Different fitness philosophies prioritize different exercises, usually targeted toward a specific goal. No matter what type of training regimen you follow, it’s likely the bench press is included in the lineup. This move is the standard for assessing overall strength because everyone knows where they stand. Even football players use the lift as a way to measure themselves against each other, particularly with the NFL Combine. Though Stephan Paea came close to breaking the 225-pound bench press record with 49 repetitions in 2011, Justin Ernest’s 1999 record of 51 still stands.
Still, those football players fall far short of the most impressive bench press. Though it took a special supportive shirt to get there, Paul “Tiny” Meeker set the world record for heaviest bench press in 2013 when he somehow managed to lift 1,102 pounds. It’s even more impressive when you consider that’s about the average weight of a cow.
Though most guys don’t have a shot at breaking the 1,100-pound mark, many can easily improve. Follow these seven tips to start benching better than you ever have before. You may not set a new world record, but you might become the man to beat at your gym.
1. Get your form down
We’ve all seen the guy arching his back and holding his breath as he attempts to bench way more weight than he should. Every gym-goer’s goal should be to avoid becoming that guy. Not only does this poor technique look ridiculous, it can also lead to a serious injury. Holding your breath could even cause you to pass out when trying to exert so much effort, which is a huge hazard when you’re hanging on to so much weight.
Practicing proper technique will keep you safer and actually make you stronger, so it should be every guy’s first priority when hitting the weights. When you get onto the bench your butt, head, and back should all be in contact with it and stay that way for the duration of the lift. BuiltLean said both grip and foot position have a bit of room for variation depending on the individual, but suggested sticking with a neutral grip and keeping your feet either planted on the ground with your knees bent at 90-degree angles or slightly back. Once you’re ready to go, it’s important to stay tight by pulling you shoulder blades together and engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
Though it’s common practice to lift the bar into the starting position by pressing it up and over the hooks, this is actually a flawed technique. According to Breaking Muscle, it’s far better to pull the bar away from the rack, keeping your arms straight so you don’t lose tension. This will allow you to start right away instead of trying to tighten your muscles again, which is more difficult once you’re holding the weight.
From here, you want to maintain a smooth motion as you lift. Muscle & Fitness shared a great video to show you how to do this move properly. Remember to keep your elbows tucked in, lower the bar in a controlled motion, and never bounce it off your chest.
2. Mentally prepare yourself
Many athletes swear by mental preparation when getting ready for competition. While lifting weights isn’t exactly the same as setting out for a triathlon, the method can still be effective in the gym. A 2012 article in Strength & Conditioning Journal supported this idea, specifically with visualization. This type of mental preparation allows you to play out the ideal outcome over and over again. Once it’s time to hit the bench, your mental rehearsals can make the task a lot less daunting.
It also won’t hurt to talk yourself up a little bit, as long as you keep it under control. You don’t want to irritate those around you simply because some obnoxious yelling helps get you in the zone.
3. Strengthen the supporting muscles
The bench press might be the ultimate chest lift, but you’ll never reach your full potential if don’t you spend some time working on the muscles that play a more minor role. HUMANFITPROJECT explained the most effective lift will require your chest, shoulders, triceps, forearms, and back to work together. If any of these areas are weak, you won’t get very far when you start benching. Men’s Fitness recommended including pull-ups, military presses, and dumbbell presses in your workout for the best results.
4. Think about the downward phase
Because the name includes the word “press,” it tends to be the only part of the move most of us care about. That’s only half of the exercise, though. The eccentric phase, when your muscles are lengthening as you bring the bar towards your chest, might actually be more important. A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found men are capable of handling greater loads and the muscles are less prone to fatigue during the downward phase.
Use this knowledge to your advantage by practicing negatives. For this move, you only concentrate on lowering the bar while a friend takes care of lifting it back to the starting position. BroScience explained this will help you build strength as well as control. After a few weeks, your bench press could be noticeably stronger.
5. Work on explosivity
For many guys, the hardest part of the move is the initial push to get the barbell moving. If you find yourself struggling to get past those first few inches, you may need to add some dynamic training into your routine. Bodybuilding.com recommended a weekly program where you lift a minimal amount of weight as fast as possible. You’ll go for few repetitions, but quite a few sets. This type of training will enable you to burst through the point where you typically struggle.
6. Find a reliable spotter
Trying to lift a huge load without a spotter is never a good idea because you may lose control of the weight. On the other hand, you don’t want someone who ends up lifting half the weight in an effort to help you out. According to AskMen, a good spotter will be able to hand the weight off to you, recognize when you’re nearing failure, and be ready to help if needed.
While hitting the weights with a friend might be the easiest solution, it’s not the best. They may be too eager to help out and end up compromising the amount of weight you end up lifting. Pay attention to who you regularly see at the gym when you’re there, and ask if one of them would be willing to spot you. And don’t forget to return the favor.
7. Take time to recover
Though you may be eager to hit the weights as often as possible in your quest to get stronger, you need to set aside time to recover. The lifting phase alone won’t lead to any improvement because it breaks down your muscles. Active.com explained it’s the resting phase that contributes to recovery and muscle growth. Without it, you’ll end up overtrained, exhausted, and maybe injured.