Bench pressing will always be a dominant exercise.
Walk into any gym and you’ll see and hear bodybuilders, powerlifters and weekend warriors horizontal on the bench grunting and groaning for that extra rep. Sure, a big bench will build a big chest. A big bench will also wreck your shoulders and cause tears if not done correctly.
I’ve been in the gym when that horrible popping sound occurs and stops everyone in the gym immediately. A pec tear. My former training partner, Mike Scarcella was benching 5 plates on just another chest day when it happened. Luckily there was a medical doctor in the gym working out who was able to apply immediate care (ice) until Mike could get to the emergency room.
Below is a specific routine that you can begin using immediately to safely increase your bench press in a month or two. Some of the tips below may enable you to immediately increase your bench press with just a slight adjustment to your form. Check it out!
TRAIN FLAT BENCH PRESS TWICE A WEEK
- Flat bench dumbbell press. 3 warm up sets using a progressively heavier weight followed by 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Use the same weight on all 3 working sets that allow you to get 6-8 reps. If you can’t get the reps, the weight is too heavy. If you get more than 6-8 reps, increase the weight.
- Close grip bench press. 2 x 8 reps. You’re building triceps strength with this one so you want to feel the triceps doing most of the work. Use a close grip so that your thumbs are right against your outer pecs. Start with 60% of your maximum bench press weight and shoot for 8 reps. So if you bench press 300, use 180lbs for 2 sets of 8. You’ll quickly learn the form and will begin to add weight fast on this exercise.
- Bench Shrug x 2 sets. Start with the same weight as a regular 10 rep bench press set and build up over several weeks and reduce the reps to 6 over time (while increasing the weight). The bench shrug is performed by raising and lowering the weight WITHOUT bending the arms. The idea is to focus on scapula rotation while contracting the pecs. This strengthens the shoulder girdle and develops the “shoulder roll” used by most great benchers. Lower the bar with straight arms, by pulling the shoulders down and in toward the bench and crunching the scapula together. Use a spotter or safety bars as the balance can be a little unusual at first.
- Load the bar with 90% of the weight that you can do for 10 reps. So if you can bench 225lbs for 10 reps, use 90% of that or 202.5lbs. Set your grip one finger WIDER than normal. A half inch or so. Bench press this weight (202.5lbs) for 8-10 reps over the next few weeks until you can progress to 225lbs and get 10 reps using this wider grip. Once you can do reps of 10 with 225lbs, move your hands (grip) out again. Another half inch or so. Ultimately, you’re trying to have your chest, shoulders and triceps share the load equally. Touch the bar at the highest point on your chest and make sure that your elbows are angled in towards your ribcage. Most of us flare our elbows OUT but we want to become stronger benchers so we’re going to keep the elbows tucked in for better leverage. Every time you move your grip out wider, do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps. Stay with each new grip for a couple of weeks or more until you find the best grip. I wouldn’t do more than 3 new grips as you don’t want to take your triceps out of the exercise completely.
- Incline bench DB press x 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps (alternate with weighted bar dips with elbows 45 degrees out from the chest.
On either day 1 or day 2, lower the bar slowly during the barbell bench press, pause for 3 seconds and explode it up. You want to get into the habit of using this driving, explosive style so that on your max attempt day,you can shoot up a bigger bench press.
Questions? Let me know.
For more great ways to get stronger, check out “Powerlifting Basics, Texas-Style” by Paul Kelso