Written by Jack Boardman
Improve Your Bench Press
You know that you’re developing as a weightlifter, or at least getting keen when you are looking for exercises to improve your ability in other exercises.
The bench press is the cornerstone of many gym routines. It is integral in building upper body strength and, as a compound lift, is essential for mass muscle building.
The aim of a compound lift is to engage several muscles at once in order to strengthen and grow them. The primary reason to work on your bench press may be to build a bigger chest, but you may not realise that other muscles are also developed whilst bench pressing.
A properly executed bench press works your pectorals (chest), your anterior deltoids (front shoulders), triceps brachii (the backs of your arms), and latissimus dorsi (the broadest muscle on your back).
If you want to improve your bench press, there are a few things to consider. First, make sure that your muscles are not exhausted before you lift. For an optimum bench press session, it should take place after a complete day of rest for the muscles involved.
Second, look at the reps and weight you’re lifting. If you’re doing too many reps at a lighter weight, lower the number of reps while increasing the number of sets and the amount you’re lifting. To increase strength, when you reach a plateau you should drop the number of reps when you up the amount you’re lifting. When your body adjusts, with time and practice, add on the reps again until you’re ready to increase the weight again. Your growth will, of course, depend on nutrition and the amount of protein and calories you’re consuming and burning off.
The next point is that, while you may be bench pressing regularly you might not be improving in strength because that’s all you’re doing. If this rings true then it’s time to start looking at individual muscles, rather than a one size fits all approach to bench pressing.
Stick to free weights – that is, barbells and dumbbells – as these will engage more muscle fibres than the Smith machine or assisted lifting machines.
It’s a standard approach to look at what’s in front of you first, so begin with the chest and break it up into parts. This way you can look at your upper chest, lower chest and the fly motion with the following exercises:
✓ Incline bench press (dumb bell and barbell)
✓ Decline bench press (barbell and dumbbell)
✓ Tricep press down
✓ Weighted boxing
Many bodybuilders recommend that you bench with your back; in other words, you should engage your back for power when pressing outwards. This means developing your lats. This is achieved with rowing and reverse flies, as follows:
✓ Reverse cable fly
✓ Seated row
✓ Decline row
Much of the push comes from your triceps, so these should be fresh and rested for a chest day. You’ll otherwise need to develop your tricep strength. This muscle is developed by extending the arm and with closer grip presses. Try the following exercises:
✓ Close grip bench press
✓ Cable pull down
✓ Overhead cable extension
✓ Shoulder press with barbells