“How much do you bench?” That’s a question anyone who’s even remotely serious about working out will have heard. Or, more likely, even been asked themselves. Of all the exercises out there this one seems to have permeated into mainstream culture more so than any other. You’ll find many newer lifters desperately striving to achieve a better bench press. Often at the expense of a more well-rounded training routine.
The bench press hasn’t achieved its lofty status without merit. It sits in a group, along with the likes of squats and deadlifts, as one of the most important exercises in any training program.
Our focus today is on helping you grab those bragging rights. With three simple tips to pile the plates onto your personal best like never before.
One of the simplest ways to quickly improve your bench is to ensure you have the correct grip. It may sound obvious but it’s something you’ll see every day in any gym you go to.
Everyone has seen the big guy with a wingspan like a jet plane. Benching with his hands 4 feet apart. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Taking a grip that’s too wide not only removes some of the power from the lift but also puts the shoulders under an unnecessary amount of strain.
It also makes for a very short range of motion. Which is counterproductive for someone looking to build a fuller chest. Conversely, taking too narrow of a grip will hurt your lift just as much by pushing the emphasis onto the triceps and thus limiting the weight you can move, along with limiting the time under tension of the pectoral muscles.
The ideal grip you want to be aiming for is just slightly outside of shoulder width. This will allow a smooth arc the whole way through the lift allowing you to fully engage the muscles you are actually targetting, as opposed to those that should be playing a supporting role in the lift.
While the previous point spoke about ensuring you were fully engaging the pectorals. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are the only thing you have to use to execute a successful bench press. One of the reasons the bench is such an important exercise is the fact that it is a big, compound exercise.
This means that unlike isolation exercises where you focus purely on the muscle being targetted. Compound exercises require the use of multiple joints and muscles to complete the lift. This is why they are so effective. They not only allow you to move heavier loads with the intended muscle group but also strengthen the stabiliser muscles at the same time.
When you take your position on the bench. Make a concerted effort to squeeze your shoulder blades together and activate your traps and lats. This is because the chest and back muscles are an antagonistic pair, meaning they work together and one contracts while the other relaxes.
Ensuring that everything is engaged when you begin the lift allows the back muscles to provide support during the eccentric (lowering) part of the lift so that the chest has as much power and energy as possible for the concentric (lifting) part of the lift where the majority of the gains are made.
Whenever you listen to instructions on form for most exercises “don’t bend your back” is one of the most frequent corrections you will hear. Usually for very good reason as it can put unnecessary strain on the spine.
As with most rules, there are some exceptions and this is one. When you are positioning yourself on the bench you should plant your feet to give yourself a nice, solid base. Then, when you are sliding under the bar you want to create a small arch in your lower back.
We’re not talking about arching like you were trying to do a bridge. We’re talking about raising your lumbar region a couple of inches off the bench. The benefits of these actions are twofold.
Everything from your legs and core all the way up to your back and obviously your chest are working in unison to produce a perfectly synchronised lift.
While all of these may seem like simple little tweaks as opposed to glaring changes. That’s often the difference when it comes to separating the great from the good. When used in unison you’ll be working the targetted muscle through the full range of motion. With all the supporting acts fully enabled and reducing the risk of a nasty injury while you do it.
Now when you hear that age-old question of “how much do you bench?” you won’t be bored by it any more. You’ll be dying to answer it and show everyone the rewards of your hard work.
Steve Burden is a Writer, Personal trainer and Professional wrestler. Based in London he has over a decade in the fitness industry