Bench pressing is more than just getting under that bar, lifting it off, and praying to God you can get the weight back on the rack without embarrassing yourself. We've all been there and know that feeling. It sucks and we'll never forget it.
Related: Bench Press One Rep Max and Percentage Calculator
All it took was that one failed rep. It left you feeling helpless. Hopefully it inspired you to learn how to bench press properly before throwing on that second plate.
If you've recently gone through your own embarrassing bench press experience, or you're just looking to improve your bench press, these 8 tips will help. They will help you to avoid injury, learn proper benching form, and increase those chest gains.
Marc Lobliner and Dr. Stu demonstrate how to perform the perfect bench press.
How to Increase Your Bench Press
Tip #1 - Understand the Bench PressWhen asking the standard gym bro what body parts the bench press targets, all he is going to say is chest. While the chest is the main muscle you are targeting during this exercise, it's not the only one.
The bench press is a compound movement. It it incorporates multiple joints and muscle groups to perform the exercise correctly.
Other than the chest the bench press uses your triceps, shoulders, lats, and legs to assist with completion of the lift.
Tip #2 - Acknowledge Your WeaknessesWe all have strong and weak muscle groups. A compound movement like the bench press incorporates a variety of different muscle groups, which means you likely have several potential weaknesses.
Until you acknowledge which muscle groups are lagging behind you aren't going to reach your full bench potential.
Dropping the weight to your chest and getting stuck at the bottom of the press movement means your lats and shoulders are weak. Make sure to include plenty of volume for movements such as standing overhead barbell presses and single arm dumbbell rows. These will increase your lat and shoulder strength, allowing you to get that bar off your chest.
If you're able to get the bar off your chest, but you're getting stuck in no-man's land halfway up and unable to lock out, then you need to strengthen your triceps. In order to do so you'll want to incorporate more sets and reps of the close-grip bench. This will mimic the bench press movement while building strength in your triceps.
Tip #3 - Remember F.O.R.M.As with all lifts, form is crucial. Proper form allows you to target the intended muscles of the bench press and maximize growth.
Using the word FORM itself, this is a simple acronym to remember before you lift that weight off the rack.
Feet Planted and Find Your Grip. Two reminders for the letter F. Getting your feet planted is the first thing you want to do when lying down on the bench. Position your feet where you want them to be during your lift and cement them there. Drive your heels into the ground as if you were getting ready to perform a squat.
Newsflash for all you dudes who flail your feet up and down and side to side when trying to grind out a couple more reps: Stop it. You're actually losing power and the foot flailing isn't helping. When benching a lot of the power is coming from your legs so keep them firm and dig those heels in.
Step two is finding your grip. My advice on this is to find a grip that's the most comfortable for you. If you have shorter arms you may have a narrow grip, while us long, lanky, monkey-armed fools may have a wider grip.
The most important thing to focus on with your grip is making sure the grip position is keeping your elbows tucked and tight. Wide, flailing elbows are going to lead you to a weaker bench press and put stress on your shoulders.
Over Your Sternum. Now that you've got the bar off the rack and you're lowering the weight, make sure you are lowering the weight to just below your chest, near the top of your sternum. Don't bring the weight down to the top of your neck or down to your belly button.
Keeping the sternum positioning with the weight is going to give you the most power when pushing the weight back up.
Raise the Bar Straight Up. So you've lowered the weight down. Now the tough part; getting it back up.
When pushing the weight back up you want to raise the weight straight up. You don't want to push the weight forward towards the bottom of your body or up towards you chin.
Pushing the weight straight up engages all the muscle groups working within this compound movement correctly, allowing for an optimal pressing movement.
Make Them Gains. Most importantly you've on the bench to make some serious gains. Now, it's time to focus.
Keep your form, drive that power from the heels of your feet to your chest, and make your body work for those gains.
Your strength goals are yours and no one else's, so work out appropriately. Don't base your training on somebody else's goals.
Tip #4 - Don't Use Someone Else's WeightIf you're working out with someone stronger than you, or the guy before you didn't rack his weight, don't sacrifice your form and set/rep goals because you think you can lift whatever he was lifting.
Drop/add the weight and get to work. Too many times I see people working out with a weight that is too heavy or too light for them because of their training partner.
Your strength goals are yours and no one else's, so work out appropriately. Don't base your training on somebody else's goals. If you don't know your one rep max you can calculate it here.
Tip #5 - Don't Max Out EverydayHey, dude who bench presses every single day and tries to hit a new one rep max every single day:
It's important to create or find a program that focuses on progressive overload to build the muscle and build that strength. Slowly increasing weight and training in the 5-8 rep range is key to hitting that new one rep max you want.
Run a program, try maxing out every 2-4 weeks, and I promise you'll never go back to your everyday is chest day habits.
Tip #6 - Find What Works For YouIf you are trying to increase your one rep bench max or just looking to build your chest up a little bit, it's important to find a program that works for you.
If you feel more a pump and more development of the muscle by performing each bench press set to failure or one rep before failure then stick with that. If you're having more luck running a program focused on a specific set and rep amount you should be hitting each day then follow that.
Nobody knows your body better than you and the best way to building a stronger bench is to build a routine is helping you reach that goal.
Tip #7 - Grab a SpotterIf you are going to try and hit a new one rep max then swallow your pride and get a spotter. If you can't find a spotter or you are lifting in your home gym then I recommend setting up spotter bars before throwing that 3rd or 4th plate on the bar.
I've got faith in you that you're going to get that weight up, but it's important to stay safe when lifting heavy. Also, dropping the weight on your neck while your gym crush is watching is never a good look.
Tip #8 - Try Out Some EquipmentEquipment can play a huge part in helping both your bench pressing form and max lift. If you have a weak grip or weak wrists, wrist wraps are a great tool to use to help you keep the bar tight and secure in your hands.
Using a Slingshot will help you understand where your elbows should be when lowering and lifting the weight. Also, using bands or chains is a fun and effective way to do something different with your bench press reps, increasing and decreasing the feel of the weight as you lower it and raise it.
Now, the next time you're lying on the bench don't be afraid to drop that weight. Strengthen your weak muscle groups, don't forget F.O.R.M. and push that heavy (bleep) weight up until your chest feels like it's going to explode.
Your chest gains are waiting.