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Press On: 3 Fixes To Boost Your Bench Press!

Hit the health club on any given Monday, and you might think there’s an audition in progress for a new episode of “Maury Povich” about the bench press and the men who love it. After all, what better way could there be to start the week than getting under a loaded barbell and pushing it for all you’re worth?

Well, I can think of a couple, but that’s for another article. Look, I understand the allure of the bench press. It’s the ultimate glamour movement in the gym for men, and it’s also a great movement for upper-body size and strength.

The problem is that most people gauge their success only by benching as much weight as possible, and they disregard the crucial setup process and downplay the importance of form to perform the lift correctly. This ends up creating a lot more ex-benchers than strong benchers.

Don’t let your favorite lift beat you down. Use these tried and true techniques to skyrocket your bench and blast off to new levels of mass and strength!

Lee Boyce On Proper Bench Press Technique
Watch The Video – 04:43

Fix 1

Upper back exercises are crucial for making the bench press pain-free, stable, and strong. As I mentioned in the video above, the bench press places stress on the shoulder blades and four rotator cuff muscles that originate on the scapula. Having the ability to keep the scapular muscles nice and tight is a key to stability for any pushing movement.

I program my back workouts before my chest workouts whenever I’m isolating specific body parts. This ensures that the back muscles get sore, tight, and are limited in range of motion and flexibility to help fix the shoulder blades on chest day. On a full-body workout, I pull before I push.

Make sure the following exercises are included in your back training day to really build scapular stability and strength:

Fix 2

If building big bench is important for you, you need to get scientific about it. Break down your lift and figure out where you’re weakest, and then focus on turning that weakness into a strength.

Barbell Bench Press

In most cases, a lifter going for a max-effort rep hits a wall or reaches a sticking point around the halfway point coming off the chest. If this is you, it means you lack lockout strength. Luckily, there are many great exercises to help you improve this sticking point.

Lockout Exercises

Floor press

Use a barbell or two dumbbells and lay flat on the floor with the weight in the bench press bottom position. The elbows will be on the floor and the weight around six inches off the chest.

Keep your upper back tight and shoulders retracted. Breathe in, drive the weight up to full-extension at the arm, and keep the legs held together and straight on the ground. Pause at the bottom of each rep. Perform 3 sets of 8 reps.

Pin press

Set up a bench inside a squat rack to create a bench press station. Position the safety pins 4-6 inches above your chest. Lay the bar on the pins and position your body under it. Assume your preferred bench press grip and drive the bar to the top position.

After lockout, lower the bar quickly to the pins. This exercise allows you to focus on max effort. Due to the lack of eccentric control, you’ll have more juice in the tank to lift.

Give yourself a couple seconds between reps to get tight and reset your body. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 3-6 reps.

Chain bench press

Attaching chains to the bench press makes the load heavier as you progress through the concentric portion of a rep. It’s a great way to make your triceps do more work during lockout.

In rare circumstances, the sticking point happens at the bottom of the lift, which indicates that chest and shoulder strength is a weak link from a biomechanical perspective. Implementing starting strength exercises can help exponentially with this issue.

Bent over barbell row

Starting Strength Exercises

Pause reps

On the bench press, lower the weight slowly and pause for at least one second on the chest. Remember to stay tight during the rep without slackening your grip or exhaling. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as usual with this method, so lower the weight to 80 percent of the normal amount you can lift for reps.

This exercise cuts off the stretch reflex so you can’t use momentum at the bottom of the lift. Momentum tricks your chest into thinking that it’s performing well, when in reality, it’s nothing more than kinetic force that propels the weight out of the hole.

Pause reps are a staple in competitive powerlifting routines everywhere.

One-and-a-half reps

One and a half reps are my favorite way to improve chest activity in a bench press. Ensure that you’re set up correctly and lower the bar to your chest like normal.

Press the bar off the chest to the halfway point, where you have a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Lower the bar to the chest again and drive the bar to the top for one rep. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

The science behind this madness is simple: For every rep of 1.5s, you’re doing 2 reps with just the chest and 1 rep with the triceps at lockout. At the end of a set, your chest will have done twice as much work than your triceps.

Fix 3

Like most physical activities, if you want to improve at something, you must practice it. Building a stronger bench press happens in part from benching frequently. Make like the Bulgarians and up your weekly volume—without going overboard, of course!

