Increasing Bench Press

Bench Press and Train at your own Risk.
Bench press places a lot of strain on your shoulder joints

The bench press is the most over-emphasised, injury-inducing, not-particularly-functional exercise ever invented.
But people love it, so here’s some tips on how to improve and increase your strength on the lift:

1. Consume caffeine an hour before
This study shows the consuming caffeine can enhance bench press strength

2. Use Bands and/or Chains
There are numerous studies showing the combining normal resistance training exercises, with elastic-based exercise (like bands).  It’s even advocated by Charles Poliquin.
Using bands or chains, makes the weight feel heavier, as you move the bar higher.  As the bar gets higher, the band will get tighter or the chain will lift off the ground further.  This makes it harder to lock-out the weight

3. Fix your eyes on a point on the ceiling and pretend/try to push yourself through the bench

4. Bench from the floor or use bench-press blocks to improve your strength on the top half of the lift

5. Avoid injuries
Consistency is crucial, and therefore, you need to avoid injuries.  Eat tonnes of omega 3/EPA to reduce inflammation, use proper form and technique, stretch after you lift, and don’t over-develop your chest and let your back muscles become weak.
You also need to train/work your rotator cuff muscles.
Make sure you warm up too, your muscles are stronger and less likely to become injured if they are actually warm.  So stop wearing nipple-showing vests, and get a hoody on (see point 10)

6. Progression
When you are a beginner (first 6 months or so of lifting), lift the same wait until you can do 10 reps with good form. As soon as you can do 10 reps (on your first set), increase the weight by a couple of kg.  As soon as you can do 10 reps on that weight, increase the weight by another couple of kg.
When I say “increase the weight”, I mean increase the weight, on the first set, next time you train.
Record what you lift on all of your sets.  Normally you’ll lift a lot less on your 2nd and 3rd sets, than you can on your first set.  This will depend on rest time and other factors.

7. Breathe out on each rep, blow the bar away
Deep and controlled breathing is important. Watch this video about the Valsalva maneuver

8. Control the negative/downward part of the movement, for at least 3 seconds
You can even do negative only sets, to increase hypertrophy.
For example, get your spotter to lift the weight off you, and then you just lower the weight down.
This eccentric training, has been shown to be highly effective for increasing muscle size.
This will put great strain on the muscle and should joint however, so be very very careful

 9. Charles Poliquin recommends 1-3 different exercises for chest (and any other body part), 1-5 reps, 5-12 sets per body part, and 3-5 minutes of rest between each set
I would say – for a beginner, do higher reps, you could get injured going heavy, with bad technique.

10. Warm up extensively
Despite the apparent lack of warm up seen at powerlifting competitions; muscle temperature has been proven many times, to enhance muscle strength and power.

You can take this to the next-level with a sauna suit and some chilli Muscle Rub.

I’ve had extremely good results from getting painfully hot before I do any heavy lifts. Sauna suit or top, chilli rub on the working muscles, 10-20 mins of steady state cardio, 2 warm up sets then BOOM!

Sorry, ignore the boom but I noticed a massive difference doing this.

Be careful however, chilli rub feels pretty lame when you apply it, but as soon as you start to sweat, it can be very painful:

11. Do not over-train
If you are doing 9 sets or more for your chest, you should only train it once a week.
If you specifically want to increase your bench press; I personally found great success training it for 3 sets at the start of a whole-body routine.
Monday and Friday I would start with Barbell Bench Press; Wednesday I would start with a back exercise. So the whole routine would look something like:
Bench Press x 3 sets
Squats x 3
Lunges x 2
Chin ups x 3
Bicep Curls x 2
Core ball exercises

Barbell Rows x 2
Power Cleans or Read Delt flys x 3 (power cleans are awesome, but require pro-supervision or you have a high risk of injury)
1 Arm Row x 2
Leg Press x 3
Dumbbell Push Press x 2

Barbell Bench Press x 2
Incline Bench Press x 2
Lat Pull Down x 3
Bicep Curls x 2
1 leg dead lift x 2
Dips x 2
Hanging Leg Raises x 3

Stop this routine after 2 months or when you cease to see improvements in your bench press.
This routine is potentially over-training your chest, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really, really want to increase your bench. Which we all do. Especially all of us reading this article.

12. Use Plyometrics
Studies suggest that incorporating plyometric exercises into your training programme can enhance strength.
Clap press-ups are the classic example for chest.
There are many variations that you can do with a BOSU, that may reduce the impact on your shoulders.
Like many advanced exercises, plyometrics are great for performance, but also an injury risk, so make sure you’re form is good and that you have warmed up extensively

There are a few ideas in this video (plyometrics start at 3:30 into the video)

13. Sparingly – Train Isometrics in the Power Rack / ‘Squat Rack’
At the risk of being battered by the power and Olympic Lifters, try isometrics in the Power Rack.
Place the pins at a point on your bench press where you tend to fail and then push the bar up for blasts of 3-6 seconds. This article recommends holding the isometric effort for 5-6 seconds, resting 7 mins, then doing a CAT bench press

You ‘hold’ the isometric bench press, by pushing against the bar that you’ve set up in the rack.

14. Use the 5 3 1 Routine

Read more here –

1 Week of 5 reps

1 Week of 3 reps

1 Week of 1s (90% of 1-rep max)

Then do a de-load week – so your Central Nervous System and joints aren’t fried

the 5,3,1 is not recommended for beginners.  Instead look at the 5 by 5 routine – 5 sets of 5 reps.


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