A Few Techniques to Improve Bench Press Performance
One great way to build strength and endurance on a bench press is to do pushups every other workout, instead of using weights. When I first began using a flat bench press, I was coming from a world of calisthenic routines such as crunches, pull-ups and pushups. This helped me because my pectoral muscles were trained in the same way long-distance runners train their legs- i.e. light weight, high-rep, long-duration workouts. I seemed that as soon as I became comfortable with any weight, I would be capable of doing entire sets of 8-10 reps shortly thereafter. Pushups are a powerfully effective method for boosting bench press strength and endurance. There are many world-class athletes that swear by pushups alone, and claim to have never incorporated weight training into their routines. I believe them.
Tip 2: Isolation
The bench press is a compound exercise that trains the pectoral muscles, triceps, anterior deltoids and biceps. A great way to boost your overall performance of the compound movement is to isolate the component muscles and train them individually. I would recommend training triceps with the cable/bar on the smith machine because it provides uniform resistance throughout the entire movement of the exercise. In other words, weights always pull towards the ground versus the cable which pulls in the direction opposite of which you are pulling- ensuring constant resistance.
Another isolation method is the butterfly, which stretches and works out the chest all in one motion, similar to the way that incline-curls stretch and flex the biceps in one motion. Butterflies are good to tone/tighten your chest.
One of the more difficult exercises that I would recommend for training the triceps is dips, because dips are a great compound exercise that train the shoulders, back and triceps. Although, they are not my first choice in isolation training because of the secondary/stabilizer muscles that are inadvertently trained, they are a great exercise to boost your bench press performance.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the Arnold Press. I isolation train my shoulders exclusively with the Arnold Press. I have found that the Arnold Press is the best workout for the shoulders because it trains almost the entire shoulder in one motion- and the results come quickly. Although it doesn't train the posterior deltoids, it does a terrific job for the anterior and laterals deltoids. For the sake of the bench press, you should only concern yourself with the lateral and anterior deltoid muscles. Arnold Presses also train the triceps rather well.
Tip 3: Burnout
Burning out on your last set is not a new technique, but I decided to include it on my list of recommendations because it is effective. Essentially what is means is to choose a light weight and do 20-40 repetitions for your last set. If your workout consists of full sets with 185 lbs, then it serve your benefit to drop the weight down to 115 lbs or 95 lbs and burnout on your last set, doing as many repetitions as you can. After finishing a few workouts with a good burnout, you will notice that your muscles feel much tighter. The purpose of this technique is to turn large marshmallow muscles into rock-hard toned muscles.
Tip 4: More Sets, Less Weight
If you have come to a point at which your bench press max has plateaued, a good technique to push you over the edge, and to start making gains again is to perform full sets just beneath your bench press max. It is very common for veteran lifters to be capable of performing ten repetitions of 80-90%% of their max, while only being able to perform one repetition of their max. If you max, for example, somewhere around 205 lbs, then I would suggest doing several sets of 185 lbs, while only maxing one time per week, or every other week. A few weeks of building up core strength near your max will force your max to budge; you can quickly and easily add 5-10% onto your bench press using this method.
Tip 5: Pyramid
When I first began lifting weights, I established a pyramid routine on every single exercise and muscle group. They are good for spearheading strength in every muscle group. Pyramid routines consist of decreasing repetitions as weight increases. For example, begin your bench press with one set of 15 reps with 115 lbs. On your next set, perform 12 reps with 135 lbs. Try a 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 pyramid, adding a comfortable amount of weight on each set. There are two different ways to use a pyramid technique to make progress on your bench press. The first technique is to begin your pyramid at a higher weight, thus forcing every successive set to be performed with a larger amount of weight. The second technique, which is the most effective, is to pyramid back down to your beginning weight, i.e. 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 15. If you perform a large pyramid bench press like this, do not perform a bench press workout more than one time per week.