on them, and get underneath it. The bar should be as close to your chest as possible when on the pins, but not touching. Be careful, because it’s easy to puff out your chest during a rep and come above the level of the pins. The importance of this will become clear in a second.
When you’ve got the correct height, slap some weight on the bar, and start pressing – only you’ll start in the bottom position and press the bar off the pins. Take the rep through a full range of motion, then let the pins take all the weight at the end. That’s one rep. Now do a whole set like this. Yeah, i know it seems heavier, so drop the weight if you have to. Dead Press is a real test of your pure pressing strength because there’s absolutely no momentum, no elastic recoil, and no way to cheat out of a full range of motion. Change the height of the pins to change things up or focus on your own specific weak points.
Bench Tip #2 – Isometric Press
The Isometric Press is almost the exact opposite of Dead Press because it not only trains your lockout, but forces you to use a restricted range of motion. Yeah, yeah – Gaz is crazy and is contradicting himself again. Do you want to argue semantics or bench press a car? I thought so. Right. So the Isometric Press is pretty simple, and you’ll need the pins again, but you’ll also need a spotter for this one or another set of pins. Jesus, maybe i am crazy.
What i want you to do is set the pins at a height about 3-4″ lower than the height of the bar when you have completely locked it out. Yes, the pins will be above you and the bar. Set the second set of pins about level with your chest, and rack the bar on the supports as you would normally (obviously, a little lower than usual). It’s not a bad idea to have a spotter even with that second set of pins, and for this exercise you won’t be going too heavy anyway.
Now get onto the bench and un-rack the bar with help from your spotter. This may feel weird because you’ll be un-racking with bent arms, so be careful. Lower the bar through a full range of motion, then press it upwards INTO the bottom of the pins and push against them as hard as you can. Hold this isometric tension for 3-5 seconds then lower the bar again. That’s one rep. Yep, now do a whole set like this. Regular lock-outs will seem like a walk in the park after this. Like Dead Press, you can focus on your own weak points by setting the pins at different heights.
Bench Tip #3 – Heavy Holds
Heavy Holds are probably the simplest technique in this list. So far we’ve improved your strength in the bottom of the rep and improved your lockout, what Heavy Holds will do for you is get your bones, joints, and connective tissues like tendons and ligaments ready to handle those heavy poundages you’ll be building up to.
When you try and lift heavier than you’ve ever lifted before, no matter how physically or mentally prepared you are there’s always that element of the unknown. A lot of the time you’ve never even held that much weight before, let alone lifted it. Heavy holds not only get you physically used to holding heavy weights, but when you finally come to setting some records you’ll already know what it feels like to handle something that heavy.
A spotter is absolutely ESSENTIAL when performing these holds, i can’t emphasize that enough – if you do these without a spotter you’re a moron and deserve what you get. With that out of the way, even without a spotter these are pretty tough on the body so be sure to warm-up and don’t overshoot. Out of all these tips, use this one the least.
Heavy Holds are a simple idea – with the help of your spotter, lie on the bench and un-rack a weight that’s too heavy to press for even one rep and hold it in the locked-out position for 3-5 seconds, then put it back. No movement up or down, just hold it. Do quite a few sets, but only do that one hold per set. Start off with a weight well below your maximum, and gradually increase it up to and beyond your 1 Rep Maximum. It might take a few weeks or longer to be able hold seriously heavy weights, so take it easy.
Bench Tip #4 – Speed Bench
This one is huge. If you do nothing else in this article, please do some explosive power work! Training your body to contract large amounts muscle quickly and efficiently has a huge impact not only on strength, but size and conditioning too! The Westside template – one of the best and most effective powerlifting programs ever – is largely based on the incorporation of explosive power work (or ‘dynamic effort’) alongside strength training. Personally, i think it’s the best way to get stronger, bar none.
When doing Speed Bench, your goal isn’t to use any sort of a heavy weight (like most of these techniques, actually – this isn’t a coincidence), your goal is to move a light weight VERY fast. I’d say about 50-60% of your 1 Rep Maximum is the upper limit. Take as much rest as you need to recover, and really concentrate on exploding out of the bottom of the rep as if you were throwing the bar in the air (but don’t…what are you? nuts?). Sometimes when doing this, my torso comes off the bench because of the velocity of the bar. Do about 1-5 reps, but lots of sets – about 6-10 should do it.
It doesn’t sound tough, but if you get the power right you’ll get a whole different kind of fatigue going on!
Bench Tip #5 – Train Your Damned Back
Alright, we all knew this was gonna come up sooner or later, but that doesn’t make it any less true! Everybody worries they aren’t progressing with their exercises because they’re not doing enough, but usually those people are doing way too much. They’re over-training, and it’s holding them back!
This is truer for bench press than any other lift, and i have no idea what the fascination is to be honest. Half the people i see in the gym would see their strength and size skyrocket if they just backed off every once in a while! So that’s what this last tip is about – however you choose to include these exercises in your training program, make sure you do enough back work to balance it out, and for God’s sake take enough rest to actually start BUILDING yourself rather than HEALING yourself.
If you’re going to replace some chest/pressing exercises with the ones i’ve talked about – great! Just check that you have enough back training in there to begin with. If you’re going to do these exercises as well as your regular training, i would seriously evaluate whether you’ll end up doing too much, because keeping that press/pull balance applies to you too.
Work hard on these exercises, and go back to just regular Bench Press every once in a while to check your progress. If you need some advice on building your training program around these techniques, or aren’t sure on how to add them to your own routines, drop by the GetLifting discussion board, leave a comment, or even feel free to email me.
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