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How Much Can You Bench?

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This is usually one of the first questions I am asked when someone learns that I am a Personal Trainer. I guess they need to find out whether they can take me seriously or not. Right or wrong, the bench press has long been a performance standard for gaining respect in the gym. Those who can bench press the most are usually some of the biggest and strongest athletes there. 

Along with the pull-up, the bench press is a great assessment of upper body strength. Both are essential for a balanced upper body training program. (For more on Pull-ups) The bench press works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and upper back to a high degree. This is the reason we dedicate an entire column to it on our leaderboard. So whether you want to be number 1 on the leaderboard or simply want to gain more upper body strength, the following tips can help you take your bench press to the next level!

3 Tips to Boost your Bench Press
1.  Increase Training Frequency

The best tip I can give anyone is also the simplest.  If you want to bench press more weight, you need to bench press more often! This doesn’t mean you should do it everyday (your elbows and shoulders wouldn’t be very happy with you), but strength is a skill.  Skills are developed through a lot of practice. If you want to up your bench press, but only manage to do it every few months it will be difficult to improve.  By the same token, if your bench press routine of once per week for the last several years hasn’t yielded any results, why not try a different approach? Incorporating bench press more often in your training will help improve your technique, increase neural efficiency, and build muscle where you need it most.  Remember, practice makes perfect.

2.  Attack Your Weak Points

Beyond simply increasing training frequency, a great way to improve your bench press is to address your weak links. Once an athlete has a general idea of how to bench press they may be held back by weak muscle groups or technical errors. 

Adding in exercises to build up a lagging muscle group or improve technique can make a world of difference.  Let’s say an athlete has excellent technique, but always struggles to get the bar moving a couple inches past their chest. We can address this by building up the muscles used to press the bar off the chest. Adding a pause near this point in the lift will do the trick. Additionally, this athlete would benefit from extra shoulder and chest work at the end of his workout (push-ups, shoulder press, etc.) and any bench press variation with a slow tempo or pause.  These subtle changes can move him past a sticking point and keep progress coming!

3. Follow a Plan!

I remember when I first started lifting; each training session looked the same. I would show up, load up the same amount of weight, perform the exact same number of reps and call it a day. This happened for months on end.  Sure, I would add some weight every now and then, but I often had no rhyme or reason for it. 

Fast forward a couple years later where I took a very different approach.  Each session would begin with a max out attempt.  I would warm up, work up to as much weight as I could manage for 1 rep and then do 2-3 back off sets of 10 or 12 at a lighter weight. 

Neither approach had any structure or planning behind it, nor did I gain much strength from them. The moment I began following a structured plan I got stronger and set personal records faster than ever.  Once an athlete is past the beginner stage, he will need to take an intelligent approach to continue to get stronger.  A good training program is where it all comes together.  This program should combine ideal training frequency and volume with specific exercises to strengthen weak points.    

So if you want to up your bench press and etch your spot on our leaderboard, try giving these three tips a try.  Remember, progress takes hard work, consistency, and time. Our Small Group Personal Training program is a great place to put all these tips together.  Here you will get more practice, an intelligent training plan, and a coach to help you along the way! Happy Benching!

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