By Chet Morjaria Breaking Muscle
What do you mean, ways to bench more? It’s just bench, man. Walk in the gym, fist-bump your pals, walk over to the bench, claim your territory, slap some 45s on, and go. Smash out a couple sets of five reps, add another pair of 45s, and lift again. Nothing less than 45s allowed when bros bench. Bro rules, bro.
Sounds like fun. But alongside those unwritten bro rules that everyone knows but no one speaks about is the unwritten fact that no one’s bench has actually increased for as long as any of you muscle heads can remember.
Here are six tips to up your max bench and put the wind up your bench buddies.
1. Be Spotted
“Do you need a spot for that?”
“Nah man, I’m cool.”
Asking if you need a spot is almost a loaded question right? Spotting is a sign of weakness. A sign you might not be able to handle this weight. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Not having a spotter is a sign you might not be able to handle this weight, at least to your brain.
There is nothing wrong with using a spotter – in fact, it is the ideal way to train the bench.
Considering it’s your brain that allows you to move well and access your strength, you better keep it happy. Use spotters even at lower weights. When your brain is not as worried about basic safety, it can focus on good movement and shifting weight in a powerful manner.
2. Use Purposeful Partial Range of Motion
We’ve all heard of bro-reps before. Those less-than-full-range-of-motion lifts that enable us to shift more weight than we could by doing full and legit reps. But there’s a legit reason to do less-than-full-range, too – as long as you are doing it with purpose.
I’m sure you know what it feels like when you take a close-to-max bench press attempt out of the rack. It feels as heavy as hell, because, well, it is heavy and you’re not used to it. So get used to it. Add on a little more than you can lift. Then, with the help of a spotter, take the bar out of the rack and just hold it there. All you, bro.
“There’s a legit reason to do less-than-full-range, too – as long as you are doing it with purpose.”
This process gets your body used to handling heavier weights in more ways than one:
- You get used to the feel of this weight – so it’s not so much of a shock next time.
- This kind of isometric hold primes your tendons and ligaments for heavier loads.
You automatically get tighter in order to handle the weights. It’s important for your body to understand how to get tighter, and for you to understand what this feels like so you can replicate it.
3. Work Your Triceps
If you’ve been bro-benching for years with your elbows flared out, then your bench press numbers will probably go down by getting into a tight-and-tucked position. But don’t panic. Your body is not used to benching this way, even though it’s infinitely better in the long term, and some of the major muscle players involved will need to play catch up. Your triceps are now big players in your lift, so suggest to your mates that you all do some triceps isolation work at the end of the session. It won’t be long until your numbers are climbing back up again.
What’s more, when your friends are on the substitution bench with shoulder injuries due to their flared positions, you’ll still be on the gym bench making gains with your balanced style and new-found balanced strength to go with it.
The Tate Press is one of many excellent triceps isolation exercises that can help bring up your bench.
4. Drive Through the Floor
As you can see, the bench press is not just a chest exercise. And it’s not just an upper-body exercise either. Don’t believe me? Stick a fork into your friend’s leg as he is bench pressing and see if it affects his lift. (Please don’t really do this. But you get the idea).
What you do with your lower body makes a difference to this lift. So plant your feet to the ground. They shouldn’t move at all during the lift. And drive through them. Actively push through the floor as you drive that barbell up. I’m betting you know at least one person who benches with his feet up in the air. But this works the same as spotting – in order to get stronger, you first need to convince your CNS you’re safe and stable. Grounding yourself hard against the floor gives your brain the feedback it needs to let you unleash the beast.
5. Incremental Increases
Bro rules dictate that nothing less than a ten-pound plate is allowed. Which means minimum jumps of twenty pounds. Fine, I guess, if you’re working sub-maximal sets of multiple reps. But you’re not, are you? You’re working to maxes every time you bench.
If I can’t get you to consider a more sustainable approach, then just do me this one favor – get off the ego-train and use the incremental plates. And don’t pay attention if your mates make fun of you – because you’ll have the last laugh when all those incremental increases add up.
Setting up for a competition max is one thing, but your training should involve moving in small increments.
6. Negatives and Assisted Reps
These relate to another variation of bro-reps – the “it’s all you, bro” reps. Usually these reps go something like this:
- The bar is loaded up beyond the lifter’s capabilities.
- The bar is taken off the rack and plummets to the lifter’s chest.
- The spotter bicep curls the bar up, while motivating the lifter with, “It’s all you, bro!”
- Afterward, it’s determined the spotter barely touched the bar, so the rep is as good as clean.
Once again, this can be a legitimate technique when used appropriately. We are much stronger in the eccentric part of the movement than we are in the concentric. If we lower the bar under control and with intent, we can make use of this fact to get us stronger.
“Even the assisted (concentric) part can be used effectively, as long as the lifter is putting in the majority of the effort.”
The key is to be in control of the bar – you are pulling the bar down to your chest on your terms rather than letting it drop due to the weight. Even the assisted (concentric) part can be used effectively, as long as the lifter is putting in the majority of the effort, only helped as required by the spotter. This gets you used to handling heavy weights across a full range of motion.
Be the Bro With the Biggest Bench
So there you have it. Getting a bigger bench doesn’t have to mean giving up your Monday evening bro sessions or your Friday evening pump day, and it doesn’t have to mean not lifting heavy. In fact, many of these tips are about purposely lifting heavier than you are used to.
Be the bro with the biggest bench and you won’t have to bother with the bravado.