"How much do you bench?"...Sounds familiar right?Anyone I have chatted with about training has always managed to pulled this question out randomly. It seems like how much you bench has became the new measurement of being a man. With the bench rising in importance for "bro acceptance", many actually do not know how to improve their bench. To most, increasing a lift seems to be done just by doing the lift and doing all the work you can do. This can have some merit to it, but is not the way to go about your bench progress. Without a purpose for each component, your plan will have wasted potential to be as optimal as can be. Benching, against common belief, is a very technical lift just like the squat and dead-lift. When you must tighten your entire body to complete a lift, the execution must have timing, correct muscle activation, and proper form (form varies on goals, but is recommended to use a power-lifting style bench to prevent pec tears from excessive elbow flair).
So we understand the bench is important to our manhood, needs a plan of attack, and is a very technical lift. So where do we start? The first, and foremost starting point is analyzing your goals. What do you desire? Do you want a strong bench, a big chest, weight loss, endurance, etc.. Picking a goal will be the biggest factor in how you will want to set up your routine. For the sake of this article, let's assume what most "bros" want, a bigger bench and a bigger chest. With this goal now set, we can start planning ways to reach that distinct goal.
The first and most important way to increase your bench is benching. I know this sounds very common sense, but too many individuals will search the entire web and use every exercise in the book, before they run out of ideas and realize this is the ultimate exercise to raise your bench. Benching for your bench will not only help strength increases and mass increases, but help your efficiency at executing the best form to reach your goals. When it comes to any motor patterns required for highly technical lifts, we must practice them as if they were a skill you were trying to master. With benching more, I would suggest either increasing your volume in the session (amount of sets and reps) or increasing your frequency of the lift. Increasing the frequency of the lift with the same weekly volume has been proven both through research and experience to increase strength for a specific lift. Raising your bench frequency to three times a week and only 5 sets per session rather than 15 sets on one day can be very beneficial for practice and hypertrophy. Then sets and reps might total the same weekly, but the increased practice from the frequency and the increased weights used by being more "fresh" each session will aid in further progress towards your goal.
Secondly, a very over looked tool for aiding in your bench would be to gain some weight. I know, I know, this world envies six packs, skinny jeans, and Bieber haircuts...but you are here to get big and strong, right? I'm not telling you to become a fat slob, but to maybe gain 5-10lbs. Though this doesn't sound like much, this little bit of added weight can actually help your bench tremendously by aiding in your leverages with a bigger chest to touch the bar on, bigger lats to rest your elbows/triceps on, and bigger arms for your bicep/forearm to flex against one. All these three things will aid in support at the bottom of your benching where the lift is most difficult for raw lifters. (Need weight gainers?)
Something I find every single novice lifter to overlook is their back. Your upper back has got to be one of, if not the most important body parts to train.Every lift you can think of will benefit from a strong back. Just like the core, the back is used to help stabilize the body. During squats the upper back keeps you from collapsing forward. During the dead-lift the back is used to stabilize the spine (alongside your abdominal muscles) and is used in some extent of range of motion, giving it more somewhat more popularity in the dead lift. Now with the bench, the upper back will help your stabilize the bar as you lower and press it. The rear deltoids specifically are great stabilizers and are utilized more than you can imagine. Next time you bench pretend you are ripping the bar in half, get back to me on your sore back. I would typically train my back heavy back with higher reps/bodybuilding style (5-6sets 6-15reps). Exercises like chest supported rows and pull-ups are amazing for myself and many others as they allow you to push your back to a great extent without taxing your lower back. This can be very beneficial for your lower/upper split or full body split as you will need some rest for the lower back before squatting or dead-lifting. Other exercises I have used have been band pull-aparts, rear delt flys, lat-pull-downs, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and even pullovers. On your lower body days, you could incorporate snatch grip dead-lifts to hit your entire posterior chain (back/hamstrings/glutes) very hard with some added frequency/stimulus to your upper back training.
A common tool used by every level of lifter, but not utilized correctly by novice lifters would be to do more accessory work. Doing stuff like bicep curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, and chest flys seems to interest many lifters with the goal of a bigger chest and a stronger bench. The only problem with their utilization is they pick exercises they are good at rather than bad. "Well what is a light weight on an exercise I suck at going to do for my bench?" The answer is....EVERYTHING! Lifts are progressed by strengthening what is weak. If you can bench 225 for reps, but anything around 275-315 your elbows get stuck in the elbow rotation/tricep extension phase of the lift, it will be safe to say your shoulders are weak. Something like this can be improved by dumbbell incline neutral grip/Arnold press presses (used commonly in power-lifting). You are only as strong as your weakest link. You may be a bro that only does arms with intensity and has strength potential to bench 315+, built without a strong enough chest and shoulders, your arms will be of no use to you benching. This is why you must decide your accessories based off of your weak points. To keep the routine from being entirely things you suck at, throw in a favorite exercise for every exercise you use to improve a weak point, just do not skimp over the weak point training to rush towards the rack for your endless sets of dumbbell curls.
The last tip I think would be highly beneficial to every lifter would be to utilize full body tension. You will see all sorts of Instagram videos of individuals benching heavy with their legs up or squatting with no hands. This is impressive and entertaining to watch, but remember the weights these individuals use with these lifts will be much lighter than their actual work loads used for regular benching. These videos are used more for entertainment purposes, rather than improving their lifts in a whole ( though I will state some power-lifters will do some benching with their legs up because they have benched so long with leg drive that they try build solid press only power). Utilizing your legs in the bench ( pressing down with your toes or heels and being in a tight position) will help you contract your glutes, which help you tense your lower back. Your tense lower back and glutes help with your upper back in aiding stabilization. This can be very beneficial when under heavy loads.
Benching can be seen as a lazy lift, or a just downright easy exercise. After you decide you want to push some serious weights, you will have to wrap your head around the fact that benching 300,400,500 pounds is a process requiring tremendous amounts of smart planning/training. For some lifters, a 300 pound bench will be enough to satisfy them (Most will get stuck at 135-275). Rethinking how you think about the bench is crucial. If you want to bench heavy, you will have to change your perception of the exercise.