Updated: Jan 21, 2022
The barbell bench press is arguably one of the most popular exercises people do in the gym. Almost everybody that trains consistently in the gym has performed a barbell bench press before.
It's a great movement that targets the chest, shoulders and triceps all to a large degree. In fact, it's one of the 7 foundational movements that you should be doing to build strength and muscle across the entire body if you train with a minimalistic approach.
However while it is a very important exercise, many lifters struggle with it and either struggle to use it as a tool to build muscle, or struggle to perform well on it meet expectations.
And while quick fixes generally aren't a good idea in fitness, we've got 7 easy tips for you in this post that you can implement straight away to boost your bench press capacity quickly!
The 7 Best Tips to Boosting Your Bench Press
Stacking Your Joints
Keeping the joints stacked is one of the best and strongest ways to lift in almost any compound movement, including the bench press.
By stacking the joints, we mean intentionally positioning your joints in a way where if you were to draw a line from one joint to another, it would be completely vertical. For example, look at the picture below.
The man's wrists and elbows form more or less a completely vertical line if one were to be drawn. This is what is meant by stacking the joints.
For most people, this is going to be the strongest way to lift as you're able to transfer power to the bar more efficiently in a straight line. And it'll also be the safest as you share the brunt of the load across your joints, instead of having one of them carry too much of the weight.
That's right. Making a conscious effort to stack your joints is going to reduce the amount of sheer force placed on the joints involved. You're going to be able to preserve them better and will be able to train for longer as a result of this.
Bench pressing with stacked joints also helps you gain more control over the bar. It can be pretty tough to keep the bar under control and if your wrists are too far outward compared to your elbows, or the other way around. Or if your wrists are bent backwards and the bar is sitting well behind your elbow.
It's much easier to keep the bar in control and stable if you're pressing with all your joints and have your body in a stable position to begin with.
If you're currently not bench pressing with stacked joints, and would like to boost your lifting numbers, stacking your joints is one of the best and fastest ways to go about doing this.
Plant Your Feet
Too many people allow their feet to develop minds of their own when they come to bench press. Many people lose control of their feet and have them flailing around during their tough reps.
Not only does this look incredibly stupid, it's not good for your ability to lift heavier weights either.
It's common knowledge that you're able to lift more weight if you're lifting from a stable position. That's why you're able to lift more on machines than you are able to with free weights.
You're lifting with more stability, which requires less muscle engagement across the body in the stabilization muscles. You're able to focus solely on moving the load with your target muscles and therefore are able to move more weight.
You'll know what we mean if you've ever tried to do something like a squat on a bosu ball. It's practically impossible for some, and incredibly difficult for others. Even if done with just bodyweight.
Planting your feet firmly into the ground isn't going to completely remove the need for stabilization in a barbell bench press, but it'll help you press from a more stable position and be able to lift more as a result.
So plant your feet firmly into the ground. Or at least keep them in control and don't let them come off the ground. You need your body to be in as stable of a position as possible if you want to lift as much weight as possible.
Arch Your Back
This is a pretty simple bench pressing technique that most people will understand already. however, it's still worth noting as some do not yet use it.
When you bench press, you want to press from the most optimal and strongest position that you can. If we're talking about bench press, this is actually the decline position over the flat or incline position.
This is because a decline bench press lets you recruit the muscles of the pec major better , which is naturally a much larger and stronger muscle than the front delts are. This is generally going to allow lifters to press more weight.
By arching your back, you'll also effectively turn this movement into a decline press, which is generally stronger than a flat or incline press would be. Meaning, you're generally able to press more weight in a decline bench press than you can in a flat or incline bench press.
It's not a complete decline bench press, but every little bit counts and everything will add up to help you lift potentially a lot more weight than you otherwise would be able to.
Arching your back is also going to reduce the range of motion of your bench press, which can help you do more reps of the same weight as you're doing less overall work.
The size of your arch is going to depend on your flexibility and how serious you are about powerlifting. The more you arch your back, the more you're likely going to be able to press.
This is different to person to person, but many of the top powerlifters press with massive arches in their backs that would be dangerous to attempt for the average person.
Retract the Scapula
If you retract your shoulder blades by pulling them back and slightly down, you're going to not only reduce the stress placed on your shoulder joints and increase safety, but you'll also further reduce range of motion and put the chest into a stronger position to press from.
Retracting the scapula is a technique that most people are already implementing. Every single powerlifter you see is going to be using it, and it's almost a basic bench press cue that comes naturally to most lifters.
You do this by thinking about drawing your shoulder blades back and closer together. This i going to help with creating more stability and tension in the upper body, which is always helpful when it comes to pressing more weight and moving heavier loads in general.
