Last summer, I wrote a blog about some things I’d been doing to try and improve my bench press (you can read that article HERE). If you know me or have read some of my posts, you know that the bench press is not my strongest lift. My best raw bench in competition is 310 lbs. and my best gym bench is 315 lbs. Certainly not numbers to brag about by any means, but I’m proud of them nonetheless as I’ve had to work hard to achieve them.
I’ve employed many methods over the last year or so to increase my bench and have been able to make some progress. Yesterday, I had a great heavy bench session, so I thought I’d share some things that I feel have been helping my bench press. They’re in no particular order, but it’s my hope that you might be able to use some of these strategies to get your bench numbers to budge, too!
1) Strengthening My Triceps
After catching the powerlifting bug after my first meet in December 2011, I enlisted the coaching and programming services of Tony Gentilcore. One thing Tony noticed was that, if I wanted to bench more weight, I needed to get my triceps stronger. Since working with Tony, I’ve made it a priority to increase the strength of my triceps, and I feel it’s paid great dividends in my bench press performance.
In all of my current programs, I always include some form of direct triceps work. While some may poo-poo on isolation exercises, they definitely have their place, and highly depend on your goals, strength levels, and training age, among other things. I’ve been performing a lot of band pressdowns, some skullcrushers here and there, TRX extensions, and close-grip bench and pushup variations. Including these exercises in my program, and utilizing various set/rep schemes, has helped me increase my triceps strength and hypertrophy.
Gotta get those horseshoes!
2) Changing My Grip Width
Building on my last point, I’ve also slightly narrowed my grip on the bench press to get my triceps more involved. I used to set my grip way out by the rings, which is the farthest acceptable grip width in powerlifting. I’ve brought my hands in about ½ an inch to an inch, and it’s allowed me to use the strength I’ve been developing in my triceps, and my press has felt stronger.
Grip width is a highly individual thing and you have to play around with it and choose what’s right for YOU. The primary reason I used to set my grip so wide was that the bar wouldn’t have to travel as far. However, as time has gone on and I’ve played around a bit, I’ve found that this might not be the best option for me, and have made a change for the better.
3) Strengthening My “Pull”
I absolutely love most horizontal pulling exercises. Why? Because I want a back the size of Bane’s, obviously.
“You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it.” BADASS!
Kidding (not really) aside, I particularly love dumbbell rows and their variations; Kroc Rows (heavy, high-rep dumbbell rows) are one of my favorite exercises to perform in the gym. I’ve been crushing pulling exercises in my training lately, and just finished 6 weeks of Kroc Rows (both with and without straps). To my delight, I’ve felt progressively stronger in all of my pulling exercises, and my bench press has felt stronger as well.
It’s not a huge secret that the stronger your pull, the stronger your press. A relatively equal strength ratio of pulling:pushing is important for bench press performance, but also for structural balance. For example, if you can bench press 315 lbs., ideally you should be able to perform a chin-up with about 315 lbs. of resistance, as well (bodyweight + external load).
As I mentioned, I’ve been performing Kroc Rows for the past 6 weeks, and I’ve also been including a fair share of TRX inverted row variations, TRX Y’s, reverse flyes, and some chin-ups. Just yesterday, I tried out some Meadows Rows, and am excited to do those for the next 6 weeks!
4) Continuing to Learn
Talking to experienced coaches, powerlifters, and seeking out good information on the internet and in books has been integral to my progress. Also, being able to have several training partners has made a big difference for me. Having someone there to watch my technique, give me feedback, and make suggestions on the spot has been extremely valuable.
5) Showing Up
Movie director Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Arguably the most important reason for my progress on the bench, or for progress towards any goal for that matter, is simply showing up and being consistent. I make my training sessions a priority and am sure to get all of my lifts in every week. There are days when I just don’t “have it,” when I don’t feel like benching, and I’ve gone through periods of time where my bench numbers stagnate. Remember: getting stronger is a process and it takes time. Progress isn’t always linear. Learn to embrace the process, and most importantly, show up!
I hope you can apply some of these tips to your training and see some improvements over time. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know!