9 Part Guide to Bigger CHEST (if clicking doesn't work- right click and hit "Save link As")
For some reason, the bench press has long been considered the ultimate test of gym strength and manliness. There is evidence that the squat and deadlift are increasingly becoming more common measures, but among the gym bros, it will always be bench. Sadly, the bench press is one of the most difficult exercises to increase strength in, for a number of reasons.
This article is designed to give you five ways to increase your bench press strength. None of these changes are going to increase your bench overnight, but over the coming weeks and months, you should see some serious progress to impress your mates with.
Tip #1. Get Your Technique Right
This may sound like an obvious tip but the sad reality is that most people are failing to achieve a good bench press. You’ll see shallow lifts, people lifting their legs in the air, people placing their feet on the bench, people bouncing the weights off their chest, and raising their head off the bench. In most gyms you’ll see bad technique more often than you’ll see good technique.
Some will argue that so long as you get the weight up what does it matter? Well there are two problems with this.
1) If you start off with a cheating technique, then there is no room to grow. If you are already cutting corners to hit 100kg, then how are you planning on reaching 120kg? Or 140?
2) Bad technique will not properly strengthen your chest, shoulders, or triceps. It can cause injury, but will also lead to bad muscle imbalances.
Lie on the bench (we’re using a barbell bench press for this example) and make sure that your eyes are directly below the bar. Place your arms straight up and grab hold of the bar. Your hands should be around shoulder width apart from each other. Pull your shoulder blades back and push your chest up. Your chest should now be raised slightly.
Push your heels into the ground and pull your feet back underneath you slightly, this should create tension in your quadriceps (thighs). Turn your toes out slightly. Push your head back into the bench, take a deep breath and pull the bar off the supports so that it rests directly over your chest. Hold your breath as you slowly bring the bar down to your chest, pause when it touches your chest and then drive the bar upwards while breathing out explosively.
Stop when your arms are almost (but not quite) fully extended. Take a deep breath and either return the bar to the supports, or return the bar back down to your chest again. Remember, the lowering of the bar should be slow and steady, while the raising of the bar should be smooth and powerful.
Tip #2. Use Proper Programming
When you walk into the gym do you consult your well-researched training program, or do you sit on the bench and decide how many reps you’re going to do today? Real talk, if you are guilty of the latter you will never see great results.
Due to the varied readership in this blog, it is difficult to give a program that will suit everyone but a personal program is exactly what you need. First thing that you need to do is decide what your specific goals are, is getting a bigger bench the most important goal? Or do you want to get stronger in everything? Maybe you’re more interested in burning fat, or increasing muscle size?
Once you know this then you can create a program to match. If we assume that you want nothing more than to build a bigger bench press, then we would recommend going for a 5×5 program (5 sets of 5 reps) as this is probably the most effective method for strength gains.
Write down what you are going to do in an exercise journal, then record your weights, your rate of perceived exertion (how difficult you found the exercise that day), and use this information each time you are in the gym. Use it to progressively overload the muscles by increasing the weights. It’s the only way to build a bigger bench properly.
Tip #3. Strengthen Your Grip
You’ve got the technique, you’ve got the program, so why are you not seeing any progress?
As odd as it might sound, weak wrists could be causing your downfall. This can partly be fixed by improving your technique, a lot of people bench with their wrists bent backwards. By concentrating on straightening your wrists you will strengthen your grip and improve your lifts.
If your technique is perfect (be honest with yourself here) but your wrists are still hurting then you might want to consider wearing wrist straps. These can strengthen your grip, provide stability, and help improve your technique. Alternatively you can concentrate on exercises to strengthen your wrists and forearms. Wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, hammer curls, and cable wrist rotations. Or do both, which is probably the best plan.
Tip #4. Build Stronger Triceps
Often, people think that it is their chest muscles that are holding them back in the bench press. While this can be the case, it is usually down to weakened triceps. This means that you have to concentrate on training your triceps more (every man in the world just started paying attention).
Close grip bench presses are perfect for this as they offer the best of both worlds. Other exercises to consider would be skullcrushers (try the dumbbell version), cable tricep extensions, and tricep dips. These can all really help to improve your tricep strength.
If your bench doesn’t improve after your triceps have grown, then it could very well be your chest that is underdeveloped. In which case you should concentrate on incline presses, chest presses, cable flyes, and chest dips. Push ups are also a great idea.
Tip #5. Utilise Proper Rest Periods
Most lifters tend to guess their rest periods, or just make up how long they’re supposed to rest for. You’ll see some guys giving themselves less than 30 seconds between sets, while others get talking to their mates for 9 minutes after each set. But studies have already demonstrated that the perfect rest period between sets for strength training is 3 minutes.
No more, no less. Get your phone out and put 3 minutes on the timer. Make sure that the moment that buzzer goes off you are straight into lifting. This time period gives you enough time to recover, while preventing you from cooling down and losing intensity.
Avoid the mistake of being unrealistic in your goals, you are not going to double your bench in 6 weeks (unless you are completely new to training). But celebrate the small victories along the way, after a few months you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come! Also, be consistent. Prepare a muscle building diet. Train 3-4 times per week, keep going to the gym week in, week out, and only then will you get good results.
Schoenfeld, B., Pope, Z., Benik, F., Hester, G., Sellers, J., Nooner, J., Just, B. 2015. Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 30(7): 1805-12Follow @AboutLifting