The bench press is one of the most commonly performed exercises in the gym for toning the upper chest. It is also one of the three lifts contested in powerlifting competition. If your goal is to increase the amount of weight you lift on the bench press, you need to not only strengthen the muscles involved in the lift, but improve your technique as well. Consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
A Workout Plan
You need to train lighter on one workout to allow yourself to focus on good technique, so training with no more than 70 percent of your one-repetition maximum on the bench press for eight to ten sets of three repetitions will build power and improve your technique. You also need to strain with heavy weights to teach yourself to recruit as much muscle fiber as possible, so during a second workout train with at least 90 percent of your one-repetition maximum. Only three to five singles repetitions of the bench press should be done during your heavy workout. During each workout, train your triceps, shoulders and back with a varying number of repetitions.
Strengthen Your Triceps
The triceps are the most active and heavily recruited muscle in the bench press. As your arms straighten, the triceps, or the muscles on the back of your arm, work harder to straighten your arms out. Heavy close grip bench pressing, where your hands are no more than 12 to 18 inches apart works your triceps heavily as well as teaching you to push harder to lock out the bar as you have to push the barbell farther with a close grip. Extensions strengthen the triceps, and are done while lying on a bench holding a barbell in the same grip as a close grip bench. Bend your elbows and lower the bar to your forehead and then straighten your arms. Do not do this exercise without a spotter or you may find out why some people refer to extensions as skullcrushers.
Improve Your Technique
Ensure that your feet are flat on the floor, and your hips, shoulders and head remain flat on the bench during the entire lift. Pull your feet back until you can feel tension in your hips which will stabilize your torso. This will allow you to generate more power and get more out of every bench press workout. Never pull your feet up off of the ground. This does not isolate any muscles, it just makes it harder for you to stabilize yourself while training. When benching, lower the bar to your sternum, not your neck and tuck your elbows into your body on the way down. This will minimize the strain on your shoulders and allow you to generate more power from your upper body.
Train Your Shoulders and Back
Your shoulders and the muscles of your back assist in generating power while bench pressing as well as providing stability throughout the lift. A good bench workout will involve training them both. Overhead pressing works your shoulders and your triceps, both critical muscles in the bench press. Chinups and rows both work your back, which help with the initial drive off of the chest. A strong back also helps stabilize your shoulders which is critical while lowering the bar.
- "Starting Strength (2nd edition)"; Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore; 2007
- "Strength Training Anatomy - 3rd Edition (Sports Anatomy)"; Frederic Delavier; 2010
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.