We’re all about hard training and strength here, so let’s be honest, if you don’t bench on chest day (or any other day for that matter), you need to reevaluate your priorities and decide if you are willing to do what it takes to reach your fitness goals, or if you’re better off sticking to Pilates.
Because if you don’t bench, you don’t really lift.
I know it sounds abrasive, but the fact of the matter is, benching is one of the most complex movements in training, engaging everything from the heels of your feet to the lats and front delts and as such it holds the key to strength and muscle gain.
I’m not saying you absolutely have to bench, but if you don’t, you’re missing out on amazing results.
Now, I’m going to go ahead and assume that all of you do the bench press on a regular basis, and you’re loving it. In fact, benching is tons of fun and is one of the most competitive exercises at the gym (which should be the squat, but too many people have knee problems apparently), one which is irreplaceable in strength and muscle training.
Let’s talk about the problems most of us don’t want or don’t know how to address – plateauing.
The hard truth is, you’re going to plateau at some point, there is no way around it, and the good news is, you can push through it by correcting your form, incorporating small tweaks into your execution and doing accessory movements to help with your main lift. Without further ado, let’s transform you into a benching beast!
Benching for Mass vs Benching for Strength
There are some key differences between benching for chest activation and hypertrophy, and benching for powerlifting purposes, i.e. strength. Whether your aspirations demand strength or muscle mass and aesthetics, you will opt for one of the two styles of benching, and stick with it, making it your proficient movement and by no means are you to change your technique before a competition or without de-loading the bar – that leads to pectoral tearing.
Benching for Strength
Benching for strength puts the stress on your triceps and entire arms predominantly, involving almost your entire body yet relieving excess pressure from the front deltoids. In executing a powerlifting bench, many key components come into play without which you cannot progress. Some of them are surely missing from your technique so make sure to incorporate them in order to progress.
- Plant your feet firmly on the ground, pulling them back as much as possible without lifting them off the ground
- Create an arch in your LOWER back but keep your upper back, butt and head in contact with the bench, this helps with core and back stability and it decreases the distance the bar has to travel
- Keep the hips and glutes firmly on the bench
- Engage your core with a deep belly breath
- Squeeze your lats and glutes as much as you can
- Grab the bar somewhere around the rings, depending on your arm length
- Un-rack the weight by slowly lifting and pulling the bar off the rack, not forcefully pushing it upward at speed which will destroy all your preparation
- Bar control is key, so pull the bar into your body, don’t drop it on your chest
- You will pull the bar downwards anywhere between your nipple line and you belly button, depending on your arm length
- When the bar touches your body, your forearms must be parallel to the floor (90-degree angle) with your elbows tucked in (trying to rest the triceps on the lats)
- Push upward toward your face – bar path has to have a curve, otherwise, you lose power
- When pushing, exhale forcefully at the latter portion of the push
- The bar will end up over your chin
- Take a deep breath, lock in, and repeat the movement
If you haven’t already been aware of these key components of a powerlifting bench press, then there is definitely room for improvement, and practicing every one of these elements will lead to a strong bench press. But even impeccable form will not stop weight stagnation, that’s why I will show what you can do to jump start your strength progress a bit later in the text.
Benching for Mass
Contrary to the powerlifting bench press, bodybuilders bench for maximum muscle activation and hypertrophy, and so their positioning, grip, and bar path will be different. In turn, this type of benching won’t allow you to lift as much weight as a pro powerlifter, but your boobs will look magnificent. The bodybuilding style of benching puts pressure on your front delts, so be cautious when performing the movement and make sure to incorporate all the elements in order to avoid injury.
- Every point of the powerlifting bench press stands, with a few exceptions
- Create a smaller arch in your back for core and back stability
- You will pull the bar downwards to the middle of your chest with your elbows flared out
It might not seem that drastic, but changing the point where the bar touches your body as well as how you position your elbows will have very different effects on chest activation. This type of benching will put the majority of the pressure on your chest and front delts, thus having a greater potential for hypertrophy and a greater potential for shoulder injury if you are not careful.