Boyce Post-Workout Burnout! Bench Press 225×15
Watch The Video – 01:11

Post-workout burnout sets are money when it comes to adding benching volume. At the end of every isolation workout, do a couple quick warm-up bench press sets and then perform a burnout set with 60 percent of your max. Rep it out until failure for one big set.

Here’s a video of me doing a post-workout burnout set after a long Olympic lifting workout. My max is around 345 pounds, so 225 pounds is about 65 percent of my max.

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About The Author

Lee Boyce is the owner of Boyce Training Systems, and is a fitness author and strength coach based in Toronto, Canada.

7 Exercises That You Need To Fix Right Now

We are creatures of habit. We each default to our favorite exercises, those bread and butter lifts from programs we love for as long as they keep bringing results. Familiarity just feels right. It wraps you in a secure blanket of warmth, growth, and gains. Unfortunately, that familiarity begets false confidence in your exercise technique, which could cost you even further gains.

“But, Rock Lock, I’ve improved 10 pounds over the last year!” you cry. That’s sweet. But imagine the results you could net with precise exercise form and practice. Unless you or a training buddy have an acute awareness of form, it’s possible that you may have been missing key form points. Remember that poor form calls out compensatory mechanisms while still building strength, albeit inefficiently.

Don’t fret, young Padawan. Here’s how to fix these seven key movements that you previously thought you owned.

Exercise 1

Squats have helped Mr. Olympias, World’s Strongest Men, and other athletes launch from so-so athletes to epic gladiators. There’s no reason not to reap the benefits of the almighty squat, right? But after weeks of nearly crushing yourself under the bar, your results can still end up lackluster.

Team Cellucor‘s Jen Jewell explains why.

“I see a lot of ‘newbies’ just lower their butt down really quick with their knees wobbling all over the place—over the toes or collapsing inward. I’ve even seen this with bodyweight squats! So, when I instruct new clients or am giving pointers, I tell a client to push her butt back as though she’s going to sit down in a chair. This usually helps her get into better position and keep from hobbling forward so much.

“Additionally, I encourage clients to ‘push the booty way back—as if you’re trying to knock someone out with that thing—lower, go back up, and repeat.’ Even though that might be an exaggeration of breaking at the hip, it helps clients picture it and will typically do the trick!

“I typically see people barely start to lower, call it a rep, and bounce back up. That’s not low enough! That’s not even a proper squat! To benefit from squats, you have go to at least parallel, which is the position at which your hip joint and knee joint are aligned parallel to the ground. This ensures quad burn, but also fires up the hamstrings and glutes as well.”

Squat

Exercise 2

I cringe every time I see someone fling heavy dumbbells as high as they can using their back, and then allow momentum to not only carry the weight up but send it back down with zero control. This makes back and rotator cuff injuries almost inevitable if someone continues on this self-destructive path. Thankfully, that won’t be you!

First of all, when you hold the dumbbells, they should rest at your sides instead of in front of you. This way you will be less inclined to harness a back-initiated swing to begin the exercise. Visualize generating force from only your delts as you lift the weights out to your sides with a slight bend in the elbow. Locking out the elbows places strain on the tendons in that area and can make them susceptible to injury.

To avoid unnecessary shoulder strain, stop the movement when your arms become parallel to the floor. At that point, turn the weights so your pinkies point toward the ceiling and pause for one second before slowly lowering the weight to the starting position in a controlled manner. Use a challenging weight you can control throughout the exercise to ensure you don’t cheat.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Exercise 3

The triceps rope pushdown should primarily activate your triceps and core, but this exercise is blundered and haunted by our old enemy, the lower back-generated swing monster. Time and time again, I watch people use momentum to press down heavy weights. This only hurts your elbows and yields no benefit for those muscles in the back of your arms. Again, slow, controlled movement reigns supreme here.

Take the rope and step away from the cable stack. The extra distance increases tension on the triceps more than standing next to the pulley. Keep your shoulders squared and back, chest out, and glue your elbows to your sides. By keeping your elbows tucked in, you emphasize triceps contraction rather than elbow destruction.

As you press the weight down, focusing on working the triceps muscles, spread the ends of the rope apart, and squeeze the hell out of your triceps. That squeeze and tension stimulates growth in the target area.

