5 Tips To Improve Your Bench Press
- Push back off the chest
Consider the two phases of the bench press as being the eccentric (downward) phase and the concentric (upward) phase. In order to reduce the strain on the shoulder joint we don’t let the bar descend in a vertical line, instead we bring the bar down towards the sternum and press back up over the shoulders. By pushing back over the shoulders more in the first half of the concentric phase of the lift we can substantially improve our leverage through the sticking point of the lift. Below is the often referenced bench press bar paths of a novice, intermediate and expert bench presser taken directly from McLaughlin (1984). In these images the U refers to the upwards phase of the lift whilst D refers to the downward phase. Notice how much more exaggerated the push back is in the expert bench presser.
- Consider increasing your bench press frequency (gradually)
Of the 3 power lifts the bench press is arguably the most forgiving. Certainly compared to the deadlift the bench press appears to be easier to recover from. If you are someone who only trains the bench press (or a variation) once or even twice per week, then it might be worth considering increasing your training frequency. Like most things a gradual increase is preferable. So for example if you are only training the bench press once per week, don’t go straight to training it four times per week. Start by increasing to twice per week and see how you respond over time.
- Consider gaining some weight
The bench press is very sensitive to changes in range of motion. This can be influenced by having a bigger arch but also by being physically bigger. So for example if you’ve been chasing a personal best on the bench press for a long time and have been cutting to make a lighter weight class in the past, then consider going up a weight class in the future. By being physically bigger you will shorten the range of motion that the bar has to travel as well as having more muscle tissue to recruit to execute the lift.
- Squeeze the bar throughout
This is a tip I received from Greg Nuckols a few years ago. By squeezing the bar it will feel lighter in your hands and you’ll have a much more stable wrist and forearm position to press with. In Greg’s own words “when you squeeze the bar everything else just feels stronger”.
- Learn how to use leg drive properly
In order to get the most out of your bench press you ideally want to use as many muscle groups to assist you as possible, and that’s where leg drive comes in. Using an appropriately timed drive from the legs can give you a boost off the chest in the bench. Timing and the positioning of your feet are important to consider. Many people struggle with getting the timing of their leg drive relative to the movement of the upper body and this can only be overcome with practice. Some lifters find they get better leg drive by tucking their feet behind where their knees are positioned, sometimes even underneath the bench itself. Others prefer a wider foot position, neither are right or wrong necessarily but rather more suitable for a given individual. Experiment with both and see which style might suit you better.