Want a Bigger Bench?
“How much ya bench?” Possibly the most asked question of anyone who lifts. While many people roll their eyes and consider the bench to be an ego lift, the bench press is about much more than a big chest. Many aspects of this lift are frequently overlooked. Let’s talk about why the bench press is much more than it seems.
Strengthen Your BACK
The lats and traps are very important in the bench press. These muscle groups are used in so many lifts and positions – from deadlifts to bench press to planks – knowing how and when to engage them is critical. The bench press relies on them for a successful completion of the lift. When setting up on the bench, don’t only retract your shoulder blades, but depress them down your back. Maintain this position throughout the lift. If the lats are not engaged, your elbows will likely flare out causing unnecessary stress on the shoulder joint.
If your lats are properly engaged, you should have an arch in your low back. Let me repeat that, YOU SHOULD HAVE AN ARCH IN YOUR LOW BACK. Does it need to be massive or excessive? No (unless you’re an experienced competitor trying to decrease the range of motion needed to complete the lift). However, lying on a flat surface and engaging your lats should automatically slightly increase the natural curve in the lumbar spine. In fact, the pushing angle this slight arch creates is most likely safer on the glenohumeral joint of the shoulder. As you become more experienced, you can increase the arch position and thereby decrease the range of motion needed in the lift in order to help you press more weight.
Range of Motion
Bar to chest. No questions. Right under the sports bra line or around the xiphoid process. Pause there before you lift if you really want to train the bench properly (especially in preparation for a meet). Don’t bounce the bar off your chest. You’re short-changing yourself. Touch and go training is fine when not competing (or as an accessory), but do not bounce the bar; control the descent and the lift.
After descending the bar to the xiphoid process, drive through the heels and squeeze the glutes. Think about driving force horizontally from your feet (heels) to your lats. The glutes should keep contact with the bench at all times. You may have slight hip extension as a result of squeezing the glutes, but it should not be excessive to the point that the glutes come off the bench at any time.
Check your federation. Many require feet flat on the ground but some will allow you to be on the balls of the feet during the press.
Play around with grip. Obviously, the wider the grip the smaller the range of motion for the lift, but many people feel stronger when using a little more of the triceps and going a little less wide than the max allotted grip width.
The bench press is another big lift where intra-abdominal pressure can be utilized in order to get a bigger lift. The pressure will help to stabilize the lats and traps and keep them tight during the lift. Some people even bench in a belt while others do not find it beneficial. Check out our recent blog on breathing and bracing HERE to learn more about the Valsalva maneuver and how it works with the big three lifts.
The Bar Path
The bar path in the bench press is not straight up and down. The bar should travel in an arc pattern. Elbows will not be out wide at 90 degrees as that puts pressure on the shoulder joint. The lats and traps will most likely keep the elbows in where they should be if they are properly engaged. Keep elbows around 45 degrees and the bar path in a J pattern rather than straight up.
Wide grip lat pulldowns, pullups, rows, pec flyes, skullcrushers, and other back and triceps work. Aside from the chest, strengthen the lats, traps, and triceps for a bigger bench. If you’re trying to get a bigger arch, bigger glutes won’t hurt, either!
The Power Couple