Have you ever walked into a gym and saw someone pushing out 315 pounds on the bench press and thought to yourself “man, I wish there was some way I could do that.” You admired the ease and the fluidity of the motion, but then thought that there was never a way you could build your bench press up to the same level no matter what you did. Today, I am here to give you some tools that if used properly and couple with determination and hard work, could have you on your way to making tremendous strides with your bench press.
In today’s day and age the bench press is one of the most highly regarded and sought after lifts in many platforms. The National Football League swears by it. In fact, the number of reps a player can pump out at 225 pounds could either launch them into the first round, or leave them mired in middle round mediocrity. Every basic bro that has ever stepped foot in a gym has had dreams of joining the 225-pound club with their bench press. With so much focus numbers and not enough on strategy, many lifters have ignored accessory lifts that can assist your bench and take it to the next level. Incorporate these movements into your workouts and I can assure you that you will see significant improvements with your bench press.
Close Grip Bench Press
If you have ever seen someone fail at a new bench press PR, or even get stuck on the last rep of set, you can almost guarantee that they got stuck at the top part of the movement, otherwise known as the lockout. That is, they can get the bar off their chest, but driving it that last third of the way into a lockout is too challenging for them to complete. A major cause of this could be a lack of focus on the triceps. The triceps play a pivotal role in helping you drive the bar the last third of the way up, and can be extremely significant when going for a new PR. One way to improve the strength and endurance in your triceps would be the close grip bench. Placing your hands closer together on the bar in comparison to your grip on your standard bench allows for you to take a good amount of the stress off your chest and overload your triceps, thus targeting them and getting them stronger.
Another important facet of the bench press is your back, and more specifically your latissimus dorsi (more commonly referred to as “lats”). If you are performing the bench press correctly (this will be addressed in another article), then you should be engaging your lats and almost be performing a “lat pull down” type movement when gripping the bar. One of the key power components of the bench press comes from driving your lats down into the bench during your lift, and engaging them so they can power you throughout the full entirety of the motion. The inverted row is one effective way to address strength building in your lats.
Find a power rack and adjust the pegs to a height that will allow you to place the barbell high enough so that you can hang from under it and perform a pull-up without your back ever touching the ground. Now, perform inverted rows and really target your back and lats. If this movement is too easy there are multiple ways to increase the difficulty. Slow your tempo down to increase your time under tension (otherwise known as the amount of time your muscles are contracted during the duration of a repetition). Studies have shown that increased time under tension directly correlates to mass and hypertrophy gains. In addition, you can grab a weighted vest from your local sporting goods store if your bodyweight simply isn’t challenging enough.
Dumbbell Bench Pressing
One of the biggest problems many lifters have with the barbell bench press is that there is an imbalance between their right and left sides. Meaning, that they could be stronger with their dominant hand, and since the barbell bench press is a bilateral exercise the weaker side can be masked by the stronger and more dominant side, which will mean the former will never properly develop.
With this being said, dumbbell bench pressing can be extremely beneficial since it isolates both side of the chest and can make sure that if there is an existing imbalance it will eventually be minute. Flat dumbbell benching is obviously ideal, but incline benching can be helpful in better engaging the shoulders, which you will see are very important when I discuss overhead pressing.
Abdominal Roll Outs
Please do not think I am some bitter, fat storing endomorph that resents abs. A shredded core is awesome, purely for the aesthetics alone. But, if we are speaking about functionality, a shredded core is sometimes very superficial. I say this because visible abs are the result of body composition and dieting, not a strong and stable core. With this being said, core exercises that incorporate bracing are extremely important.
As many of you know, the art of breathing during compound lifts is extremely important. This is especially true during the bench press. The body is one big kinetic chain from the shoulders across the body down to the hips. Thus, a strong and stable core is incredibly important if you wish to efficiently transfer energy across this kinetic chain and maximize your body during the lift. During the bench press, a strong and properly stabilized core will allow you to get much more out of your body as you will drive your back and lats into the bench which will help you create more drive. As a result of this, abdominal rollouts are a perfect way to increase and augment core strength while practicing the art of core stabilization and bracing. So, go ahead. Grab a pair of rollers, get on your knees, breath and stabilize, and roll your way to a stronger and more effective core.
I have listed this last mostly because it is one of, if not the most important thing you can do to make improvements to your bench press. Thus, I want it to be the last thing you read before you get up and down three scoops of pre workout and get to the gym.
Overhead pressing has become a lost art in the world of strength training. Many lifters feel that pumping out tons of front and side raises gets them the ideal shoulder definition they want. Firstly, let me say this. Oh, and by the way I am going to preface this by saying that the basis for this claim is from first hand experience. If you desire rounded and well developed anterior deltoids (these give you those “boulder” type shoulders), then let me tell you that no number of raises will be more effective in achieving this more than good old fashioned heavy overhead pressing. Like I said, this is from first hand experience. Over the last six months I have made overhead pressing a staple of my shoulder training. The results I have noticed in my shoulder size and development have been astounding. Go ahead, and give it a try.
Now that I have addressed the topic of aesthetics and your fear of hampering that aspect of your training, I can move on to the actual bench press related developments of overhead pressing. Go on Google and look up some of the best strongmen of all time. Hell, look at the ones prior to the mid 1960’s when steroids started to permeate the land of training. Anyone who had a dominant bench press almost certainly had an equally dominant overhead press. The overhead press allows you to develop the shoulders without being able to drive your back into the bench to assist your drive. So, grab some dumbbells or a barbell, stand up, and press your way to a better bench.
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.