4. Use different bench press variations
Sometimes in order to progress you need to switch up the exercises. It’s been proven that a change in exercise can have a similar effect to a proper rest. Similar, yet distinct movements can cause your nervous system to send a different set of electrical signals to your muscles, which will stimulate different contraction patterns in your muscle fibers.
The result is that some muscle fibers are broken down more in different movements, even though the movement pattern seems similar. This means that you can increase your size and strength merely by changing your workout routine. So, how would you put this theory into practice? Quite easily. If you’ve been bench pressing with a barbell, switch to dumbbells for a certain period. Or, you can switch the flat bench variation for an incline or decline bench.
Sometimes, even changing the order of the exercises when training chest might be enough to stimulate growth. Then, when you go back to your old exercises, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to bench press, even more, weight than before and set a personal record. It’s important to note that you will still need to free-weight movements. Cable flyes or pec-deck machines won’t strengthen the chest in any significant way to become stronger on the bench press. Stick to the basic movements, and switch them every now and then.
5. Improve your technique
The fact is that the majority of people in the gym simply don’t know how to bench press. Most personal trainers don’t know either. So, unless you’ve had the privilege of having a powerlifting or strength coach to guide you through the motions, then it’s very likely that you have all kinds of imperfections in your form, big or small that prevent you from fully applying maximum strength to the movement. Here are some common tips to improve your bench press technique and move more weight:
Place your feet firmly on the floor! There’s this misconception about getting your feet off the bench will make you stronger while pressing. The truth is that this is such a poor way to perform this exercise that it’s laughable. Any serious powerlifter will tell you that the legs constitute a base of strength for your body and in order to lift as much weight as possible, your feet must be placed firmly on the floor, imagining you’re pushing your heels through the floor as you press.
Always tuck the elbows! Don’t tuck them as close as you would in a close-grip bench, but make sure that you don’t flair them out too much. Seen from above, your upper arm and torso should form a 45-degree angle between them. This positioning will engage your triceps and shoulders a lot more and it will take a portion of the stress of your chest for the initial 5-6 inches of the pressing movement. This will result in increased weight on the bar once you get used to the form. This positioning is also healthier for the shoulders and the rotator cuffs.
Arch your back. Arching the back is not dangerous when doing it for the bench press. There’s another misconception that it places too much stress on the vertebrae and your lower back. This is not true. When bench pressing, the generated force is in a downward direction through the arms and born by your shoulder blades and upper back which are placed on the bench. This remains the same whether you arch the back or not. When you arch the back, you tense the entire torso, creating a stable base from which you lift the weight. This translates to much less work for the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles when it comes to stabilizing the weight and they are free to exert more force upwards. In the end, you press more weight.