Three years ago I hurt my shoulder benching 85 pounds.
I felt strong, but in reality I was a twig.
Benching is the most embarrassing exercise for a skinny guy. I was ashamed to walk up to a bench after someone just finished working sets of 235.
Girls could bench more than me. Sometimes I’d rather skip the gym altogether than bench.
Well, last week I broke my personal record: 235 for two. Funny enough I was on vacation and my PR before that was 205 for one. It’s crazy what a few bullet-proof tips will do for you — especially when you’re consistent.
So let’s get into it —
Leg Drive. The Most Important Tip They Don’t Tell Skinny Guys
The bench press is an illusion.
It may look like it focuses primarily on the chest — but it doesn’t. Any good bencher is focused on their leg drive and their arch. I’ve heard 400 pound+ benchers pulling their hamstrings because their leg drive is so intense.
The best way to explain leg drive is as a grounded counterforce that creates energy in your body. I know, it probably sounds like you’re going Super Saiyan and in a way, you are.
A 2015 study by Kristiansen revealed that benching is easier the more you’re driving your legs into the ground. You are in a more mechanically advantageous position when you focus on leg drive, which, in turn, reduces demand on the central nervous system overall.
Furthermore, leg drive leads to a better arch; another tip that is grossly overlooked.
Arch. Is Yours Good Enough?
Your arch is holding you back. Most likely at least if you consistently can’t break your PR.
A lot of guys are too flat on the bench, or sometimes at best, give themselves that slight arch which isn’t nearly enough. Arch, like leg drive, is the key to breaking PRs.
In fact, if you have long arms like I do, then there’s no way you’re going to be benching anywhere near what you can handle without a proper arch.
This how I arch for a big lift:
- Line my eyes up directly under the bar.
- Place my feet on the bench, so that my whole body is now on it, and push with my feet until my back is arched and chest is sticking fully out.
- Place my feet back on the floor — usually feet wideout for extra leg drive — and maintaining that arch the whole time.
Pushing my arch up from my feet was a game changer. You might feel ridiculous at first, but it greatly impacted my results. I highly recommend it if you have longer arms.
Which Grip Is The Best?
This is another one of those things no one tells you the first time you bench; you figure anywhere on the bar will deliver the same gains.
To push maximum weight and hit the outer parts of your pecs your grip should be wide, i.e. closer to the plates. A closer grip to your body better hits the triceps but recruits less muscle support from your pecs.
Now, you shouldn’t be trying to push for maximum weight all the time. If you do you might get injured.
So, a more medium-sized grip between a wide and normal grip is good on most occasions. Moreover, it will protect the health of your shoulders over time. There are grooves on the barbell that indicate where a normal grip should be.
Lastly keep your wrists straight when benching. This was a big problem for me early on. My wrists would always bend back, which put unnecessary stress on those joints and lessened my overall power.
No Matter Where You’re At — Get a Spotter
You don’t need a spotter for every occasion. But when you’re going for a PR, you should always have one there.
A spotter gives you psychological relief that if things go bad, you won’t end up dead. Granted, a good crushing from the barbell is something you never forget (I haven’t) but I still wouldn’t recommend.
Additionally a spotter allows you to get in an extra rep that you would not have gotten in otherwise. This recruits new muscle fibers and may just be the little push you needed to get over the top.
I would never have gone for a 235-pound bench PR alone.
I honestly didn’t think I had it in me yet. But the motivation and security provided by my friend made me think it was possible. Now I realize I had a lot more in me than I thought.
Every competitive bench presser adds in accessory exercises to develop their chest. However, it’s important that you don’t rely entirely on machines that don’t do much to develop your stabilizer muscles.
These three exercises, however, were exactly the kick in the butt I needed to grow my chest:
- The Dip: One of the best exercises for developing overall upper-body strength, additionally, your lower-pecs.
- Floor Press: Better isolates the chest and excludes your legs from the equation. You won’t be breaking records but your chest will be feeling it. It’s also the best exercise for when all the benches are taken.
- Chest Flys: Don’t do these on a bench, despite what you see. This exercise overextends the shoulder joints and can be very dangerous if you add too much weight. Instead do chest flys on the floor, which allows you to load up and stay safe.
This is everything you need to know to increase your bench press and build a bigger overall chest.
The bench press looks simple on paper, but is one of the trickiest exercises to get right. I struggled more with benching than I did with deadlifting.
If you’re tired of having a sunken, flabby, or underdeveloped chest then these strategies will go a long way to helping you. Take it day by day and reap the rewards of your diligence.