Friday, November 22, 2013

Beast Your Bench

The bench press is one of the most difficult exercises in which to make gains for most people.  I know it's my most challenging lift.  And for those of us who bench, the quest for a bigger bench seems neverending.  So I decided to ask a bunch of people who are much smarter than me to give their best three tips on improving the bench.  Here's what they said:

Jarell Lindsey, physical culturist, owner of Muscular Strength Systems, and all-around awesome guy:  

1) Train your upper back. This is often a neglected area for a lot of people who train chest, but this is important for increasing your bench press. A lot of the muscles of your upper body connect to your scapula (seventeen to be exact), and this includes the chest muscles. Training your back makes the tendons that connect to your chest stronger. Furthermore, training your lats allows you to set up the weight much better, so that your bench pressing form doesn't resemble a guillotine. The back is the landing pad for your press, and the more stable the landing pad, the better your press will be.

2) Keep your elbows tucked in. The bench press is largely a chest and triceps movement, but the shoulder plays a definite role in the bench press. The problem is that people sometimes put unnecessary stress on their rotator cuffs and this can cause injury. By making a conscious effort to tuck your elbows toward your sides during you lift, this recruits more strength from your triceps and will in turn help you get bigger numbers in your lift.

3) Control the weight coming back down. This will help your form, and keep you from making the weight shake while you bring it back to your chest. If you press hard all the way up and just let the weight kinda drop back down, you rob yourself of the eccentric strength benefits you could get. Eccentric movements can be very effective for strength and muscle gains, so if you control the weight coming down, you'll be sure to increase your overall strength in the movement, and get that extra pump from the workout too.

Some very quick tips from Nic Branson, trainer to several record-holding powerlifting and strongmen, who will expand on these later if you want:

Increase training frequency

Use your legs

Get out of your own head

World-champion powerlifter Ellen Stein swears by the following to pump up her bench press:

Smolov cycle


2 second pauses a few inches off the chest

The amazing strongman (and one of my biggest mentors) Bud Jeffries recommends the following: 

(Yeah, that's me up there.  :) )

1) Really learn how (the right form) to bench press and practice it. Most people don't really know how. Without good form its like trying to win the Tour de France without knowing how to ride a bike. 

2) Balance the stress. My best bench press came when I did heavy bench press but only moderate shoulder work. Too much volume or too heavy too often undoes the progress. 

3) Heavy but not absolute max single rep sets. Lets you be fast and work heavy without burning out.

4) Bonus tip-work your back. Your lats are the base for your press. Learn to use them and work them till they're strong.

Bret Contreras is much more than the "Butt Guy."  He knows a LOT about strength training, and when he talks, I listen.  

1. Learn to get tight. This takes years of practice. The set-up is just as uncomfortable as the lift itself. At the bottom of the lift, your low back is arched, your weight is on your upper back, your scaps are retracted and screwed into place, your lats are tight, and your glutes and legs are tensed.

2. Think of pulling your chest up to the bar at the bottom of the lift. This will help you stay tight. When you reverse the motion, think of pushing your body away from the bar, into the bench.

3. Utilize pause bench press, board press, floor press, and speed bench in your training. 

Dru Patrick is a world-champion lifter, and when it comes to benching, he knows his stuff.

1. Gain weight!!! If you look like a kitten you cant lift like a lion.
2. Find the weakest point in the lift and train it relentlessly with max efforts and in accessory work.
3. You better believe you can and attack the bar. I have seen lots of lifters get in the right spot and do all the right things but lift like a wimp. Attack the bar like a wild animal and press like you win a million bucks every time you're under the bar.

Fellow powerlifter and all-around cool dude Ric Garcia had this to say:

Dru nailed it, you gotta eat!!!! I am currently on a mission to add some size in order to get my bench over 2.25x BW. PR is 2x's BW in the gym so food is my friend right now.

1: If your shoulders can handle it, bench, bench, and bench some more. I have seen the best gains when I use a Grease the groove approach with my bench. I will have a programmed heavy day and speed day but also use around 60% of my 1RM and hit a easy sets of 2-5 throughout the day in order to dial my groove in. 

2: Work your triceps, HARD!!! The best benchers in the world have massive triceps. It is not by accident. 

3: Find a foot position that allows you to drive through the ground. This has taken me a long time to get down but when I do it, it makes a world of difference.

4: Learn to get TIGHT! I use STRICT ( no rotation in the hips) "heavy" renegade rows to groove tension through the whole body and rooting into the ground. They have had a great carry over to my bench.

 Last, but ABSOLUTELY not least, my amazing brother Brad Schoenfeld is kind of a smart dude when it comes to the human body.  And when I say "smart dude," what I mean is, "genius." You can't turn around without bumping into a journal article he's written. Apply these gems.


1. Train in the range of your weakness. A power rack is an excellent tool to assist in this regard. Set the pins within a narrow range of where you are weak, and then perform sets within this range. 

2. Apply an external focus of attention. This means you should concentrate on exerting force through the barbell, not your arms. Studies show external focus to be superior to an internal focus when the goal is performance-oriented. 

3. Utilize assistance exercises. Success in the bench press is only as good as your weakest link. Several muscles are involved as synergists, so it is important to make sure that they are all as strong as possible. Targeted work on the pecs, anterior delts, and triceps with single-joint movements can bring up lagging muscles so that overall strength in the lift is optimized. 

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions of your own?  Post 'em here!! 

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