I first posted this article in 2012. Still very relevant.
The bench press is still the king of all lifts. I regularly get asked how much I can bench. Having a big raw bench is important to most guys and girls who want to get big and strong.
My focus is about becoming big and strong. I love the bench press because it is a true measure of upper body strength. I love it because it is one of the competitive powerlifts and it a chance to express myself competitively. I also love it because it is a key weapon in becoming bigger.
Here are some of my tips for helping you to get a big arse bench press.
1. It’s technique!
A thorough analysis of bench technique is beyond the scope of the post but it’s something I plan to cover at some stage. However there are a few simple things you can do to help push your bench up.
Most guys and girls I see in the gym do three basic things which costs them pounds in the bench:
– Failure to keep the chest high. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and push your chest up. This will keep you tight and enable you to shorten the range (the distance the bar has to travel).
– starting with the weight over the face. This is common. Take the weight right out over your chest when you are setting up;
– touching too high on the chest. Again I see most people touching their mid chest. You need to touch your lower chest or sternum. This will enable you to press from the strongest position and take advantage of your triceps.
These are three simple tips but get these right and you will benefit. I regularly see an instant 10% increase in strength from novice lifters when they are taught to do these three things. I’m happy to have a look at your technique if you email me a video. Fellow Eastsider, Leighton Best is a true bench press technician. He is the man to go to if you want to get technically better.
2. Build a big arse bench physique
If you want a big arse bench press then you need a big arse bench physique. I attribute much of my success in the bench to improvements in my overall physique. I took a look at top class bodybuilders and how much they were bench pressing and it struck me that these guys looked incredibly strong and they are. I began to appreciate that the bench press involves so many different muscle groups and all of these need to be big and strong. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Broadly speaking, the muscles I refer to are the chest, the shoulders, the triceps, the biceps and the lats. Each of these has a role to play in the bench and they all need attention. My approach is to train them with high volume and on separate days.
3. The max effort principle
Louie Simmons and the Westside boys are renowned for the max effort principle. That is working up to a max effort single once a week. The key is that the movements are regularly rotated so that you can continue to max out.
I apply a version of the max effort principle. The only difference is that I will vary my rep range from 1-5 on a given movement and reach a max before moving to a new exercise. I generally stick with a movement for 2-4 weeks before changing. I change when I feel that I can no longer achieve a personal best. Example of max effort movements I use are:
– flat bench press;
– flat bench press with chains;
– incline bench press;
– incline bench press with chains;
– floor press;
– reverse band bench press.
For beginners and intermediate lifters I favour methods such as 5×5 and 5/3/1. These are simple and effective methods for working on technique but also getting stronger.
4. Don’t flat bench
As silly as it sounds, I see a lot of guys benching every week and often training to break a plateau. This is what I call gym dumb. The problem is that it is very difficult to become any stronger if you are continually doing the same movement. Your weak points will not be addressed. You also become mentally stale.
I recommend changing the movement regularly. This is part of the max effort principle that I refer to above. Pick a different exercise such as incline barbell or add chains to the movement. The rationale is simple. You are giving the mind and the body a rest. And you are giving yourself an opportunity to work on weak points. When you return to flat benching you will be mentally and physically refreshed and your weak points will have likely improved.
I see really good results when I wrestle guys away from flat benching and have them incline for 6 weeks. Without fail they achieve a personal best within 3 weeks of returning to the flat bench.
5. Training like a powerlifter + training like a bodybuilder= powerbuilder
Powerlifters don’t train hard enough. There you go, I have said it! I understand that their goals are different from bodybuilding. But I often see powerlifters training very hard on their powerlifts and then taking the foot off the gas and not working hard enough on assistance work.
I came to this conclusion when I started to observe bodybuilders. Top bodybuilders start and finish their workouts with the same level of intensity. They remain focused throughout and they train with a lot of volume.
This is where powerbuilding comes into play. I split my max effort bench session into 2 parts. I start with a max effort movement such as incline bench press and I will hit a top set of 1-5 reps. This is the first part of my workout- the part where I am a powerlifter and the objective is to lift as much weight as possible. Then I become a bodybuilder and the focus shifts to volume and muscular development. This usually includes sets of 6-10 reps on my initial max effort movement and then additional work for my chest. The key is improving my chest development. I am also a bodybuilder for the rest of the week when I attack my shoulders, lats and arms. Each of these is attributed a separate day.
6. Extra workouts
Extra workouts are again something I attribute to Westside. I use them mainly to give my triceps extra work. My triceps respond well to lots of volume. I do not go heavy on these days but rather use movements such as rope and band pushdowns and higher reps. I credit this extra tricep work as being a big part of my improvement in the bench. I have also used them for my rear delts and hamstrings.
Recovery is a critical factor in becoming bigger and stronger. Nutrition is in my opinion the most important factor in recovery. Additional muscle will increase your strength.
Once again I think powerlifting can learn a lot from bodybuilding here. More attention needs to be given to eating enough good food. As with technique, a detailed nutrition review is beyond the scope of this post. However, here are some of my basic principles:
– Eat every 2-3 hours;
– Eat a serve of carbs and protein with every meal;
– Eat at least 3 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day (I am for 5);
– Preferably eat whole foods as opposed to protein drinks;
– Eat 6-8 serves of fruit and veges every day;
– Consume a high protein drink immediately after training;
– Drink 2 litres of water a day;
– Have a cheat day once per week and eat what ever you want.
8. Set goals
I am a big fan in setting goals. I am also a fan of documenting these goals. This can be in any format really. I prefer the written and visual approach.
I have a goal book which I use to document my goals that I set for individual lifts. My goals are simple and easy to understand. They are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely).
I review my goal book most days. It is particularly inspiring on my max effort bench and posterior chain days.
Goal setting is not new. We all do it but usually we do it in our heads. I am suggesting that you document your goals and use this as a simple tool to inspire you to reach your goals.
9. A competitive focus
Many of us already have a competitive focus such as bodybuilding or powerlifting or a team sport. There will be some of you who just enjoy going to the gym with a goal of becoming a better you.
I am a believer in introducing some sort of competitive focus into your gym life to enhance your results. This doesn’t need to be a formal powerlifting meet. There maybe an opportunity for you to compete in a powerlifting club lift. A relaxed, friendly, informal, yet relaxed competitive forum will provide you with additional focus and probably with greater rewards. The thrill and excitement of competition is something which pushes results to another level.
10. A training partner
A reliable and like-minded training partner is important if you are going to take your bench to another level. I know very few successful competitors who train alone. Those that do are blessed with extraordinary internal drive. For most of us, a training partner is an essential.
Your ongoing relationship with your training partner is also critical. Having similar goals is obviously important. Equally important is the ongoing communication between you and your training partner. There will be times when you differ on the best approach to take. I believe you should work through this and reach a compromise and continue to work together. Good training partners are difficult to find. Hold on to yours. And hope that they hold on to you.
There you have it. 10 things you can do to help you develop a big arse bench press. You may have your own and I welcome you sharing them with me.
bigger stronger smarter