Of all the lifts one can do in a gym, be they presses, pulls, squats, or deadlifts, the bench press is by far the most popular. Coaches, trainees, bodybuilders, and competitive lifters have long used this movement as a "bench"mark of upper body strength and power. A big bench not only translates to big pecs, shoulders, and triceps, but also to immense pushing power for a number of sports and activities. If you have been lifting weights or playing sports for any length of time, you have undoubtedly been asked, "What do you bench?" If you have taken the time to search for this information, you are probably not satisfied with your own answer. Never fear, though, because anyone who is willing to train intensely and consistently can increase their bench press, pack on muscle, and make great gains in overall body strength.
To make these gains and increase your bench press, you must follow a well-planned routine that includes technique work, training your entire body, and picking the right foods to maximize your results. Here a few basic elements to any successful bench press plan.
Using Technique to Maximize Your Leverages and Gain Strength:
The number one mistake trainees make when trying to increase their bench press is using improper technique. Technique is more important than the number of sets, reps, or percentage of max you are using, and you must work on perfecting and tweaking it every time you bench press. The two major elements of bench technique are setup and form.
A good setup is the start of any successful set on the bench press. There are many details and nuances to this step, and many people find it even more technically challenging than the press itself. A good setup not only gets the lifter in a powerful position to press the bar, but sets him up in such a way that his unique body leverages are maximized and range of motion minimized. In any lift, less range of motion means more weight lifted. Trainers often talk about the supposed benefits of exaggerated ranges of motion, but in big, compound lifts like the bench press, more weight means more muscle stimulation. A few key elements to good setup are a tight, powerful arch in the back, strong foot placement, proper hand spacing, and leg drive.
Once setup has been taken care of, you must think about your form, the way in which you lower and press the bar. The eccentric phase, or lowering phase of the lift comes before the concentric phase, or pressing phase, and is often the most difficult for people to master. As any experienced lifter will tell you, you will finish a lift the way you start it. In other words, the way in which you lower the weight will dramatically affect the way you press it back up. People are different with regards to their ideal form, but everyone must work on bar path, chest placement, and speed.
Planning Your Training Efficiently for Optimal Muscle Stimulation, Recovery and Growth:
After technique, the biggest mistake trainees trying to increase their bench press make is to train the bench without a solid plan. At any given time in a gym, there is at least one guy trying to lift far more than he can handle while a spotter does half the work and screams, "It's all you!" What's worse is that these guys usually follow this ineffective, ego-stroking routine for months or years and never make significant progress. Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This sure applies to bench pressing.
A well-planned bench press program includes varied parameters of sets, reps, and max percentage, contains built-in progression in both weight and reps, and allows for enough rest to recover from session to session. There are many ways to accomplish these goals, but a few things that most advanced trainees have found to be effective over the years are short, intense workouts, a variety of exercises, and a mixture of low, moderate, and high repetitions.
Training Your Whole Body to Maximize Muscle Mass and Bench Press Power:
Many trainees focus only on the bench press, or only on their upper bodies. Not only will this lead to muscle imbalances, possible injury, and looking very silly, it will actually HURT overall bench press progress. Though the chest, shoulders, and triceps are the primary muscles contracting during the exercise, the bench press is a TOTAL BODY movement. If you want to increase your bench press, you MUST train your entire body. Training your entire body will build far more muscle mass than will solely focusing on the bench or upper body, and it will increase strength in muscle groups such as your legs and back. These muscles are essential for stability and power for the bench press. Even powerlifters that specialize in the bench press still train their legs!
Taking the Right Supplements and Eating the Correct Foods for the Best Gains Possible:
The last, but DEFINITELY not least piece of the bench press puzzle is proper supplementation and nutrition. Most people find it nearly impossible to make large increases in their bench press without increasing their muscular body weight. Ask any top bodybuilder or powerlifter, and they will probably tell you that gaining weight had a profound and positive effect on their bench press strength. To pack on the slabs of muscle necessary for a big bench, supplementation and nutrition are key.
Contrary to popular belief, lifting weights does not build muscle! Intense training breaks down muscle and provides the initial STIMULUS for growth. You MUST eat the right foods in the right amounts for this stimulus to produce new muscle tissue. You need to properly plan the amounts of protein, carbs, and fat you eat to minimize body fat gain while maximizing muscle gain. There are a variety of methods and schools of thought on the best ways to do this, but the things that most successful lifters have in common are a focus on protein and a large caloric intake. There are a also a few key supplements that can assist in getting all of these nutrients in the proper amounts.