It might be the most asked question in the history of lifting. Powerlifters take more pride in the squat or deadlift. Strongmen show their strength with many different movements. Bodybuilders shy away from it. Yet the #1 question asked of weightlifters is still the same as it has been for generations.
“What’s your bench max?”
By Roger Lockridge
The bench press is the most popular exercise in the iron game and has been for several decades now. Beginners who start training feel like this exercise is the MUST DO lift. Whether you’re starting out or might be looking for new ways to increase your strength in this particular lift, these 6 tips can help you add a few pounds to your bench max.
1. Tuck Shoulders In and Chest Out
Your shoulder blades should be tucked in together like you want them to touch. This helps relieve pressure that the shoulders would feel otherwise. It will also help you stick your chest out which helps you in two ways. Your chest will be closer to the bar so there is less distance for it to travel. Also, your pecs will take on more of the work.
2. Approach Every Rep the Same
I don’t care if it’s your first warm-up or your latest attempt at a new personal record (PR), approach the bench, lie back, and grab the bar with the same precision every time. Approaching the bench and respecting the weight this way every time makes it routine, which is essential for short term and long term success.
3. Film Yourself
While this tip may be a little uncomfortable at first, it will undoubtedly benefit you. Athletes in other sports watch game film to see what they did wrong so they can correct it. You should do the same with your training because you might notice a missed cue or flawed form. Maybe your elbows flared out early or you moved your feet- these small problems can have a big impact. Make the adjustments, film yourself again, and repeat the process until you nail it.
4. Do Overhead Barbell Presses
Yes, overhead press is a shoulder movement, but it’s also a great assistant exercise you should work on. It’s not only for the shoulders. Overhead presses help your triceps as well, which is what you need to lock out at the top of the rep on the flat bench. It does not matter whether you do them seated or standing- the benefits in shoulder strength will improve your bench max.
5. Focus on Speed
If you ever looked at a powerlifter’s training program, generally there is a lighter day, or a dynamic day, where they work with around half of their bench max. This may be weird to anyone unfamiliar with powerlifting, but there is a strategy behind this. They’re focusing on explosion and speed. Pushing the weight up as fast as possible helps the pecs, delts, and triceps because they’re hitting different muscle fibers. The faster you get lighter weight up, the greater chance you can get heavy weight up- and improve your bench max.
6. Take a Break from Flat Bench
It might just be that you need both a physical and mental break from the bench. Take a month away from flat benching and work with other versions like incline or decline bench. As with the overhead press, the strength gained from either of these can help you with achieving your bench max. The mental break of being away from it will make you more excited when you start again. Anyone that trains will tell you that mental mindset is just as important as physical execution.