When it comes to bench press, technique is important. You can learn how to increase the weight your are benching simply by changing a few key components of your lift. Less experienced lifters may think you just lay on a bench and grab the bar, but the folks that are pushing the heavier weight know that’s not the case. You have to have a game plan.
The benches are always the most popular area of the commercial gyms. A lot of guys spend a lot of their time there trying to increase their stats. But bench press can be done effectively from a home gym if you are lucky enough to have the right equipment.
Bench press has become one of the gold standards a lot of weight lifters use to gauge strength (ever been asked what you bench?). It’s a classic strengthening exercise and it’s great for developing your chest, shoulders, and triceps. With time and practice your strength will gradually improve and you should see yourself benching heavier and heavier weights. But, if you are new to benching or have noticed that you have plateaued, I have a few tips that will help.
How To Increase The Weight- 5 Tips To Instantly Improve Your Bench Press
#1 Bench Press First
The easiest way to increase your bench press is to make sure you are doing that exercise first in your chest routine. The fact is, if you have already done incline press and flys, your chest is going to be fatigued and your bench is going to suffer. Bench press is the most popular chest exercise for good reason- it’s effective! Benching is a great way to increase chest strength and size, so if you want to lift more weight, make it the first exercise you do.
#2 Rest More Between Sets
Another common mistake folks make is in the timing of their sets. Everyone has their own opinion on how long you should rest between sets. And, the right answer depends on what your goals are. If I want to burn fat and lose weight, I should be using short rest periods between sets to keep my heart rate up (30-60 sec between sets). But if I’m looking to increase the amount of weight I can bench, I should be resting 2-3 min between sets.
This longer rest period will give your muscles more time to recover. Just don’t rest too long. It’s annoying when you see someone resting 10 min between sets. It shouldn’t take an hour do to 4 sets of bench.
#3 Widen Your Grip
The position of your hands on the bar plays a big role in bench press. For optimal efficiency, your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Research has shown that having a wider grip improves performance on bench press. One reason this is the case, is that it decreases the vertical distance the bar has to move to touch your chest.
It also decreases how much movement is going on at the shoulder. Closer grips may work the deltoids and triceps harder. Close-grip bench is a wonderful exercise for the triceps, but no so much for chest day.
Just make sure your grip doesn’t get too wide. The same study mentioned above suggests that performance will be hindered if your elbows go beyond 90 deg of flexion. This would just feel awkward too during the lift.
Most Olympic bars have a notch on each side to help you with hand placement. It may vary a little depending on your size, but most lifters should have their index finger or middle finger on that notch.
#4 Squeeze & Pull
Experienced bodybuilders will always tell you to squeeze the bar as hard as you can while you’re benching. It supposedly helps you bench more explosively. I’ve tried it and I agree, it helps.
You should also be pulling the bar apart as you bench. With your hands in place on the bar, imagine you are trying to pull your hands away from each other. This will help you increase the force you can produce. But why?
The idea is that you are turning on your lats to help stabilize the barbell. The added stability will allow your pecs to work a little more efficiently, which means more weight on the bar.
I would take it one step farther and try to squeeze your shoulder blades together as the bar is descending toward your chest- this will give your pecs a little extra stretch as well as keep your shoulders in a safe position during the lift.
#5 Lower Your Reps
I was talking with my brother last week about ways to increase his bench press. He has been lifting for the last year and a half and has made some significant gains. But he was concerned that he wasn’t seeing his bench press increase anymore. He had hit a plateau. I started asking him questions about his reps and rest periods…
If your goal is to bench more weight, you have to make sure you aren’t fatiguing your chest and arms to the point where they can’t handle increasing the load. In order to really gain strength, you need to be lifting heavier weights for fewer reps.
I’m a fan of combining low rep exercises and higher rep exercises. When I say lower reps, I’m talking sets of 3-4. But in order to get any benefit, the weight should be 80-90% of your 1 rep max (1RM). Your 1RM is basically the max amount you can bench (for 1 reps). If you’v ever heard someone talk about “maxing out”, they are talking about their 1RM.
If you don’t know what your 1RM is, that’s ok. I found this awesome 1RM calculator online based on the weight you can lift for any given reps. You could also find out the ol’ fashioned way by gradually increasing the weight. Just make sure you have a spotter and warm up efficiently before you start maxing out.
Start trying sets of bench press with only 3-4 reps. You should be able to lift more weight doing 3 reps than you can if you are doing 10 reps. 3 sets of 10 is fine when you are learning how to bench with proper form, but after a week or two you should lower those reps if you want to see more plates on that barbell.
After talking with my brother, he went back to the gym the next day and tried a few of these tips. He texted me the following day, excited over the fact that he had instantly added 30 lb to his last set. He hadn’t magically gotten that much stronger since his last bench press. No, he changed the way he was benching and it made all the difference.
So, if you are having trouble progressing your bench press, give these tips a try. The all have to do with technique. Setting up a workout specifically designed to increase your chest strength (and your bench press) is an entirely different topic. One I may address in the future.
But for now, rest assured that you can learn how to increase the weight your are benching by simply tweaking your form. Give these ideas a try and watch those plates start adding up on the bar.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll get right back to ya.