The bench press is perhaps the most popular exercise in the weight room. It’s a test of brute strength, will, and power, and it is very often the barometer by which athletes, gymgoers and casual lifters measure their upper body strength.
And yet, for it’s popularity, a surprising number of people I work with at the gym continue to struggle with it. From a lack of consistency in training the exercise, to technical errors, we can all stand to level up our bench press a little bit.
Here are a few things that you can do to improve your bench press the next time you hit the gym.
1. Get serious about what you want to accomplish under the bar.
For most lifters and athletes alike the answer to what they want to achieve on the bench is simple and clear-cut: I wanna get stronger and bigger.
Seems legit, but let’s get a little more specific:
How does the bench press fit into my overall goals in the gym? Am I looking for unilateral power (in which case dumbbell bench press would be our go-to)?
What are the weaknesses in my lift? Do I have proper technique? Could my elbows be more tucked in? Do I struggle with my lockout?
Am I hitting all of the supporting areas (back, shoulders especially) that will help boost my overall benching speed and power?
How often am I currently doing bench, and how much more could I be doing it? Hit up your training journal and get a better idea of how much you are actually performing this lift.
2. Crank up your bench press by reinforcing the foundation of the lift--your core muscles.
Doing core work is a pain in the butt for most athletes and gym-goers, and yours truly is no exception. Typically it’s programmed out for the end of the workout routine, when I am bagged and tired from heavy lifting and some interval training for conditioning.
But having a strong core goes beyond looking saucy with your shirt off at the beach or in front of the mirror--it is the very foundation that provides the stability (and therefore also the power) and platform for the bench press.
Instead of viewing the bench as a chest exercise, think of it as it actually is when performed correctly, a full upper body movement that recruits your back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and yup, your core.
So does this mean you should blast out an endless number of crunches on the swiss ball? Nah. Stick with planks, as the shoulder stability that comes along with performing them (and the countless variations that come with them) pair up nicely with your bench press.
3. Use visualization to improve technique and also lift a little more.
You’ve probably at one point or another, used visualization during your athletic endeavors, whether you realized it or not. Athletes have long relied on visualization to assist in easing stress, honing their performance, and even engage in a little bit of “deliberate practice” before the real thing.
Research with track athletes found that when they performed a quick visualization of their ideal sprint 1-2 minutes prior to running that they performed better nearly 90% of the time. Those are some legit results, particularly when you consider that all it takes is a few moments of concentrated focus to do.
The next time you are about to load up the bar spend a few moments imagining the grip of the bar, the explosion upwards, the controlled breathing and braced core as you flawlessly execute the lift.