I was born a weakling. Seriously. I played basketball all the way through high school, and even went and got myself a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but that didn’t do jack for my strength in the weight room. So after my glorious sports career ended, I decided to pick up the weights, cause every guy wants to be jacked to impress the babes. Solid plan, right?
The first time I tried my hand at the legendary bench press was somewhere around the age of 17 or 18, and it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.
I hopped on a bench, tried a few reps with the bar, and laughed in it’s face. Added two twenty-five pound plates, bringing by total to a massive 95 pounds, and promptly got myself pinned under it, until someone rushed over to remove it from my small chest.
From that day forward, I decided having a small bench press was the worst thing ever, and I made every effort to change it. Fast forward to now. I am not what anyone would consider a powerlifter, or a massive guy, but I’ve come a long way – yes, I can bench more than 225 now (two big plates), but I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way.
I’m here to help you avoid those mistakes, and hit that 225 mark as quickly as possible, since that is a good strength standard, and more than the average weak bro in your gym can lift. You don’t want to be a weak bro, trust me. Follow these rules, and you’ll be well on your way to a bigger bench press.
Rule One: Train ALL your main lifts heavy, in the 4-6 repetition range.
You want to get swole right? Benching all day will give you some seriously rounded shoulders, making you look small and weak. Which you aren’t. Get strong at all the big, compound movements, like squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, rows, standing shoulder presses, and get that core strong. Heavy, compound lifts stimulate testosterone release, which you need to build size and strength. Also, doing 3 sets of 8-12 won’t get you strong as quickly as using lower reps.
Rule Two: Train Your Bench Press Twice Each Week
Read rule number one. Apply it, and train your bench heavy, once per weak. Now we’re going to add in the kicker – a second bench day, with lighter weight. It’s much better to train each muscle twice per week, rather than once, so I’d go with two upper body days, and two lower body days, one heavy and one lighter. Doing each body part once a week is for bodybuilding magazines, trust me
So on your first day, you might do 4 sets of 4-6 on the bench press, and on your second day (later in the week), you might do 3 sets of 12-15, really focusing on exploding the bar off your chest with good form. This could go for all your lifts; hit them heavy, then hit them again, focusing on volume and technique practice.
Don’t believe that twice a week is better than once a week? Think about eating a whole pizza on Monday, each week, or eating a whole pizza Monday AND Thursday. Which option will make you fat quicker?
Rule Three: Get very strong triceps
Your triceps, an assistance muscle for the bench, are pretty important, and you need to train them to be very strong. Don’t mess around doing cable pushdowns in the mirror, unless you want to stay small – that’s cool if that’s your thing. I’m talking about dips, close-grip bench presses, close-grip pushups… anything that involves real weight. This will do wonders for your bench.
Miscellaneous Tips for Overcoming Plateaus
Is your bench stuck? This happens. Here are a few tips that can definitely help, if you’ve followed the big three and still can’t make progress.
- Eat more. Didn’t include this as a main rule, since I see plenty of bros slamming bro-tein and creatine shakes after the gym and eating everything in sight, but if you eat small, expect to stay small.
- Every few weeks, try some negative reps. Load up more than you can handle, having someone help you lift it, and lower it as slowly as possible.
- Make sure your form is solid. Feet firmly planted on the ground, hands just outside shoulders, elbows about 45 degrees with your body, and keep your back tight.
- Really pull the bar apart as you lower it, don’t let it crush you. This will help engage your whole upper body to press more weight.
- Switch to dumbbells for a while if you get stuck.
I hope the above tips helped you out, if you’re struggling with the your bench press. These rules can really be applied to any main lift you want to get stronger at, but most people only want to increase the bench. Because no one cares about what you squat, especially since no one trains legs these days!
Finally, if you already have a pretty strong bench, say 275 or more, these tips will still help, but your program will need a little more fine-tuning. It’s one thing to go from 135 to 225, and I can’t see why anyone would get stuck if they follow my rules, but getting to 300, 350, 400 is a whole different ballgame, and beyond the scope of this article.
Matt Dustin is a personal trainer and strength coach who believes you can get incredibly jacked and shredded, and still be able to function and move your body for sports, and life in general. You can check out his website at www.theathleticphysique.com, and follow him on Twitter for more cool stuff.