Articles‎ > ‎

How to Increase Your Bench Press Max

How to Increase Your Bench Press Max
by J. R. Workman
Since the bench press has become the standard measurement by which most weightlifters compare one another's strengths to each other and since it is one of the three major powerlifting movementsthe other two being the squat and the deadliftone of if not the most common fitness questions asked is, "How can I increase my bench press max?" Down below you will find a list of some of the best things you can do to increase your bench press max, that will work for practically everyone. The tips mentioned in this article are universally effective and are the best tips that you can find anywhere. 

"For in everything that men do the body is useful; and in all uses of the body it is of great importance to be in as high a state of physical efficiency as possible. Why, even in the process of thinking, in which the use of the body seems to be reduced to a minimum, it is matter of common knowledge that grave mistakes may often be traced to bad health." ― Socrates, Xenophon, Memorabilia

1. When You Practice Bench Pressing Use Proper Form


Using proper form increases the difficulty of the lift and forces you to use more of your muscle fibers. Since improper form usually entails either relying too much on momentum or doing incomplete reps, using poor form makes you depend less on strength and muscle fiber activation and it also hinders your ability to get a full range of motion. The only time you can get away with not using strict form is for doing cheat reps. There are two different types of cheat reps:

"1. Extended Set Cheat: When reps are performed as strictly as possible before additional muscles or momentum take the set beyond failure. A good example of this is a standard dumbbell curl to failure, followed by reps performed with some knee-bend and body english.

2. Heavy Cheat: When form is "loosened up" a bit to lift a heavier weight than normal throughout the set. An example is using the legs and shoulders when doing barbell rows." (Are Cheat Reps Worth It? by John Meadows)

Doing cheat reps on the bench press is possible and useful depending on how you do it but you should always avoid bouncing the weight off of your chest unless you use a foam pad or some other form of protection or else you are just increasing your risk of injury. 

Focus on going all the way down and touching just below your chest and then coming all the way back up and bringing your arms to the lockout position or just close to it (locking out your arms is necessary for the lift to count in a powerlifting competition, but stopping just short of lockout position is much easier on your joints and works well for bodybuilding training). Avoid jerking the weight as you will rely more on momentum and will be working your muscles less when you do that. 

For building muscle mass it is better to use the bodybuilding form (technique) with an un-arched back because it puts greater tension on your muscle fibers, has a longer range of motion, and works better for building muscle mass, but for building strength it is better to use the powerlifting form (technique) because due to the arched back the range of motion (the distance you have to move the weight) is shorter and it allows you to lift more weight. Remember it is the bodybuilders that have the most muscle mass, but it is a powerlifter who has the world record bench press max and can lift the most weight. Using proper form helps to target muscle groups better:

"Muscle Targeting

Proper form also ensures correct muscle targeting. Going back to the bicep curls, if we’re swinging our whole body into the intended bicep curl movement, chances are that our bicep is not getting worked, and you’re working more of your shoulder girdles and core. By doing this you can potentially cause injury to the intended muscle that you are trying to work, and strain other areas in the body that aren’t intended to be worked, with the example of bicep curls." (Importance of Proper Form When Strength Training by Gerard Casazza)


2. Workout Most Often in a Rep Range of 5-10 Reps

They key is to work out with a weight that is difficult for you to rep 5-10 times for multiple sets. Sometimes you may be able to work out doing slightly fewer reps (3-4 reps) or slightly higher reps (15-20 reps) and still get similar results, but in general working out with a weight that is difficult for you to lift for multiple sets of 5-10 reps provides enough resistance for you to get bigger and stronger while also allowing you to control the weight better and use better form (since the reps are not low enough nor the weight heavy enough to make it too difficult for you to lift it properly) which in turn forces you to recruit more of your muscle fibers and helps you to build bigger, stronger muscles. The ideal rep range for increasing strength is around 5-6 reps:

"—Phase 3: Strength, consisting of moderate volume (five or six reps, three to five sets) and heavy resistance (80 percent to 88 percent of one-rep max)." (The Rep Range That Builds the Most Muscle by Michael Berg & Brad Schoenfeld)


