Almost every lifter wants to increase their max bench. Whether it’s because they want to enter a lifting contest, build a bigger chest, or even just brag to their gym buddies. A bigger bench press is always a better bench press. However, it’s often difficult to increase the weight after a certain point. Here are 6 tips you can use to get past your plateau.
Test Your Current 1RM and Determine a New Goal
Before you can increase your max bench, you have to know what you current bench press 1RM is. If you’re not sure what your current max is, you can learn how to find it by using our one rep max calculator. After you know what your current bench is, you can decide how much you want to increase it by.
When choosing a new 1RM to shoot for, you need to be realistic. Sure, it might be cool to add 100lbs in a few months, but it’s probably not going to happen. Adding 10-15% within 8-16 weeks can be a good, attainable goal, but this will vary from person to person.
Use a Dedicated 1RM Workout Progression
It might sound overly simple, but if you want a bigger bench press, then you have to train for a bigger bench press. The best way to do this is with a max bench workout. You’ll start off light and every week for 8-16 weeks, you’ll add on weight, sets, and/or reps. These progressions (read more about progressive overload here) are usually based on your current 1RM, all culminating with you testing for a new 1RM at the end of the program.
Dial in Your Technique
Bench press performance can almost always be improved if your technique gets better. Too many guys just lie down on the bench, unrack the bar, and bench it. If this is all you’re doing, chances are you are your own worst enemy simply because you’re not being as efficient with strength you already have as you could be.
Getting a competitive powerlifter to assess your form in person would be best, but if not, here’s a short list of things to focus on:
- Keep your feet planted.
- Squeeze the bar hard, almost trying to “bend” it.
- Keep your upper back tight & shoulder blades squeezed together.
- Lower the bar with your upper arms at a 45-degree angle to your torso.
Work the Triceps
The triceps are crucially important in building a max bench as they are the primary movers near the “lockout” position. Practicing bench press lockouts are a good way to overload the triceps, strengthening them in this part of the range of motion. Also adding in close grip bench presses for heavy sets of 6-8 is a good idea for assistance work.
Add Dynamic Effort Work to the Mix
Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell (home of some of the strongest powerlifters in the world) has all his lifters do “dynamic effort” (DE) bench press work every week. This is done with lighter weight for many sets of few reps in order to generate maximum explosive power with every set. Doing this teaches the muscle fibers to contract faster, which in turn, causes them to contract harder. And when muscle fibers contract harder, you’ll be able to put up more weight.
Separate your DE bench workouts from your heavier bench workouts by at least a couple days. Use 55-65% of your 1RM for 7-8 sets of 2-3 reps. Keep rest breaks in the 45-60 seconds range. While other assistance work can be done with other bench press variations (dumbbells, machines, incline, etc), DE work should always be done with your standard barbell bench press.
Don’t Neglect Your Upper Back
Most lifters concentrate on the shoulders, chest, and triceps to improve their max bench. However, the rear delts, traps, and upper back play a critical role, as well. Firstly, having strong upper back “pulling” muscles balances out the “pushing” muscles, which can eliminate muscular imbalances and reduce the risk of injury.
However, what’s more important is that having a strong upper back can stabilize and better support you when you’re on the bench. This leads to your torso (and entire body) being tighter, which keeps you more solid as a whole. When you’re more solid, you can bench more.
By adding in just a few of these elements to your overall routine, you can increase your max bench in as little as a few weeks.