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The bench press is one of the most important upper body exercises there is. Essential for both muscular and strength development, if this compound exercise is not a part of your upper body workout programme, it should be.
However, bench pressing successfully takes a lot more than just putting weights onto a barbell and hoping for the best. It is a complex movement that requires consistency and dedication.
Here are 5 ways you can improve your bench press and start hitting big numbers safely.
Perfect your form
First things first, without a doubt the most important part of any exercise is ensuring that your form is correct. Not only will this ensure that you are getting the most from the exercise, but it also means that you’re a lot less likely to get injured. If you find yourself jumping on a bench with very little idea what you’re doing, then taking time to work on your bench press technique will be incredibly beneficial.
The bench press might seem simple, but there are a lot of different things to think about before un-racking the bar. Where are your feet? What about your grip?
If you’re totally new to bench pressing, don’t be scared to ask for help! Any personal trainer will be more than happy to help, and once you have the form perfected, you can start to make progress with your bench press.
Check your grip
Ever feel like somedays your hands on the bar are too wide, other days too narrow? Finding a consistent position for your hands to be placed will help develop technique and progression.
When lowering the bar to just above your chest, your knuckles, wrist, forearm and elbow should all be in line, pointing upwards to the ceiling. This way the bar is best supported and the energy created from your pectorals, delts and triceps can be transferred through to extend the arm in the most efficient range of motion.
Another little tip is to think about twisting your little fingers inwards when performing the bench press, this will help prevent your elbows from flaring out when lifting heavier weight.
Vary your training
There are lots of training methods you can apply to the bench press, helping beat plateaus and continue developing your strength. Here are three methods you could implement to challenge your muscles in a new way:
- Pause-press: this is simple, at the bottom of the bench press, usually our weakest point of the movement. You're just going to hold the bar under tension for two to three seconds before pushing the bar back up and completing the rep.
- Drop Sets: This one is great for increasing volume and challenging your muscular hypertrophy/endurance dependant on the reps you go for. With drop sets, load the bar with your 5RM, and complete the reps, then re-rack, quickly remove around 15-20% of the weight and go for another 5. Repeat this for 4 - 5 times before taking a well-deserved rest.
- 5x5: A traditional approach, but not always adopted. It's as simple as it sounds. 5 sets of 5 reps, lifting to your max on each one. Ensure you take enough rest in-between these so you can lift the same weight for most of the sets. 2-3 mins rest should suffice.
Don't just lift with your chest
Ok, yeah, you got me. It's a chest exercise. But you need to be stable, controlled and push that bar away from you with force. To achieve this, it all starts from the ground up.
Using your feet to help stabilise the body under load, push them into the ground. Next, your core is playing a key roll to ensure your body in the correct position to perform the bench press, keeping the stomach area tight and retracting the scapula to achieve a strong posterior chain position.
This will allow your body to stay engaged and stable, controlling the movement whilst you're holding some serious weight above your head!
Practice makes perfect
If you’re struggling with your bench press, the chances are you want to avoid it at quite literally all costs. However, we hate to break it to you, but practice really does make perfect. If you have an area you’re struggling with in the gym, then the only way to improve on it is the put the time in.
Perfecting the form and technique required for a successful bench press is not easy but practising the exercise consistently and safely is a sure-fire way to begin seeing improvements. And if you're not sure where to start, seek help fro ma professional, 1-2-1 tips can be invaluable when it comes to weight training.