3. Eat More Calories


Getting bigger will also make you stronger and consuming more calories is the number one way to gain lean muscle mass. Consume more calories from protein and vegetable sources and consume fewer calories from fat sources (especially unhealthy fat sources) and reduce the number of carbohydrates (especially simple carbohydrates) you eat to gain lean muscle mass. Consuming the right amount of calories can help you increase your bench press max:

"Eat Right. You can't increase your bench press without proper nutrition. You need to make sure you're getting enough calories. To improve your bench press, you need to build muscle, and to build muscle you need to create a calorie surplus(eating more than you burn). Get your calories from clean foods. Don't eat too many foods high in sugar with the exception of your post workout meal/shake. Most of your carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbs100% whole wheat breads/pasta, brown rice, oats and vegetables. Eat regularly, every 2-3 hours. Eat a light meal about 1 hour before you workout. Make sure that your meal right after a workout is high in protein and sugar, this will allow your body to quickly begin repairing any muscle damage that occurred during your workout." (Top 5 Ways to Increase Your Bench Press by Ken Bendor)

4. Increase the Amount of Weight You Workout with Regularly

Keep increasing the amount of weight that you use in your workouts every week by at least a small amount (5 lbs or more). This will ensure that your workouts are gradually increasing in difficulty and that you are progressing and getting stronger consistently. 

You can also use a bench press calculator to estimate what your 1 rep max is based on how many times you can rep a lower weight. The bench press calculator at muscleandstrength.com is the most precise bench press calculator available. 

The most accurate formula you can use to estimate your 1 rep max based on how many times you can rep a lower weight is called the Epley Formula. It was first presented by Boyd Epley in 1985. The formula looks like this:

In this formula, is the number of repetitions performed and is the amount of weight used. 1 Rep Max = Weight Lifted x Number of Reps / 30 + 1. For example, say you repped 315 lbs for 8 reps. Then working it out would look like this: 1 Rep Max = 315 lbs x 8 / 30 (which equals .2666) + 1. So, 315 lbs x 1.2666 = 398.979 lbs. 398.979 lbs is your estimated 1 rep max based on being able to rep 315 lbs for 8 reps.

The following are the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation's Male Classification Standards for the Men's Bench Press (the weights and weight classes are in lbs):


The following is the operational definition of the term Elite as used in that classification: 

"Elite: An exceptional lifter, for males this means the lifter is very likely in the top 10 in the nation for their respective weight class and the lifter may be close to a top 5 ranking among comparable federations for that competition year. ...Elite lifters generally place very well at local level competitions and will usually hold their own at National level competitions. It is not uncommon for Elite level lifters to have 10+ years of experience with serious powerlifting training. Approximately 1% of competitive powerlifters will reach the Elite level of classification." (Lifter Classification Information by Tim Henriques)

The 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation is 100% raw or natural. They do not allow performance enhancing shirts, wraps or lifting suits of any kind. They are also a drug-free organization. All of their meets are drug tested. Their classifications provide the most accurate assessment of 100% raw/natural bench press standards available.  

5. Use Burnout Sets After Some of Your Bench Press Sets

After you have done several sets on the bench press and you begin to lower the weight to get more reps, try doing burnout sets after each set by doing an easier exercise (wide grip push-ups or dumbbell pec flies or clap push-ups) till failure after each set to get an extra burn in your chest and tricep muscles and shock them into growth. 

6. 
Workout the Other Muscles Used in Bench Pressing and Do Other Types of Benching  


Do extra workouts for some of the muscle groups you use when bench pressing in order to strengthen them individually for the bench press. If you do isolation exercises for your chest, shoulders, traps, triceps, biceps, forearms, lats, etc.all muscles used in the bench press for either the stabilization or lifting of the weightand those muscles get bigger and stronger then your bench press max will also go up. 

Using chest press machines and dumbbell chest presses/bench presses instead of regular barbell bench presses all of the time works wonderfully as well because it allows you to work the same muscle groups used in the bench press in a different way than you normally would. 

