“Hey Man, How Much Do You Bench?”
You’ll hear this question in every commercial weight room all across the world. No lift has more guys measuring their manhood than the Bench Press.
When trying to get stronger at the Bench Press you need to improve these 3 things:
- Train Your Upper Back And Lats!
- Build Bigger Triceps and Biceps
- Proper Bar Path
In this article, I’m going to go over my Top 3 tips on how to improve your Bench Press fast. Before we get into the actual article I’d like to take a minute to bring up a couple of mistakes people make when bench pressing.
The first is only training the bench press and not training your upper back/lats. This is vitally important and we’ll go over why later. Another issue is most people that get set up to bench do so with a completely flat back and no scapular retraction. The third issue is treating it like an upper-body movement. It’s not, the bench press is a full-body movement and I’ll tell you what I mean so stay tuned!
Tip #1: Train Your Upper Back And Lats!
When you see people at the gym you’ll notice a lot of the guys that bench press have an interesting posture. You might notice their chest is massive but their shoulders are hunched forward. This is due to two things; the first being they only train pressing movements like bench press, military press, Dips, etc.
The other is because they do little to no work for their upper back and posterior delts. Because of this, the muscles that are meant to keep your shoulders back in the proper position are literally too weak to even do so. But why does that matter when you’re bench pressing? Doesn’t it all depend on your chest, shoulders, and triceps? Definitely not. Let’s find out why!
Why is it so important to train your upper back and lats for bench press? The main reason is it is literally what is supporting you when benching.
Most people flop onto the bench without any thinking of what they’re actually supporting themselves with. If you lay down with a flat back you’re never going to lift big weights no matter how big your upper body pressing muscles get.
If your upper back is small and weak you don’t have a stable platform to press off of, effectively decreasing how much weight you can use and increasing your range of motion more than necessary.
When benching you want to have your shoulder blades tucked back with a slight arch in your upper back. This allows your shoulders to be in a strong, stable position while effectively lowering the range of motion just enough to increase your power output.
That’s a win-win to me!
For proper strength and stability in the lats try this; if you bench press 200 lbs, try to build your Dumbbell Row up to 100 lbs for multiple sets of 8-12 reps. Just by doing that I guarantee your bench press will be stronger.
The other thing you need to do is build up your upper back and posterior delts as well. Try 50-100 reps of band pull aparts, or face pulls every workout and watch how fast your upper back grows! Try it out and let me know how it worked for you!
Tip #2: Build Bigger Triceps AND Biceps
Seems kind of obvious but it’s another thing people tend to get wrong. When training your bench press or any lift for that matter, you want to think about all of the muscles doing the movement.
However, equally important is thinking about all of the SUPPORTING muscles as well. These muscles are those that help SUPPORT the main muscle groups that are acting on a joint.
For example, during the bench press, the 3 main muscles that are working are the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The supporting muscles are the forearms, biceps, and upper back. They help assist in making the lift as stable as possible for you while performing it.
The forearms and wrists need to be strong enough to keep the barbell in a strong position without allowing excess movement during the lift. We already went over why and how to build a bigger back above so let’s go over the best way to build up the biceps and triceps for benching big!
The two main things for biceps and triceps is to learn the role they’re playing. This helps you decide what kind of training they need to get the desired result.
Building The Biceps
Let’s start with biceps, their main function is to flex the elbow as well as assisting in flexion of the shoulder. But in regards to the bench press, they help support your elbow and shoulder through a full range of motion. The bigger the bicep the more support, in theory. For biceps, the best way I’ve found to build them up is to do a very simple exercise and progress on weight and reps.
Say you choose to do the Barbell Curl, a solid exercise that works exceptionally well for building muscle. Start at a moderate weight and do 25-50 total reps. I like using total reps for most exercises because it’s really easy to just pick a movement and get after it. With this method, you shouldn’t have to do more than 5 sets for any one exercise.
Here’s what the basic structure would look like:
- BB Curl (25-50 Reps) @45lbs
- Set 1: 15 reps, Set 2: 13 reps, Set 3: 11 reps, Set 4: 10 reps
- 49 Total Reps Completed
Since you completed the 50 total reps I would add 5 lbs and next week try to complete the total reps in the least amount of sets once again. When doing any single-joint movement like this you can afford to go to failure every set but I wouldn’t recommend it. The best rule of thumb to keep things simple is to keep 1 rep in the tank for every exercise. That keeps the risk of an injury down while also not fatiguing you too quickly.
Building The Triceps
For triceps, we want to be a little more specific with our exercise selection because they have an active role in the bench press. Instead of doing just tricep push-downs for instance, we can do Close-Grip Bench Press. The way I would set it up is the exact same as the Barbell Curl.
- Close-Grip Bench (25-50 Reps) @200lbs
- Set 1: 10 reps, Set 2: 9 reps, Set 3: 7 reps, Set 4: 6 reps, Set 5: 6 reps
- 38 Total Reps Completed
In this example, we were slightly off the mark for 50 total reps but that’s okay! Because we didn’t hit it we’ll keep our weight the same and try to do more total reps next time. Doing it this way it’s really easy to set up your workouts without worrying too much about sets and reps. You set the weight and the sets/reps take care of themselves!
Tip #3: Proper Bar Path
When doing any barbell movement the most important thing to ensure you’re lifting safe and strong is to maintain proper bar path. For the Bench Press, keeping your shoulders safe and in the correct position will determine if “Benching is bad for your shoulders” or if you Bench Press over 300 lbs in your lifetime.
I’ll show you 2 examples of correct and incorrect form. The 1st one you’ll absolutely see all across the United States on international Chest Day AKA Monday.
Most people probably see this and think there’s nothing wrong with his form right?
Every single person that benches like this is bench pressing incorrectly, putting their shoulders at risk, and their long term strength will go nowhere. Why? Look where his elbows are in relation to his body. Straight out to the sides.
Every time you do a rep straight up and down like this the amount of pressure on your shoulder is incredibly high. All of the load at heavyweight puts a ton of strain on your shoulders using this form. Over time your shoulder will be injured and you’ll wonder why me? So what is the solution to this? Check out the video below!
This is Jim Wendler, he’s the man who invented 531, probably the most popular strength program of all time. You can see when he’s benching everything he’s doing correctly compared to above.
- His shoulder blades are retracted
- He has an arch
- He’s pushing through his feet
- His bar path is correct!
Instead of putting a ton of pressure on his shoulders his elbows are tucked down into a 45-degree angle and instead of pushing straight up from his chest he’s pressing back toward his face in a J curve. This is what your form needs to look like if you want to get stronger at the Bench Press.
When it comes to building the bench make sure you do the 3 things I described above: build your back, build your arms, and bench correctly using the best bar path possible.
I guarantee if you do these 3 things you will get stronger in the bench press faster than the people maxing out every week with bad form. Stay consistent, work hard, and make sure to eat to support your training.
Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a wonderful day!
Until next time,