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It’s no secret that the bench is the most popular exercise in the gym. As a result, most lifters are always looking for a new spin on how to improve bench press. There are a lot of different methods you could use to up your bench, but here are three things you can make sure are a part of any program you might choose.
The top thing on any list of ideas on how to improve bench press should be utilizing better technique. And for most trainees, this should start with tucking the elbows. Too many people bench with their elbows flared out wide, such that their upper arms are almost perpendicular to their torso. This is hard on the shoulders, puts undue strain on the elbows, and doesn’t at all engage the triceps.
Instead, try to keep the upper arms at about a 45-degree angle to your core. Doing this will engage the triceps, gives you better leverage, and is much easier on the shoulder joint and elbow. You’ll have to train yourself to utilize this movement pattern, though. The best way to do this is to concentrate on always trying to tuck your elbows. This will bring them in, and put your upper arms at the angle you want.
Almost a secret to anyone not heavily immersed in the hardcore strength training and / or powerlifting community, strengthening your upper back might seem like a counter-intuitive way to bench more. However, it’s also one of the most effective methods you can employ.
By strengthening your rear delts, rhomboids, and lower traps for example, you first eliminate any muscular imbalances you might have between your upper body’s “pushing” and “pulling” muscles. You also make your shoulder girdle more stable, which allows you to bench more weight.
Ask old school lifters how to improve bench press, and they might just tell you to bench heavy and bench often. While that’s good advice, science has shown there can be better ways to improve overall strength levels.
One way is to take a more long-term, periodized approach. Start off with a lighter weight, and gradually train heavier and heavier over weeks and months. Doing this acclimates the body to the increasing weight, while building muscle and improving nervous system efficiency.
Another excellent way is to add dynamic / explosive work to the mix. Popularized mainly by Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell, adding several sets of 2-3 reps with 45-65% of your 1RM allows you to train as explosively as possible. This means not only are you training your muscles to produce more force, but produce it more quickly. When you can contract muscle fibers faster, you can contract them harder. And when you can contract them harder, you can lift heavier. Learn about the different types of strength training here.
There are a lot of things you can do to bench more weight. But no matter what program you ultimately choose, there are still things you should still make sure you’re doing. Benching with tucked elbows will inherently lead to putting up more weight, as will strengthening your upper back. And integrating dynamic work will improve explosive power. Put all these in your routine, and your bench press should steadily climb upward.
You may also want to read our article on 9 bench press tips to build a stronger chest (which covers some of these points and others).