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How To Increase Your Bench Press (Guest Article)

Hey guys, Tim Ross from RazorStrength here, and if you want to master the bench press you’re in the right place.

I’ll share the top 5 hacks you need to get your head around if you’re going to press the most weight you possibly can.

There’s a lot going on in the bench press, and if one link is weaker than the rest you’re going to be missing out on gains.

So without further ado, here are the hacks you’re learning.

  • Number one is to do with your scapula, as your shoulder blade positioning is very important.
  • Number two is to do with your grip width – how far apart your hands are on the bar. This varies from person to person.
  • Number three is to do with your back, which is actually a lot more involved in the bench press than you might think.
  • Number four is do with your elbows, and how to position them effectively for strength and safety.
  • Number five is for those who feel they have a good handle on the above – once you bring your hips and legs into the equation, that’s where you really start to progress.

Let’s get into it!

Scapula Positioning

So before we even get to the bench we need to talk about is your shoulder positioning. A lot of people find that their shoulders actually do too much work in the bench press, and this may contribute to their chest being underdeveloped or their shoulders causing them pain. 

When you press you need to put your shoulders into a position where they can’t recruit much force, and your chest is under the most stress. All this requires is simply retracting your shoulders (pulling them back and together), and holding them in this retracted position when pressing – this can be harder than it seems. If you’re new to this technique make sure to check your shoulders are still fully retracted after each rep.

However, it’s not quite that simple. Your shoulders have more in them than moving up and down, and odds are you may benefit from tweaking that retracted position a bit further. Bear in mind these feel different for different people – try and see what feels the strongest and most comfortable for you, and rock that technique.

Two things you’re going to want to try is once retracted, try and pull your shoulders down towards your hips as much as you can. People find this helps them get a solid arch in their back (more on this later) which helps gets your chest into a better position.

The other technique you can try is a retracted and elevated position – squeeze your shoulders blades together and shrug up. If you have a particularly strong chest you may find this is more comfortable as you are putting more of a stretch on the lower pec fibers in this position.

When you first try this it may feel quite unnatural. However, this technique reduces the amount of force applied to the shoulders and maximizes the amount of strain on the chest. This is key for long-term shoulder health and maximum chest involvement in the bench press.

Grip Width

Now we’ve talked about the shoulder positioning, we need to get into your grip width on the bar. Grip width is highly individual, and there’s two different types. They are determined by how long your arms are. For example, if you have longish arms, it’s going to mean your grip is slightly wider. And if you have shorter arms, then your grip is going to be a bit narrower. 

The two grips are:

  • Elbows and forearms at a 90° angle or slightly less than a 90° angle
  • Elbows and forearms at >90° angle

The 90° works well for a lot of people as it’s the most efficient position. Because your forearm is straight, you are able to transfer the pressing force the most efficiently into the bar. When you angle in or out, it becomes harder to transfer that force efficiently.

The reason the >90° angle is still a strong contender is because even though it’s less efficient to press that way, you’re actually shortening the bench stroke. The range of motion that the bar has to travel is less. Therefore, you have to do less total work. 

It really becomes a trade-off between pressing efficiently and range of motion with these two grip widths.

That’s Great… But How Do I Decide?

What I recommend doing is taking a weight that’s fairly heavy for you, say about 70-80% of your 1RM. Then try both of those grip widths, and see what feels the most efficient for you. You are looking for where you feel the strongest and most comfortable – go with that one. 

Back Positioning

We’ve covered your shoulder positioning and grip width, let’s talk back. When you bench press for strength, it’s really important that you arch your back. And when I say back I mean your thoracic spine (mid-spine).

It comes down to these two main reasons.

Range of Motion 

The number one reason is that when you arch you’re shortening the bench stroke – the amount of distance that the bar has to travel to your chest and back. That’s simply because your chest is getting pushed up, and that naturally shortens the range of motion.

Bio-Mechanics

Number two (and much more complicated) is that it actually gives you better bio-mechanics. It puts you in a better position and gives you more leverage. 

This is all to do with the shape of your pec muscle. It’s shaped like a fan. It starts at your sternum (mid-chest) and clavicle (below your neck) and tapers off into your humerus (your arm) like a fan. What that means is when you bench press with your back flat and your elbows flared out, you’re actually only activating the top part of your chest – The fibres that are in that horizontal line of pull. 

