The bench press is probably the most commonly practiced strength exercise. Whether we like it or not, it is the standard for upper body strength and there is nothing we can do about that except try to become really good at it.
All over the world athletes have their bench press numbers recorded and tracked over time. Performing well in this exercise is important, especially if you play a contact sport where pushing strength is a big part of the game. Sports like Rugby League, Rugby Union and NFL have the bench press in all their testing models as they believe this is an important exercise to test and become better at. The bench press features in the NFL combine, where athletes are tested at pushing 225lb for as many reps as they can.
Whether you need to get better at the bench press for a particular sport you play or you just want to build a bigger chest, you need to have a solid program in place first. Once you have that then start to play with the five methods listed below and you will start seeing your bench numbers rise significantly.
Pull the Bar Apart and Pull the Bar Down Fast
“Pull the bar apart” is basically a coaching cue to pull the bar apart as you lower it to your chest. This increases activation of the anterior shoulder and triceps. If you have reached a plateau in your bench press training this will strengthen your triceps and anterior shoulder muscles to improve your pressing ability. “Pull the bar down fast” is a cue for instructing the athlete to rapidly pull the bar down to their chest. This helps them to conserve more energy for the pushing phase of the lift. This cue also helps the athlete to lower the bar straight down to their chest. Improving your alignment can drastically improve the amount you can push.
Get Stronger in your Pulls
Building a stronger back will give you better balance and improve your ability to isolate and activate your anterior shoulder muscles. This will not only help to improve your bench press, but will also improve shoulder health and decrease the risk of injury. So include more rowing variations in your workouts to improve upper body strength, power and health.
Can you feel your hamstrings when you bench? If not place the heels of your feet on the floor as close to your butt as you can. This provides a good base of support to push against. Remember – not all benches are the same height so when you get on a new bench your foot position might need to change slightly. Have a play around with different positions until you find one that is comfortable and gives you that push you need at the end of a set.
Do more External Rotation Work
If the external rotators are not strong enough then the prime movers in the bench press (i.e., pectorals and shoulders) will shut down when exposed to higher levels of tension. It is important to prioritize external rotation exercises in your workouts. These exercises are often done on a cable system but can be performed with light dumbbells or resistance bands. These exercises will instantly improve your strength in the bench press and simultaneously improve shoulder health.
Limit your Range of Motion with Partials
Partial exercises can be very helpful in overcoming plateaus in strength. They maximise intensity by increasing the load in a certain range. You can use exercises such as the boards press, rack lockouts and lift off press.