One of the questions that I hear most often from people is “how can I increase my bench press?” To be honest, the easiest way to add more pounds to your bench press one rep max is simply by performing the bench press more often. There are supporting exercises that help increase your bench press, but more bench press repetitions means more comfort with the exercise, better form and a higher weight. With that being said, we can talk about some exercises that will allow you to increase your bench press.
Why is it so important to increase your bench press anyway? If you ask me, it is not a big deal unless you are an athlete that needs to push a lot of weight out of the way such as an NFL offensive lineman, but let’s be honest, that is the first question that people ask when they find out that you lift. There is some inherit importance to benching a lot of weight in the minds of many. When was the last time that someone asked you how much your calf raise is?
But Bench Presses Hurt
If performing a bench press makes your chest sore, then you are doing something right. If it hurts your shoulders, then you are doing something wrong. Pay attention to form and make sure that you are in the right rep range for your goals. If you are looking for strength, stick with 3-5 reps per set. If you want size, stick with 8-12 reps per set. It really is that simple.
Now that you are in the correct rep range, the next order of business is your form. You need to ensure that your elbows are not flaring out when you press. You want to lift your chest, pull your shoulders back and keep a 60 degree angle on your arms throughout the entire motion. Your butt should be on the bench and your feet should be flat on the ground. Use your whole body in the lift by pushing against the floor with your feet. Keep your upper back muscles tight and keep your upper back on the bench for stability. Push the bar straight up.
Bench Press With a Barbell or Dumbbells?
I like performing both the barbell bench press and dumbbell bench presses. They each have a place in your chest routine. The problem for most people with dumbbells is that their gym does not heavy enough dumbbells. If you are lucky enough to have a gym with heavy dumbbells cherish your membership and never let go of that gym. Heavy dumbbells are great for chest development.
Should You Bench Press on a Smith Machine?
Heck no, but quite honestly, if you have no other option, then this is what you have to do. I am not a big fan of angled smith machines for the bench press because it is not a natural movement. Also, part of the difficulty of the bench press is maintaining the bar steady. There have been reports that benching with a smith machine recruits less muscle fibers that with a straight barbell. Read a comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press.
Where is Your Weakness in Your Bench Press?
There are a few places that you could be weak on your bench press and there are ways to remedy your weakness. If you are having trouble getting the bar out from the bottom position, you lack explosive power and need to practice explosive bench presses to increase that initial power movement. If your closeout is weak, you lack triceps strength. Close-grip bench presses are a great way to add serious triceps strength.
Build a Thick Back to Increase Your Bench Press
That sounds a little odd, doesn’t it? It is true though. Keep in mind that the bench press is a compound exercise, which involves multiple muscles, so a thick, strong back will also help your bench press. Deadlifts, pull-ups, bent over rows and seated rows are a great way to thicken your back.
My rule of thumb with bringing up lagging body parts and to break your one rep max is to perform that exercise first in your workout. If you are looking to increase your bench press, that needs to be the exercise that you do first in your chest workout. If you perform your bench press later in the workout, your muscles are already fatigued, which makes it harder to lift as heavy as you could if it were the first exercise of your workout.