The most challenging lift to improve: the bench press.
While a lot of programs and routines exist, the most effective ones generally circulate around certain principles. The purpose of this article is to review the key principles which can be used to increase one’s bench press and provide other general tips for long term improvement.
Bench Press Tips
1. Bench More Frequently
This one is a highly underappreciated principle. The old “chest day once a week” has stuck around and gives the false idea that benching once a week is a wise move. In fact, that’s a terrible idea for most lifters. Optimal bench press frequency should be 3 times a week, after a lifter has spent time progressing to that level of frequency.
The vast majority of lifters need a constant stimulus in order to adapt and thereby develop more strength. In addition, it is almost impossible to accumulate enough total volume benching with less frequency. This set up also allows one to train different rep ranges, which will be discussed below.
2. Perfect Your Technique
There are several aspects to developing the right technique, but there is a common goal: decrease the range of motion while recruiting the most amount of muscle. To achieve this, one needs to slowly build a back arch, keep the tension on their traps and utilize appropriate leg drive. The rest falls into place over time.
Now it is important to remember that technique takes time to improve and is somewhat a byproduct of flexibility. Most beginners cannot achieve a good arch due to a lack of mobility and lack of coordination. Hence, it is important to be patient.
3. Train Different Rep Ranges
A big mistake that many intermediate lifters make is training in the same rep ranges every workout. Constantly maxing out with heavy sets of 3 or only training in the 8-10 rep range will lead to a plateau. The ideal setup has a lifter training in the 1-3 rep range, 5-6 range and also higher reps; all in one week.
There is evidence to support this format, which is called daily undulating periodization (DUP). Of course, the format and setup can change depending on one’s short term goals (ex. meet preparation) but the general philosophy remains the same: train different rep ranges.
4. Incremental Progression is Key
What should be an easy point of advice, it is often forgotten by many people who always repeat the same workouts. If you are not adding weight to the bar or increasing the reps you do at a set weight, then you are not going to get stronger. The body gets stronger by progressively adapting to an increasing workload. We can define workload by the weight on the bar, the number of reps performed and the total sets. Once at the appropriate intensity, then the workload must slowly increase for the body to get stronger. If it increases too quickly, the lifter often plateaus and/or can get injured. Hence, very slow incremental progress is the key.
5. Stay Injury Free
Sounds like a no brainer that’s based on luck but this one is actually quite a bit in one’s control. A lifter can minimize their risk of injury by adequately warming up, being very flexible and mobile, lifting with optimal form and cooling down post workout. Most lifters, even beginners, do a decent job with the warm up. They raise their body temperature and slowly increase mobility prior to their working sets. Good technique is also fairly common on the bench press as far as injury prevention is concerned.
The place where most people fail is mobility work in between workouts and the cool down. High frequency benching leads to excessive tightness in the upper body and while this is not an issue on its own; it can premeditate an injury over time. The only way to combat this is stretching in between workouts. Similarly, post workout stretches are critical for the same reason and also for facilitating recovery. The last part is key when one is benching 3 times a week!
Did you enjoy these bench press tips? Let us know if you’ve used any other tricks to help you hit new PR’s.