I remember the days before I joined S&P, when I would head up the stairs in my local gym with my lifting gloves (don’t laugh) to embark on a bench press session. I would put 60kg straight onto the bar and then proceed to struggle with sets of 4 or 5 reps of half reps convincing myself that I was getting stronger by using lower rep ranges. Thankfully on one of these sessions, it was just me and a fellow lifter using the gym and after one of my sets on the bench, he approached me and began giving me tips on why my bench looked so bad and on why if anything, I was actually getting weaker with it! I was young and naïve, but this conversation nestled firmly in my head. I have a lot to thank this man for as he gave me the theoretical slap in the face I needed and I came to the conclusion that I needed to change.
18 months later and my PB so far on the bench is 105kg (new PB coming soon) and I’m the strongest and biggest I have ever been training in one of the best facilities in the UK with great people. So this is how I have come to writing this article with some of the tips I have utilised on how to instantly improve your bench press from the guy who has been at both ends of the spectrum.
Many people have different techniques of setting up for the bench press. I could spend a lot of time here talking about how I like to set up (check out the series with Dave Tate in the link above about bench pressing for some solid information), but I thought I would focus on one area and that’s tightness. Before I unrack the bar, I ensure that my feet are anchored into the floor to use leg drive during each rep, take a deep breath in to ensure that my torso is a tight as possible and grip the bar like I’m trying to strangle it into submission. The key is ensuring all these areas stay the same throughout the lift to ensure that you can exert as much speed onto the bar as possible. For example, when I am benching you can often see my legs slightly moving during the lift which indicates I’m not pressing my heels into the floor and producing enough leg drive.
“Squeeeeeeeze, squeeze that bar like your trying to snap that mutha fu$ka in two!” – CT Fletcher
I used to believe that by doing sets of low reps week in, week out with the heaviest weight I could handle would lead to the best gains. However, adopting this approach every session contributed to my shocking form and increased my injury risk rather than my ability to press more weight. People have to drop the ego that presents itself with the bench press and focus on utilising volume and progress accordingly. Currently, I’m working with percentages of between 50-85% of my predicted 1RM and look to be on course for a new PB in the coming weeks proving that the amount of weight on the bar isn’t everything!
“Treat your warm up like your max and your max like your warm up”
I really like the thought behind this quote! The first part of the quote relates to the lack of effort people seem to elicit during their warm up. When warming up for their working sets, it looks like they’re going through the motions with the lighter weights rather than trying to perfect their form and prepare the body for what’s to come. Then when it comes to working with the heavy weights, the amount of weight on the bar begins to play on the mind and too much respect is paid to the bar. I love the butterfly’s I get in my stomach before a big lift because it lets me know that shits about to get real and I need to give it my all. Fear has to be eradicated from the mind and you command the bar rather than the bar command you, I acknowledge this trick to Sean Keefe after I was guilty of not putting enough “oomph” onto the bar, imagine that the bar is causing harm to the dearest person in your life… got it? Now go destroy that bar and teach it a lesson!
ATTACK YOUR WEAKNESSES
To improve at anything in life, you need to use tools that are going to improve your weaknesses. Some people will know their weaknesses but brush them under the carpet as irrelevant, other people will acknowledge their weaknesses and put everything they have into improving them. With the bench you could have a muscle group such as the triceps, shoulders or lats letting you down in your attempt to progress, you could have a sticking point at the bottom of the lift or at the mid-point of the press. Whatever your weakness is, ensure you get after it and kick its ass. My biggest weakness is exerting as much speed onto the bar as possible, so I’ve worked with med ball throws, banded bench press, paused bench press and just thriving to get stronger.
I hope that I have provided you with something you can use to improve your bench press, if you already feel like you are doing all these things, good! Keep smashing your training and striving to improve, don’t let anyone put any limits on how far you can go, you’re the key to your future success.
Thanks for reading
Jake Hartley (Bsc)