Afterward, let the weight slowly come back up. Right before you feel as if your elbows are about to be yanked out of place, stop, and then do another rep. This constant tension will make your triceps scream bloody murder by the end of your set.

Exercise 4

A king of the exercise world, deadlifts could well be the most basic movement—in theory. You pick up the weight, hold it, and put it down. What could go wrong? Everything. There are oh-so many instances where a deadlift can go wrong and make lifters vulnerable to injury.

“Deadlifts are often a mess all the way through,” Jewell says. “I often see people with their shoulders rolled forward and hunched over as they lower the weight. Then they lose control over their body as a whole. Having your shoulders back, lats tight, core activated, and chest up will help eliminate this hunchback stature that I see all too often in the gym!

“I see another problem with neck alignment. At the beginning of the pull, you might be tempted to look down at the weight. This puts your neck out of neutral spinal alignment, which makes you more prone to hunching your shoulders and keeps you from engaging your core. Keep your neck aligned with the rest of your spine at the start and finish of your pull.”

Exercise 5

“Although dumbbell curls are a great exercise, problems rear their ugly heads when they are performed improperly.”

You want perfectly rounded biceps like IFBB Men’s Physique Pro Craig Capurso? He’s going to let you in on the “secret” to winning the arms race.

“Although dumbbell curls are a great exercise, problems rear their ugly heads when they are performed improperly,” Capurso says. “Many people will either pick up a light weight that can be lifted a million times or a weight that’s simply too heavy. Either of these prevents people from ever performing a worthy rep. Many people start the exercise with a shoulder swing followed by a fading elbow. This movement pattern doesn’t actually involve the biceps. It basically makes the exercise one big cheat.

“The goal is to achieve a well-controlled movement that isn’t aided by the aforementioned body swing. You should feel a deep burning sensation in your biceps and a noticeable pump or swell. You should also be able to perform the recommended reps in your program. After four sets of this type of training, you’ll feel fatigued, making it difficult to even bend your arms. That’s good because you are doing it correctly and have picked proper weights.”

To mix things up and really focus on your mind-muscle connection, try hammer curls. “This is when you stand in a neutral position, with your hands at your sides and the palms facing in toward your body,” Craig says. “Notice where your elbow rests in reference to your body and actively think about maintaining this position throughout the exercise. Really think about contracting the muscle groups involved as you bring up the weight. If you feel the heat in your shoulder, elbow, or any other muscle group that shouldn’t be firing, restart the process or perhaps lower the weight.”

Exercise 6

The bench press is an excellent indicator of upper body strength. When performed correctly, it is a money exercise that builds strength, muscle size, and athletic function. Haphazard execution of the bench press can increase the risk of shoulder or pec injuries, but that can usually be rectified by going with lower weight or just doing the damn exercise the right way!

In preparing to pump out your first rep, make sure your shoulder blades are squeezed together. This will protect your shoulders and bring your chest higher so the bar doesn’t travel as far. Next, plant your feet firmly on the floor and get yourself in a stable position. Otherwise you increase the chance of getting hurt. Keep everything tight, including your shoulders and butt.

As you perform the lift, lower the bar to your nipple line and keep it there for a one-second pause. Think about pushing your chest away from the bar rather than pushing the bar away from your chest. Remember to drive your feet into the floor for force production, keeping your butt on the bench, and arching your back to transfer force to the bar. Once you press the weight up, focus on squeezing your pecs as if you were trying to crush a walnut sitting between them.

Bench Press

Exercise 7

Crunches are a perennial favorite and also one of the most poorly performed exercises in the gym. Even if you think you’re a crunch king, you might be doing them wrong and actually jeopardizing your neck health.

The first step to being a crunch master: Don’t cross your arms on your chest or clasp your hands together behind your head. Instead, lightly place your hands on the temples of your noggin and focus on keeping your elbows in line with your shoulders. Don’t bend your neck; the idea isn’t to bang your head against your crotch, but to dig your lower back into the floor and lift your shoulders about 3-4 inches off the floor.

Squeeze your abdominals and forcefully let out a big breath. Slowly drop yourself back to the floor and repeat. Now do 10 reps and let me know the difference this makes. Don’t worry, you can catch your breath—I can wait.

Do you see other poorly performed exercises at your own gym? Sound off in the comments below! Let us know if you have any favorite tips or techniques. Share with the community to help improve everyone’s form—and results!

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