The bench may be one of the most popular exercises in the gym. With lines longer than the Starbucks down the street, gym bros line up on Monday to meet the bench Gods.
There are some that bench press with their feet up on the bench, some will half rep, and others use their chest like a trampoline.
Everyone is built a little differently due to body mechanics, but there are a few tips that anyone can use to break through their sticking points.
Breaking Down The Bench Press
Let's break down the bench press into each movement and analyze this fairly technical lift. You may see why you are screwing up before we even get to the tips.The Setup
Being consistent with your setup allows you to see what works and what doesn't.
Make it an OCD habit to set up exactly the same way you have every time. Changes in grip width, feet placement, and overall tightness can change your lift drastically.The Lift Off
The lift off is the second point of failure in your bench press.
The lift off will determine your shoulder placement, grip width, hip placement, and overall body tightness.
Practice your lift off to be identical every time. The consistency is what allows you to see where you are failing.
If you have a partner, be sure to communicate with them so they can properly hand off to you without a hitch.The Descent
While letting the weight fall to your chest to bounce off like a trampoline sounds great... It's not.
You lose back tightness, you look like an idiot, and you could bruise your sternum.
When descending, pay attention to back tightness. Your upper back and lats should be loading up like a springboard as you "row" the bar down to your chest.
Keep your leg drive tight and get ready to explode the weight up.The Ascent
If you've gotten this far without screwing up, good job.
For your ascent, it's time to unleash that anger and rage and explode the weight up.
You want to maintain upper back and lat tightness and keep your elbows from flaring out.The Lock Out
Before you sling the weight up and straighten your arms so that your elbows buckle the wrong way, take a second and have a controlled lockout.
If you are going for more reps, a soft lockout is preferable; it will allow you to maintain back tightness without having to reset.The Rack
Racking the weights can be hard when you are giving it your all. Making sure you can rack the weights should be a primary concern when lifting.
Use a spotter or catches on your bench or power rack to avoid any injuries from not racking the weight properly.
Breaking Bench Press Sticking Points
Now that we broke down the bench, let's go over some tips to break your sticking points. These tips are generalized to help as many lifters as possible.
Use these as a guideline and see what helps and what doesn't.Get A Grip
Maintaining body tightness is important in any lift, especially the bench.
Squeeze the bar as tight as you possibly can. You want to white knuckle the bar like you do holding onto the handles in the car when someone has no idea how to drive.
The squeezing makes your entire body tighten up. Try it out, you'll feel your biceps and shoulders tense up.
If you don't currently squeeze as hard as possible, I can guarantee you will notice a difference in your lift.Try Paused Bench
If you're having troubles coming off of your chest or the lockout, paused bench may be the answer. I personally prefer paused bench because it teaches you patience, helps you maintain overall body tightness, and it simply works.
Adding a simple one to three-second pause to your reps can make a drastic change. Start with a lighter weight to get used to proper form.Increase Volume
Whenever I have someone increase their volume on bench, their lifts go up. Your chest and triceps take a beating... And they like that.
Adding more volume to your lifts and opt for an 8-12 rep range when lifting. Increasing your strength doesn't just mean your one rep max.Hit That Upper Back
The stronger your back is, the stronger your bench is.
As soon as a fairly strong powerlifter named Jonathan Byrd told me to start hitting my traps, upper back, and lats harder. I almost immediately noticed an increase in my bench.
Heavy dumbbell shrugs, bent over barbell rows, and face pulls will build up strength and endurance in your upper back.Try Variable Resistance
Using chains or bands while benching adds a unique sensation while benching. Many elite powerlifters use bands or chains while lifting because it can overload trouble spots.Record Your Form
Getting multiple angles of your form will allow you to see weak points, any mechanical disadvantages, and ensures you are hitting your marks every time. You can see small cues like your right wrist slightly dumping forward can cause you to lose your groove and you can never lock out the right side properly.
Be critical of your form to look for flaws so you know what you need to fix. The bench press is a fairly technical lift and many things can go wrong without it being that noticeable.Progressively Overload
If you know someone who is proud that they have been doing the same weight, same reps, and look the same... They don't know about progressive overloading. Progressively overloading simply means that you strive to add weight or reps to the bar every time you go to the gym.
Adding five pounds to your lift every week you go into the gym will give you massive gains by the end of the year. If five pounds per week doesn't sound like much of a jump, just wait until you have been lifting for years and can only hope to add another 10 pounds to your bench in a year.
Wrapping It Up
Lifting weights is a long-term strategy. Always testing your one rep max, getting impatient with gains, and not taking the time to learn what works for you is setting yourself up for failure.
Your nervous system takes time to recover after a maximal lift. Trying to test your one rep max weekly is doing nothing but slowing gains.
Take the time to setup and unrack the weights the same way every time. Slowly row the bar down, pre-loading your lats and upper back. Explode up, lock out, and rack.
Treat every rep like it is your one rep max and nail down that form if you want to improve and stay injury-free.