However, when you push your chest up and arch your back, that ends up activating some of the lower fibres because they’re been moved into the line of pull. Before, they weren’t adding anything to the equation.

By using this technique, you’re able to recruit more of your chest fibres and press more. That’s also why most people are stronger on decline bench press, as it’s doing this for you.

Let’s Get To Arching!

So how do you do it? Firstly, you lie on the bench and get your shoulders into position. Next bring your feet up on the bench and bridge up so your upper traps (top of your shoulders) are pressed into the bench.

Remember what that feels like, because that’s what you’re going to try and hold when you bring your feet down. Bring your feet to the floor and hold as much of an arch through your mid-back as you can. Push back into the bench and bring your bum as close to your shoulders as you can. Try and keep your weight pressed into your shoulders.

Now – take this a little bit easy. Some people can arch more than others, and you don’t want to cause any pain. But that’s going to put you into the best position to bench big.

Elbows

You’re doing well if you’ve made it this far. Moving on though, where should your elbows go when you bench? Flared out or tucked in?

Well actually, neither…

Let’s start by covering what you don’t want to be doing.

You shouldn’t flare your elbows out to anywhere close to a 90° angle from your body. This puts a lot more strain on your chest (yay!) but it comes at the expense of exposing your shoulders to a lot of force. In my experience this is the number one reason people suffer from shoulder pain while pressing. Not worth it guys. You’ll hear a lot of bodybuilders advocate this technique though.

But hang on, I said I shouldn’t tuck your elbows either… True, you don’t want to over-tuck your elbows – they actually need to be somewhere in the middle. Most people find that a 45-60° angle out from their body works very well. That ends up balancing shoulder health and chest activation nicely.

Legs and Hips

I thought we were talking about the bench press?

If you bench correctly, then your legs and hips should be working just as hard as your chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Before you read this though, if you still haven’t mastered the four hacks above, work on those first.

However, for all you bench pressing beasts out there, this one’s for you.

What I’m talking about here is the concept of leg drive – using your legs to push your chest into the bar to generate extra force to get the bar moving.

Before we get into that, you need to make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor, either out on a 30-60° angle from your body, or tucked in beside the bench. Generally taller people prefer to have their legs spread, while shorter people prefer getting their legs as far back as they can. Try both and see what feels the most comfortable for you.

Once your feet are in position, before you un-rack the bar, hold onto the rack and attempt to drive with your legs to push the entire bench rack backwards. Make sure to be engaging your abdominals to keep your back stiff – this allows the force to travel through your body without dissipating. You should notice your body moves back on the bench slightly. This is what you need to harness.

This movement will allow you to generate slightly more force on that initial drive off your chest – if you time it right. You need to engage the press at the exactly the same time your chest is pushed backwards in order to capitalize on the leg drive, otherwise the bar will simply fall back.

Leg drive takes a few practices to get a decent grip on, but once you become adept at it you’ll find your strength shoots up.

And that’s it!

Before You Go…

I hope you enjoyed the post and got some useful tips that you can use in your next chest workout.

However, what we covered today is barely scratching the surface when it comes to the full bench press movement. And if you found that you did some learning today, it’s likely that there are other areas in the bench press that you still need to work on. And that if you want to become the biggest, strongest version of yourself – you need to address these. 

So to fix this problem for you, I’ve created a system. It’s called Bench Press Clinic, and it looks at all the aspects of the bench press – in order to press the most weight possible, and also to reduce any shoulder pain that you might have when you’re bench pressing. 

Little story about me, I used to have a useless bench press! I couldn’t bench press past 135 pounds. My shoulders always used to hurt when I pressed, and I actually just thought I just wasn’t cut out for the movement. I just couldn’t do it.

I ended up only using dumbbells to bench press for two years. I just completely cut out the barbell, I thought, “It’s just not going to work for me.” 

But then I went to college, did some learning – skilled myself up, and now I bench a hell of a lot more. 

If that sounds like you, if you want to be benching multiple plates, if you want to eliminate your shoulder pain permanently, so it never bothers you again – then you need to check this out.

I’ve really done the hard work for you guys, and it’s going to help you get those results that you want in the gym. 

I hope you enjoyed the article!

-Tim Ross

Check out Tim’s complete Bench Press Clinic training program here and learn to increase your bench press!

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