When choosing a workout bench to purchase buying one with a high weight capacity (including your weight) is highly recommended according to fitnesstep1.comAll of the top 10 workout benches recommended at weightbenchguide.com have a maximum weight capacity of over 880 lbs except for 2 of them. You can find a workout bench of that weight capacity and more for under $200 dollars on both Amazon.com and Ebay.com

Be careful choosing a workout bench to buy. Always make sure that the weight capacity on the workout bench is high enough to reach your fitness goals. 

You may be surprised by how many workout benches being sold on the market have such low weight capacities (there are many workout benches which only have a weight capacity of around 500 lbs or so which means that if you weigh around 200 lbs you cannot workout with more than 300 lbs on that bench). 

Also, make sure that the workout bench you buy is adjustable so that you can do incline, flat, and decline bench pressing with it. Many workout benches being sold on the market are not adjustable and you will be stuck only able to do flat bench pressing with them. 

Working out on the incline bench press and decline bench press in addition to the flat bench press will help develop different parts of your chest that will not get developed as easily by doing just flat bench pressing alonemaking your bench press max go up a lot higher. 

Doing a close grip bench press is going to help you isolate the triceps and inner chest more and doing a wide grip bench press is going to help you isolate your chest muscles more. So make sure to take advantage of all of the different types of bench pressing (close grip, wide grip, flat, incline, decline, dumbbell, and even machine) to get the most out of your workouts. 

It is highly recommended to set up a gym at home and workout from home rather than going to a public gym. 

Training at home is much more convenient than having to drive to a public gym, it is also much less distracting since you do not have to share any of the equipment with anyone else or wait your turn to do something you want to do and you have fewer people around you to disturb you or to try to interact with you when you do not want them to. 

Setting up a home gym also saves you money in the long run since after you purchase all of your workout equipment and get everything set up you no longer have to spend any more money unless it is to make repairs to the equipment if something breaks or to replace the equipment if it gets too oldwhereas gym memberships usually come with monthly fees that you will be paying the entire duration of your gym membership (which in turn will cost you more and more money the longer you have the gym membership). 

If you buy spotting equipment you can even lift heavy weights without the need for a spotter. 

Most fitness experts acknowledge that training at home has numerous advantages over training in public gyms: 

"Time If you already have a gym membership, you know that getting there takes time. For most of us, the time spent traveling and stashing our belongings is nearly equal to the time spent on the gym floor. If you’re already strapped for time, relying on a gym membership for your daily workout isn’t always going to be a realistic option. ... Crowds While a large gym may offer a variety of equipment, January marks the busiest season of the year for these businesses. This means that, particularly during peak times, you’re likely to find yourself waiting for equipment and limited to 20 or 25 minutes per session. ...Specific Training Regimens With capacity and usage limitations, a gym membership may not be the most effective use of your time in meeting specific training goals. Endurance training sessions typically extend beyond 45 minutes, a duration that will not be allowed in most gyms during the peak seasons. With an effective warm-up and cool-down, even an intense interval session is frequently closer to 30 minutes, a limit that is frequently higher than the 20 minute equipment limit enforced by most gyms." (Working Out at Home vs. Gym: Which Will Get You Better Results? by Johnson Fitness)

For these reasons, training at home should always be preferred to training in a public gym as long as you have all of the high-quality training equipment necessary to reach your fitness goals and you have spotting equipment you can use to lift heavy weights with without the need for a spotter. 

7. Master a Lower Weight

Find a weight that you can rep anywhere from 15 to 20 reps with proper form and stick with that weight until you are able to rep it for at least 25 to 30 reps. This is called mastering a lower weight. By doing this your bench press max and the number of times that you can rep even heavier weights will all go up.

8. Use Drop Sets 

After doing a working set lower the weight in order to continue lifting and burning out your muscles. Drop sets work remarkably for increasing size and strength. 

