The Smart Way to Train the Bench Press
1. Stop Benching. (Well, Kinda.)
It sounds contradictory, but sometimes the best way to improve your bench press is to stop benching for a few weeks.
There are several reasons for this. We can’t wait to get under that bar and bench press, but unfortunately the bench can really take its toll on your joints. Inflammation of the shoulders and elbows from benching too often is common. Once you get hit with shoulder or elbow pain, you’re going to be set back for weeks, if not months.
The easiest way to deal with this? Don’t let it happen in the first place. Rotate your barbell bench press with some time off. Do a 4-8 week block of no-bar benching. You can still do other things like the floor press, block press, and dumbbell press, but just take a break from your standard barbell bench press and let your joints and nervous system recover.
2. Add 10 Minutes of Weak-Link Work
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. You can have strong pecs and triceps, but you’ll have problems if your mobility sucks. You can have monstrous triceps, but if your rotator cuff is weak you’re an injury waiting to happen. It’s important to pay attention to the small stuff – the stuff that we should be doing but we generally don’t do. Put aside ten minutes and add in the following:
Soft Tissue Work Grab a lacrosse ball or a foam roller and spend some time hitting your pecs, upper back, and lats. No one said you have to like it, but you have to do it.
Mobility Work Do resistance band work. Grab a stretch band and do some pull-aparts and shoulder dislocates, 3 sets of each for 12-15 reps.
Scap Push-Up Add these in before each pressing workout. Vary them from the knees and toes and change your hand position between close and wide. Change it up on every set.
Face Pull Add in face pulls before every pressing day. You can even build them into your pressing workouts. It really doesn’t matter when you do them, what matters is that you get them done.
Stability Work Add in one stability exercise every push day. Some great options for these are overhead carry variations like kettlebell carries, bottoms-up kettlebell carries, and even barbell overheard carries. These can be done before or after your workout.
Just ten minutes will help you get stronger, move better, and reduce chance of injury in the long run. Do it.
3. Pull More Than Push, Build Your Back
You need a strong upper back to have a strong bench. Here’s a simple rule: For every pressing exercise you do, you have to do two pulling exercises.
Most of the top bench pressers have monstrous upper backs for a reason. You need to have balance, and they have it. If your upper back doesn’t match your front, you’ll fall short of your strength goals and you’ll get injured at some point. Spend a lot of time focusing on upper back work and pulling exercises. Here are some of the most effective ones:
T’s, Y’s, W’s
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Pick 2-4 of these pulling exercises and rotate them every training block.
How to Do T’s, Y’s, and W’s
How to Do the Pendlay Row
4. Do Explosive Exercises
We sometimes forget about doing explosive-type exercises. They’re very beneficial and can rapidly improve your bench press. The most effective ones include:
Med Ball Wall Toss
Dynamex Ball Wall Toss
Explosive Band Push-Up
How to Put It All Together
Here are two programs that incorporate all the above. The first program gives you a break from standard bench pressing and focuses more on dumbbell work and hitting your upper back a bit more. Once you run this program for 6 weeks, follow it up with program two, which focuses on the barbell bench press.
Program 1: Hypertrophy Focus, 6 Weeks
Exercise Sets Reps
A1 Scap Push-Up 3 12
A2 Face Pull 3 12
A3 Plyo Push-Up 3 6
B1 Flat Dumbbell Press (neutral grip) 5 8
B2 One-Arm Dumbbell Row 5 12
C1 Incline Dumbbell Flye 5 10
C2 T’s, Y’s, W’s 5 15
D Seated Row 5 8
E Triceps Pushdown 5 20
F Overhead Carry Variation
Program 2: Back-To-Barbell Benching, 6 Weeks
Exercise Sets Reps
A1 Scap Push-Up 3 12
A2 Face Pull (high to low) 3 12
A3 Plyo Med Ball Toss 3 8
A4 Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry 3 15 yd./arm
B1 Flat Barbell Bench Press (75%) 5 5
B2 Horizontal Barbell Row 5 12
C1 Floor Press 5 5
C2 Pull-Up 5 5
D Seated-Row (close grip) 5 8
E Shoulder Complex 8 front, 8 side, 8 rear