‘How much do you bench?’ may well be the most frequently asked question in gyms worldwide and many gym goers will pursue a new PB like it’s the holy grail. But the bench press is much more than an ego lift. It’s one of the most effective exercises for increasing upper body strength as well as bone density, plus, as a compound exercise it’ll work multiple muscle groups at once. It’s not just about the pecs, a properly performed bench press will build your triceps, promote shoulder strength and stability and also work your core.
On the surface, the bench press seems simple. Lie down on the bench, unrack the bar and press, right? Not quite. There’s a little bit more that goes into truly mastering the bench press. If you want to see a boost in your personal best, the best place to start is your set up. The ‘grab and go’ technique you’ll see in many gyms is not only ineffective, but also potentially dangerous. If you’re guilty of neglecting your set up, try following the steps below and get set for a new PB.
Getting your technique dialled in is the first, and most important, step. However, even with perfect form increasing your bench press won’t necessarily be smooth sailing. As a compound movement, there are multiple muscle groups in play. This means that one area in particular may be lacking which will hold back your bench press as a whole. You can usually identify which muscle group needs a little more attention by finding your weak point. To help you identify it, we’ve listed a few of the usual suspects below.
What it looks like: You’re able to lower the bar to your chest under control but that’s where it stops.
Muscle group lacking: Pecs and delts
How to fix it: Pause bench, pin press (chest level), wide grip bench press
What it looks like: You’ve lowered under control, touched your chest and the bar is on the way back up. Then halfway through the rep you get stuck and the bar starts to descend.
Muscle group lacking: Triceps (although this may also come down to a lack of explosiveness off the chest)
How to fix it: Board press, speed press, banded press
What it looks like: This feels like falling at the last hurdle. Just when it feels like the hard work is done and you’re inches away from completing the lift, the bar starts to come back down and you miss the rep.
Muscle group lacking: Triceps
How to fix it: Dips, close grip bench press, floor press, board press
What it looks like: As you press the bar one side is notably higher or feels like its working much harder.
Muscle group lacking: Muscles on less dominant side.
How to fix it: Dumbbell variations- bench press, shoulder press, neutral grip chest press
Now that your form is on point and you’ve addressed your weakpoints, the key to continued progression is progressive overload. If you want your body to respond, you need to make sure you are continually challenging it by increasing the intensity of your workout. However, increasing intensity doesn’t always mean adding more weight. Try experimenting with different rep ranges, shorter rest periods and changes in total volume. You can find more information on preogressive overload in our previous blog post here.
As rewarding as it can be to hit a personal best, the road there can at times be frustrating. However, if you follow the steps above you should be on the right path a bench press to be proud of. As always, patience and consistency are key. Be persistent, progress gradually and before you know it your current personal best will be your warm up weight.