9. Incorporate Weighted/Loaded Bodyweight/Closed Chain Kinetic Chest and Tricep Movements into Your Bench Press Routine 


Weighted/loaded bodyweight exercises such as weighted push-ups and weighted dips work tremendously for building size and strength. In fact, studies suggest that closed chain kinetic movements actually cause greater muscle fiber activation than open chain kinetic movements do: 

"Exercise in closed kinetic chain promotes more balanced initial quadriceps activation than does exercise in open kinetic chain." (Quadriceps Activation in Closed and in Open Kinetic Chain Exercise by Ann-Katrin Stensdotter et al)

So incorporating weighted closed chain kinetic movements that work chest and triceps into your bench press workouts will help you to make incredible size and strength gains. You can try doing push-ups with a weighted vest on or with multiple 45 lb plates on your back or you can try doing dips with a weighted vest on or with multiple 45 lb plates attached to your dip belt. 

10. Do a Dumbbell Workout Following a Barbell Bench Press Workout to Further Burnout Your Muscles 


Follow a barbell bench press workout with a dumbbell workout centered on chest and triceps. This is an excellent way to burn out your muscles. Dumbbell exercises generally have less resistance than barbell exercises do so doing a dumbbell workout after your barbell workout will help you add more volume and reps to your workout and will burn out your muscles to a greater extent too. Heavy dumbbells are also more difficult to lift than barbells are and require more muscle stabilization; that is why you cannot lift the same amount of weight with them. Dumbbell exercises are also better for isolating specific muscle groups than barbell exercises are and using dumbbells is also better for unilateral movementsalthough barbell exercises activate more muscle fibers because they are compound movements and tend to be better for bilateral movements. Both barbell and dumbbell exercises tend to be open chain kinetic movements. 

11. Do a Calisthenics Chest and Triceps Workout Following a Bench Press Workout to Further Burnout Your Muscles 


Following a weight training workout for the bench press with a calisthenics workout focused primarily on chest and triceps will help you to further burn out your muscles. Since calisthenics exercises have less resistance than weight training exercises do getting a calisthenics workout in after your weight training workout will allow you to accumulate higher volume and reps and will burn out your muscles much more. Since calisthenic exercises apply a different type of resistance to your muscles and are a closed chain kinetic movement they activate a greater number of muscle fibers and force you to use your core more as well as other muscles that would normally be neglected if you just stuck with weight training alone. If you start adding calisthenics to your bench press workout routine for the first time you will notice that it will shock your muscles into growth in a way in which you might not have expectedthis is because your body is not yet used to this type of resistance or movement and in the meantime will be making major strength and size gains while adjusting to it. 



Read my articles on health:


Sources:

Meadows, John. “Are Cheat Reps Worth It?” T NATION, www.t-nation.com/training/are-cheat-reps-worth-it.

Casazza, Gerard“Importance of Proper Form When Strength Training.” National Federation of Professional Trainers, 30 Dec. 2016, www.nfpt.com/blog/importance-proper-form-strength-training.

Bendor, Ken. “Top 5 Ways to Increase Your Bench Press.” Straight Health, straighthealth.com/pages/five/ways-increase-bench-press.html.

Michael Berg and Brad Schoenfeld. “The Rep Range That Builds the Most Muscle.” Men's Fitness, Men's Fitness, 17 Jan. 2017, www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/rep-range-builds-most-muscle.

Henriques, Tim. “Lifter Classification Information.” All About Powerlifting, allaboutpowerlifting.com/lifter-classification-information/.

Fitness, ARTICLE WRITTEN BY Johnson. “Working Out at Home vs. Gym: Which Will Get You Better Results?” Johnson Fitness, 12 Dec. 2015, www.johnsonfitness.com/blog/working-out-at-home-vs-gym-which-will-get-you-better-results/.

Ann-Katrin Stensdotter, et al. “Quadriceps Activation in Closed and in Open Kinetic Chain Exercise.” Researchgate.net, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Jan. 2004, www.researchgate.net/publication/8978037_Quadriceps_Activation_in_Closed_and_in_Open_Kinetic_Chain_Exercise.
Comments