Tear the Bar Apart
This is a cue that many serious powerlifters use during their bench press, and it essentially involves trying to pull the bar into 2 pieces during the eccentric portion of the movement, or the downward phase.
The reason that people use this cue is to generate more upper body tension in the hands and lats, and consequently press more weight.
And thinking about 'tearing the bar apart' is also going to help you align your joints correctly and get into the most optimal position to press in. Again, this is going to tie back in with stacking the joints and not only lifting more, but keeping yourself safe when lifting.
Basically, you think about ripping the bar apart by drawing the hands outwards and down towards you, even though you keep them in the same spot.
You know that you're not going to actually rip the bar (sorry but you're not that strong!), but it's just the extra tension that it creates. Sort of like pulling the slack out of the bar during a deadlift. You don't pull the bar off the ground, but you create tension throughout the entire body.
You'd want to think about tearing the bar apart as soon as you unrack it, or at least before you initiate the movement. Remember, we're trying to engage the lats more. They help to create a stable base to press from and help us to maintain our upper body tension throughout the entire movement.
If you don't think about tearing the bar apart, you can risk lowered muscle activation, a lack of tension throughout the upper body, less control over the bar and also a higher risk of injury to the joints if you're not able to align them properly.
This is definitely a strategy that you're going to want to implement into your bench pressing.
Utilize Leg Drive
Leg drive is one of the most important aspects of a good bench press. Although it is an upper body movement, the legs can come to play a HUGE role in the barbell bench press.
Your ability to drive with your legs is going to have a big impact on whether or not you can actually get the bar off your chest, and back up the lockout position.
You see, when you use your leg drive in the bench press you're going to place your body in a more optimal and stronger position to press from. Utilizing leg drive properly can help you create a better arch in your lower back, and will also place your traps into a better and more stable position on the bench as a result of this.
By utilizing your leg drive, you turn the flat barbell bench press closer to a decline press.
This study conducted by M Kristiansen found that utilizing leg drive helped with stability during the movement and tension in the upper body, which leads to a stronger bench press and the ability to lift more weight.
This helps to make the lift feel easier, and you'll likely find that each rep taxes the central nervous system far less. Even if you're lifting weights that used to be pretty tough.
If you've never used leg drive before in your bench press, try to implement it in your next session!
You'll want to start by planting your feet firmly into the ground, at a point where your shin sits completely vertical. This is going to give you the strongest position to drive from, and to start with as well. You can adjust this later for it to be more comfortable and to feel more stable if needed.
You then want to drive your legs into the ground, and almost think about pushing your body further up the bench, closer to the rack.
Obviously you're going to stay in the same spot on the bench, however you might find that your back moves ever so slightly further towards the rack, and this is completely fine.
Think about driving your legs like this:
Hopefully that explains how leg drive works. It's an incredibly important part of a good bench press, and definitely isn't something that you should be ignoring if you want to be strong in your lifting.
Row the Bar to Your Chest
When you lift weights, you should always be in control over the weight you're moving. Whether you're lifting a barbell, a pair of dumbbells, a machine or whatever else, you should be in control of it.
The barbell bench press is no different.
However all too often, lifters will let gravity do all of the work on the way down, and then absolutely hammer their ribcages with heavy weight on the bar.
This is what you should be avoiding. If you let gravity do all the work, not only are you not getting much out of the exercise and limiting your gains, but you're reducing the amount of tension in your body by quite a lot.
As soon as the bar hits your chest and it's time for you to come back up, your chest, shoulders and triceps have to immediately snap into action and catch the load. It's unsafe. You're going to risk having your technique thrown off, a loss of stability or something else.
Basically, you won't have control over the bar and it'll be harder for you to press it back up once you bounce it off your chest.
Instead, you should be thinking about 'rowing' the bar down to your chest. So instead of simply allowing the bar to drop and letting gravity do all the work, think about actively resisting the weight and going through that motion. Almost like you're doing a barbell row.
You don't have to go ridiculously slow, as this will waste too much energy and compromise the lift. However you do need to ensure that you're in control of the bar and aren't just letting gravity drop it down to your chest for you.
This is going to allow you to gain full control over the bar, lift with more stability, get more out of each rep that you do and ultimately improve your bench press as a whole.
The bench press is a pretty technical movement that's going take years for most people to completely master. Even if you think you've got it completely under your belt, there's likely a couple things that you could improve and work on.
If you're currently struggling with your bench press and are finding it tough to meet your expectations of yourself, try to implement these 7 tips and techniques if you're not already doing so!
They're quick and simple fixes that can help to boost your bench press immediately if you implement them correctly.
Definitely look to give them a try and contact us if you have any questions!
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