No matter how hard I train, I’m not gaining any strength on the barbell bench press. I have been working out with weights for about 6 months and I’m hitting the gym about 3-4 days a week. Do you have any tips to help me get stronger on the bench press?
Many times during our attempts at getting stronger in the gym we hit a wall, stop making gains and plateau. We seem to get to a certain point in our training and we do not seem to get past it no matter how hard we workout. Just because we reach this plateau does not mean it can’t be resolved. There are many tips and techniques you can use to blast through any wall you reach with your weight training, and one of these tips is to always try to vary your bench press routine (sets, reps, weight) which is a great way to shock your body into growth and increase your strength on the bench press. Here are a few tips you can include in your training to always mix it up:
- Train your chest only once per week but train with super high intensity.
- Use low reps (4-6) for a workout and then use high reps (15-20) on the next.
- Use free weights for a workout and then switch it up and use machines for the next.
- Use bodyweight only exercises for a week (pushups, etc).
- Train your upper pecs only for one workout and then train your lower/middle pecs.
There are many muscles involved in the bench press exercise, which include the triceps and deltoids. Training these secondary muscles is just as important to gaining and strengthening your bench press. Training your triceps can be extremely helpful for pushing more weight on the bench press since your triceps are the key secondary pushing muscles that help get the weight up to the top of the movement. How many guys have you seen in the gym benching over 300 pounds have tiny little triceps? Not many! That’s because the triceps muscles need to be well-developed in order to get the bar up from the bottom position when benching.
A great way to build up your triceps is to use the close grip bench press exercise. When doing a normal bench press, slide your hands together so they are about 6 inches apart on the bar and keep your elbows tucked into your sides as you lower the bar down to your chest and back up to the top. If you flare out your elbows, this will force your pecs to become activated much more with this exercise which is not what you want. By keeping your elbows close to your sides, you will be able to put all of the pressure directly on the triceps and place maximum tension on them. Close grip presses are one of the best exercises you can use to increase your overall strength on the bench press. Skull crushers are also a very effective exercise for building up the triceps which can lead to increased strength in the bench press. Weighted dips with your elbows tucked into your sides are also incredible for overloading the triceps and packing muscle mass onto your arms.
Along with training your triceps, you need to make sure your deltoids are strong and powerful. Stick with mass building exercises like the military press and the seated dumbbell press to develop the front and middle deltoids and make sure to do some reverse flyes to target the rear deltoids and rotator cuffs to provide extra stability and strength when you are performing the bench press.
Your lifting technique is very important when it comes to making strides in your bench press. Using good form is essential to seeing your desired results. If your form is poor then very little progress can be made and potential injuries can be the result of using improper technique. Have someone with experience (personal trainer) look at your form and give helpful feedback on your technique. You will most likely see lots of different techniques on the bench press when you walk into any gym and not all of these are safe and effective. The keys are to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor, with your butt and back fully resting on the bench throughout the entire movement. Avoid lifting your lower back or butt off the bench as you press the weight up from the bottom position. This is terrible form and might result in an injury to your back due to the excessive pressure being placed on the spine.
As you lower the bar down, only go down as far as comfortable to your level of flexibility. If your shoulders start to hurt as you lower the bar down to touch your chest, don’t go that low and stop when the bar is about 3-4 inches from your chest (45 degree angle with your elbows). Some people have a great range of motion in their shoulders and others simply do not, so don’t go overboard and possibly injure yourself if it’s too difficult to go super low when bringing the weight down. Another great tip is to try to squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lower the bar down. This really helps to bring your chest up and out while placing all of the tension on your pecs and also helps you avoid hunching or rounding your back as your lift the bar up and down.
Along with your technique and form being important to benching correctly, the different training techniques you can use are crucial to implement into your training routine when trying to increase your overall strength levels. The drop set technique can be useful for strength gains. After warming up, start by lifting a heavier weight until you max out. While getting no rest in between sets, decrease the weight being used and continue lifting for another set while trying to get in as many repetitions as possible. Repeat this 1-2 times with absolutely no rest in between sets and decrease the weight each time.
Another great technique to include in your chest training when you’re trying to increase your bench are using super sets. Super sets are done using two different exercises with no rest in between the sets. These exercises will target the same muscle group (chest) but they can hit different areas of the chest such as incline barbell press (upper pecs) and decline dumbbell press (lower pecs).
Every now and then it can be beneficial to take some time off from training and give your muscles more time to rest up and fully recover. This can be a very effective method to increasing the strength needed for the bench press since you always want to give your muscles maximum recovery time before training them again. If you train too often, you risk falling into issues with overtraining which can lead to losing strength and muscle tissue since your body is screaming out to rest and simply can’t keep going at such a fast pace without adequate recovery.
Along with rest, the foods you eat and your overall diet is critical. Eating clean calories is needed to sustain growth in both mass and strength in your upper body which helps to increase your overall bench press. Combining the right mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats will aid in your growth. Your diet is probably the first thing you want to analyze if you are not currently getting any bigger or stronger. Remember, you need to eat big to get big so make sure you are putting a lot of energy and focus into consuming tons of clean quality calories!
In addition to eating the right foods and getting enough calories to grow, supplements can be very helpful for supplying nutrients you do not get from your diet. It’s hard sometimes to eat enough food to get what’s needed for growth. Maybe you have a very busy job where you can’t eat regular meals multiple times a day and this is when supplements like protein bars or protein shakes really come into play. They can help you out in order to get muscle building protein and calories all day long. Just pack up a few high quality protein bars into your work bag or briefcase and that’s all you need to get some quick and clean calories to help fuel your body so you can grow and get stronger!