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I’ve been asked frequently about how to get a bigger bench press. A guy by the name of Steve, a member at Trueform (where I train many of my clients) in particular asked me why in four years he’s never been able to do more than 6 reps at 225 lbs. To answer a question like this and really give an answer that will help him increase his bench required more information. I asked Steve what his warm-up sets and sets x reps x weight looked like for his workout. I also asked him how long he’d been following his current routine and how many times a week he trains bench.

His answers were sort of what I expected. A good guy, strong, but just not someone who’s had very much guidance or direction. He said his bench workout starts off like this:

Bench Press 12 x 135, 8×185, 1x6x225, 1x5x225, 1×4-5×225 He said no matter how hard he tries, he just doesn’t seem to get past 6 reps and then his reps drop off on subsequent sets. He says the bar goes up off his chest but always gets stuck about 4-6 inches off his chest.

There’s other dumbbell work, presses, flyes, cables, and pec deck, which is sometimes replaced with dips. Steve made it clear that he wanted to work the muscle from all angles to make sure all opportunities for increased strength were used.

I went over briefly with Steve in the gym some of what I’m going to say here, but for the record Steve, there’s more info here than we talked about so give this a good read.

The first thing you should understand about the bench press is that it is a highly technique dependent exercise. I would suggest that you start off by practicing technique with nothing more than an EMPTY bar. EMPTY!!

With that in mind, here’s the technique that I suggest:

  • 1. Lie on the bench and position yourself so that your chin or mouth is directly beneath the bar.
  • 2. Alternate between a narrow (17″), medium (22″), and a wide grip (27″) from set to set.
  • 3. Slide your heels towards your butt on the floor until they come up off the ground a little. Now dig them into the ground hard. Keep them firmly planted throughout the whole set. This will take practice. You will likely find that your heels pop up unless you actively think about it. So keep that thought in your mind throughout your set.
  • 4. Tighten your back muscles and pull your shoulder blades towards your butt so that the distance between your butt and your shoulders along the bench is as short as possible.
  • 5. Squeeze your shoulder blades as tightly together. Along with pulling your shoulders towards your butt, try to visualize the shoulder blades pulling along a V shape from where they would normally rest on the bench down towards the centre of the base of your spine.
  • 6. Squeeze the bar tightly with a closed thumb grip and lift the bar up and straight out to a position as vertical as possible above the bottom of your chest.
  • 7. Continue to squeeze the bar tightly, and bring the bar down under control to just below your chest, but not past the bottom of your ribcage. Where you bring the bar down to depends on how wide your grip on the bar is. The narrower your grip, the lower you bring the bar. So if your grip is fairly wide, the bar won’t come down as low on your ribcage. It may touch somewhere around the nipple line. Rarely during bench press training will we bring the bar down to touch the chest at a point higher than the nipple line.
  • 8. Continue to squeeze your shoulder blades tightly together and maintaining the pull of the shoulders towards your butt along the bench, drive the bar up to a point as vertically as possible until the elbows lock out.

That’s your bench press technique Steve.

Unless you’ve got your technique down perfectly, none of the things you can do to increase your bench matter at all. So work on this, and I’ll post a part II where I’ll discuss what you can do to get your bench up.

REMEMBER: With Bench Press.. you focus more on staying tight than you do on the push. So until you’ve got it perfect.. forget weight and focus on staying tight!!!