Now that I’ve gone over the basics of strong benching, let’s look at some advanced tips and techniques that can further assist you in avoiding stagnating or help you in breaching the plateau.
There will be plenty more guides like this one for various exercises in the future, so be on the lookout. We have a great article on the 3 best types of squats you should definitely checkout..
Small Tricks make Awesome Benchers
Now, I’m not going to have you bounce the bar off your belly, mainly because you don’t need to be fat to press heavy weights, but also because there is a difference between tricks and cheats. Tricks are small corrections you make to your technique that some support and others dispute. It will be up to you to find out what feels good for your body and what allows you to bench more weight.
- Use straps on your wrists
- Use chalk to force a firm grip and prevent the bar from sliding
- Rest the bar at the base of your palm, alleviating the pressure off the fragile bones of the wrist
- Flare the elbows out when reaching the top of the movement
- Use a weightlifting belt for more core activation
- Wear either flat footwear or squat shoes in order to force strong ground connection
- Opening the knees and turning your feet outward as much as possible will help with glute activation
- Utilize the thumb-less grip only if you are proficient at it, in order to prevent wrist pain
- Wear elbow compression sleeves
- Practice mind-muscle connection with an empty bar, you should feel your entire body engaging when performing the movement
There are some things I cannot put into bullet points but I have to talk about – being afraid of the weight and letting it dictate your progress. You see, more often than not, our plateauing is embedded in the underlying fear of such a huge amount of weight levitating over our pretty heads. We avoid admitting it, or even recognizing it, but we are only human and we are afraid.
While no one can guarantee you that you cannot get injured, you have to realize that by adhering to proper form, taking the necessary precautions and being absolutely in the moment when lifting, you will greatly diminish the chance of something going wrong.
The most important thing is to be headstrong. You have everything in control, you are a beast, and you know you have it in you.
You are the master of the weights, not the other way around.
Strength + Hypertrophy = Bigger Bench
Write this down somewhere – a bigger muscle has a bigger potential for more strength. Now repeat a hundred times before bed because I can jump out of nowhere at any given moment and ask you to repeat it. And I will.
There is a difference between being muscular and being fat, the first one produces force and strength, the other produces heart disease and type II diabetes. The common misconception is that in order to be strong you need to be big, and while having excess fat will aid you in pushing heavy weights, you should always strive for maximum muscle hypertrophy in order to be able to produce more accumulative force.
This brings us to additional movements you need to be doing in order to grow the areas that will assist you in benching more weight. Given the fact that this particular movement includes a lot of muscle groups, it will be wise to follow a bodybuilding routine with emphasis on powerlifting movements at the beginning of the workout, or if you are a powerlifter, follow a conjugate method or incorporate more hypertrophy workouts in the week.
Whatever your aspiration may be, here are some exercises that will help you in your benching adventures.
- Floor Press
- Rest-pause Press
- Rack Press
- Wide-grip pullups
- Triceps and Biceps hypertrophy work
- Standing Upward Press (pressing the bar without forcing the head forward)
- Weighted Dips
- Use chains on the bar
- Use banded weights on the bar (this will immensely destabilize the bar and force you to activate more muscle fibers as stabilizers)
- Force core strengthening exercises
There are many advantages of combining strength training with hypertrophy training, whether you are a bodybuilder or a powerlifter, the benefits are numerous. When incorporating heavy strength work into your hypertrophy routine, you are forcing different muscle fibers to activate in addition to hitting the muscle deeply, forcing it to grow outward and become thick and strong.
If you are a powerlifter, by incorporating muscle hypertrophy you will be able to activate more muscle fibers in creating a larger pushing or pulling force, thus building a sturdy base for lifting heavier weight.
I will be writing many more benching tutorials, the nuts and bolts of the movement, as well as tutorials for various compound and isolation exercises, in the future, so you can look forward to learning in depth about the most effective exercises that will help you become the strongest version of yourself.
Now go lift!2