Updated: Jan 31, 2022
The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the gym. It's one of your three main compound lifts, and is the classic upper body pushing exercise to build up the front side of your torso.
If you're anything like us, you'll quite enjoy hitting PRs and one rep maxes on your compound lifts.
But how do you get stronger faster? What techniques and tips can you implement to increase that bench press one rep max?
Improving your bench press can be optimized with certain training tips and strategies, and it's just a matter of understanding what it all means, and how you can use them to the best of your ability.
However we will disclaim that it is unlikely you will see extremely quick progress like some other sources may tell you.
Other sources will tell you that you can increase your max bench press by 20kg in just four weeks.
Now unless you are a beginner or you are enhanced, that is very, very unlikely to happen. It takes a long time to build strength, and the more advanced you are, the harder it gets to keep progressing.
There's no surefire way to increase strength in a matter of weeks, but you can implement these strategies and tips we're about to discuss to speed up the process.
Image courtesy of maxpixel.net
As previously mentioned, there are several tips and strategies you can implement into your onw training to speed up the process of getting stronger.
These tips would be:
Prioritizing the Bench Press
It's generally good advice to do all your heavy lifting at the beginning of your workout, when you have the most energy and focus.
This is to prevent form breakdown and injury, but also to maximize lifting capacity and loading potential.
By prioritizing the bench press in your workouts, we mean to do them as the first exercise, after the warm up.
Ideally you should be loading the bar up quite heavy and really honing on lifting high weights with good form.
If you don't prioritize the bench press, or the exercise you want to improve on the most, it'll suffer.
If you've ever tried to bench heavy after doing a couple of hard sets on incline bench press or military press, then you most likely know what we're talking about.
The weight feels heavier than it ever has before. And while we're not saying that these exercises are bad to do first on a 'push' or 'upper body' day, it's definitely not ideal if your main goal is to increase bench press strength.
Lifting heavy loads is a skill, and you just need to practice to get better at it. Because that's the way it usually works with anything we do. On average, most gymgoers probably bench once or twice a week.
However, if your main goal is to get stronger on this list, you should be gradually increasing your frequency.
The bench press is easier to recover from than the other two major lifts (squat and deadlift), and it will allow you to train them more often, while not compromising individual session performance as much.
If you've ever tried to deadlift heavy two or three days in a row, you'll be familiar with the horrible feeling of trying to pick up a seemingly unmovable weight. Even though you hit it for several reps the previous session.
However with the bench press, it is much easier to increase the frequency, as long as you reduce the volume and intensity per session slightly.
Moreover, scientific studies have repeatedly shown that simply increasing bench press frequency could lead to 28% more strength gain per session, meaning your results will come much quicker if you just split one bench workout across two or three sessions.
And if you're an aspiring or dedicated powerlifter, you could probably get away with benching four times a week, so long as you're keeping volume and intensity under control.
For an in-depth breakdown of this idea, as well as a great analysis of Greg Nuckols' study findings, check out Jeremy Ethier's YouTube video that we've included below!
When it comes to the bench press, it's vital that you understand how to actually perform the motion in order to maximize your force output and leverages.
Optimizing your bench pressing technique is going to be crucial to improving your one-rep max.
If you want to make the most out of your bench press, you'll want to set up with an arch in your spine, while keeping your main points of contact (glutes on the bench, head on the bench, shoulders and upper back on bench, and feet remaining on the ground).
By arching your back, you effectively turn the movement into more of a decline bench press, which we know is generally a stronger movement than the flat or incline press. It'll also shorten your range of motion, by naturally bringing your chest up higher.
You'll also want to keep your shoulder blades retracted, meaning pulled back and down. That way you'll not on protect your shoulders from injury, you'll also increase pec activation and further help decrease that range of motion.
Below, we've included an image of a professional powerlifter, showcasing great bench technique. Ideally, yours should looks something like that if your main goal is to get stronger at the bench press. You'll see the arch in his back, and the retraction (pulling back) of his shoulder blades.
With the bench press, you'll also want to avoid pressing the bar straight up and down. While this may be contrary to the bar path of squats and deadlifts, it'll help you press with more strength and power.
To do this, you'll want to assume a normal starting position. The bar shoulder be just over your upper chest after lifting off.
You'll then want to bring the bar down to your sternum area, and press back and up, bringing the bar back closer to your starting position.
Oftentimes you'll see people benching straight up and down, with the bar finishing over their ribcage ate at top of each rep.
That's what we generally want to avoid, especially if our main goals are to get stronger at the bench press.
For a quick video snippet on what your bar path should ideally look like, check out Jeff Nippard's video below, which we've pasted in for you. Just watch the following 20-30 seconds from where we've left the video to start at.
Lastly you'll want to gradually increase your grip width, up until wherever you find you are the strongest at.
This is a great way to boost your bench press one-rep-max.
Not only will this increase gradually decrease your range of motion further, it will also help you make the most of your biomechanics and leverages, which Jeff does also go into further detail on in his video above. (skip to 4:45).
Wherever you're gripping now, try and centimeter or two wider on your next bench session! Because generally, increasing grip width will increase strength, up a certain point.
And while we understand that taking a wider grip width might feel uncomfortable or weird at first, it really is a great step towards building up that overall pressing strength.
Performing Accessory Movements
Accessory movements are the smaller exercises that will compliment our main lifts. For the bench press, these would be things like the paused bench, push ups, dumbbell bench, close grip bench and floor press just to name a few.
Performing these accessory movements will help you help you further build up the foundational pressing strength, as well as help you target any weak points. They're also a great way to add extra volume without taxing the body as much, as they are generally done at lesser levels of intensity. To add these accessory lifts into your program, it's common practice for lifters to dedicate one day a week into their primary, traditionally benching, and the others are secondary and tertiary bench sessions where you'll focus more on accessory lifts such as the ones lifted above. That's been proven time and time again to be extremely effective at increasing the bench press one rep max, and is a great idea if you're looking to improve strength as well.
Your accessory lifts are extremely important at building up your main compound lifts, and your exercise selection will depend on weak points, as well as personal preference. After all, it is harder to stick and stay committed to a workout program that you don't enjoy doing.
So overall, accessory exercises should be a staple in your weekly programs if you want to build up your raw bench pressing strength. They're a great way to increase volume without taxing the body as much, as well as to change things up a bit and target some potentially weaker points you might find yourself struggling with.
Thanks so much for reading this post! We hope you enjoyed our work, and have found useful information in here that you'll start to implement into your own training, and speed up your process of becoming the best bench presser you can be. Until then, remember to keep working hard, and keep pushing to those limits.
The Gympulsive Team