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Bench Press | How to Lift More Weight

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How to Bench Press

“How much do you bench press?” Possibly the most common question asked in the gym. The bench press is probably the most popular weightlifting exercise of all time, yet many people bench press incorrectly. So what is the infatuation with the bench press?

Like the squat measures lower body strength, you can use the bench press to assess your upper body strength. The National Football League (NFL) hosts a Combine every year for the best college football players in America. During the Combine athlete’s upper body strength is tested using the bench press.  A 1999 study found that muscular enduration repetition with an absolute load of 225 lb can predict one repetition maximum (1-RM) on the bench press.  Don’t forget to check out: don’t make these six bench pressing mistakes.

Here are proven tips to help you increase your bench press:

Find the perfect grip! The complete bench press rep starts with finding your ideal grip on the bar. If your grip is too wide, you use more chest and expend energy pushing outwards. If your grip is too narrow, you use more triceps and expend energy pushing inwards.

A 1992 study on the effect of grip width on bench press performance found that the grip width affects maximal bench press performance of experienced male weight lifters. Observation of the bar path at different grip widths revealed a decrease in the distance of the bar from the shoulder as the grip width increased.

The increase in grip width correlated with a decrease in the moment of the force about the shoulder axis. Subsequently, the middle grip width, the sticking region, was found to occur at a greater vertical distance from the shoulder axis and lasted for a smaller percentage of the ascent phase than for the narrower or wider grip.

When bench pressing, the perfect grip allows you to incorporate muscle groups and power press straight up.

How do you find your perfect grip? Start with no weight on the bar, then lie back on the bench and unrack the bar—lower the bar to the bottom part of your chest about at your sternum. Now adjust the position of your hands on the bar until your forearms are as close to vertical as possible. This hand placement and bar position are your optimal bench press position.

Find your perfect bench position.

Lie back on the bench, not too close or too far away from the uprights as this can either waste valuable energy when taking the weight off or hitting the uprights when you press the weight up.

Plant your feet firmly on the floor with your knees bent to an angle of approximately 80-90 degrees. Keep your feet flat and heels on the floor. Grip the bar using your perfect grip and ‘lock’ your shoulders back into the bench.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and push your chest out, then drive your shoulder blades back into the bench and ‘lock’ them into position. Lower your glutes down onto the bench and squeeze. Your body should be tight, and you should feel locked and secure on the bench.

NEVER put your feet on the bench as this will make you dangerously unstable.

The Downward Phase: Take a deep breath, which raises your chest and locks your body to the bench even tighter. Lower the bar, keeping your elbows locked tightly in against your sides and your hands trying to pull the bar apart. Touch the weight to your chest.

Always press head, back, butt, and feet down to control the weight and to get the most from the eccentric and isometric portion of the lift. Once the weight slightly touches your chest, you have entered the isometric phase of the lift. To build your chest correctly, maintain force across your chest muscles during the eccentric and isometric portion of the lift. Never rest the weight completely upon your chest.

To train to failure or not to train to failure, that is the question – do you want a bigger chest or not.

A 2005 study on training leading to repetition failure enhances bench press strength gains in junior athletes found that participants who trained to failure had substantially larger increases in 6-RM bench press than participants who did not train to failure.

When you train to failure, you exhaust the glycogen stores located in the chest. Once the glycogen stores are empty, the chest does not have the energy it needs to produce power. The body responds to the exhaustion of glycogen stores in the chest by building more muscle to store more glycogen.

Suppose you want to build a massive chain, train to failure. As a rule of thumb, bench press 6 – 12 reps for 4 – 10 sets with 30 to 60 minute rest time between sets. New lifters should try The 5×5 Workout Program To Build Strength, And Muscle and experienced lifters should try the German Volume Training For Adding Size And Strength.

Here is a list of weight lifting exercises that build your bench press strength, chest size, and supporting muscles:

  1. The fly isolates and builds the chest, the primary muscle during the press.
  2. The bar dips build triceps and shoulder supporting muscles during the bench press.
  3. Cable Cross-over another exercise that isolates and builds the chest muscles.
  4. Skull Crushers build the triceps, a supporting muscle during the bench primary.
  5. Front Arm Raises build the anterior deltoid a supporting muscle during the bench press.
  6. Reverse Fly builds the rotator cuff, a supportive group of muscles in the shoulder.

NEVER bounce the weight off your chest as this can cause injury.

The Pressing Phase: Press the barbell up and drive with your legs. This transfers the power drive from your legs into pressing the bar quickly upwards. Drive the bar straight up as hard and as fast as you can. Exhale forcefully throughout the press as this will help you maintain torso stability.

Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor throughout the bench press. Drive the bar upwards as fast as you can and with as much power as possible until your elbows ‘lockout’ and your arms are straight, completing your first bench press. Check out: what are the best exercises for the chest.

How much should you bench press based upon your strength?

To find the strength of your bench press – first, determine your 1-RM; second, determine your bench press rate by dividing your 1-RM by your bodyweight; third, use the table below based upon your gender and age to find your rating. Finally, look to the first column to determine your strength rating on the bench press. For example, a 24-year-old, 250-pound man who bench-presses 300 pounds with a bench press rate of 1.2 (300/250) has good strength.

Bench Press Rate For 1-RM

Rating Age & Rate
Men 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60+
Excellent > 1.26 > 1.08 > 0.97 > 0.86 > 0.78
Good 1.17 – 1.25 1.01 – 1.07 0.91 – 0.96 0.81 –  0.85 0.74 – 0.77
Average 0.97 – 1.16 0.86 – 1.00 0.78 – 0.90 0.70 – 0.80 0.64 – 0.73
Fair 0.88 – 0.96 0.79 – 0.85 0.72 – 0.77 0.65 – 0.69 0.60 – 0.63
Poor < 0.87 < 0.78 < 0.71 < 0.64 < 0.59
Women 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60+
Excellent > 0.78 > 0.66 > 0.61 > 0.54 > 0.55
Good 0.72-0.77 0.62 – 0.65 0.57 – 0.60 0.53 – 0.59 0.51 – 0.54
Average 0.59-0.71 0.53 – 0.61 0.48 – 0.56 0.43 – 0.50 0.40 – 0.50
Fair 0.53 – 0.58 0.49 – 0.52 0.44 – 0.47 0.40 – 0.42 0.37 – 0.40
Poor < 0.52 < 0.48 < 0.43 < 0.39 < 0.36

FAQ

What is the proper position for the bench press?

1. Lie on a flat bench in a supine position.
2. Plant your feet firmly on the floor, wide enough to press them into the ground.
3. Place the head, shoulder blades, and sacrum firmly on the bench.
4. Maintain a natural arch in the lower back.
5.Grasp the barbell with a pronated grip.
6. Place the hands approximately 6 inches wider than shoulder-width.

What is the proper technique for the bench press?

1. Place the head, shoulder blades, and sacrum firmly on the bench.
2. Keep the feet planted firmly during execution.
3. Keep the wrist firm.
4. Never bounce at the bottom of the lift.
5. Always use a qualified spotter when performing the bench press.
6.When lowering the bar, progressively tighten all involved muscles as the bar approaches the chest.
7. When pressing the bar, press feet, butt, and back down, push the chest out, and arms up.

What are some common mistakes to avoid for the bench press?

1. Lifting head, shoulder blades, or butt off the bench while pressing.
2. Lifting the feet off the ground while pressing.
3. Keeping the wrist loose and flexible.
4. Bouncing the weight off the chest to press more weight.
5. Holding breadth during the eccentric or concentric portion of the lift.