16 Science-Backed Ways to Increase Your Bench Press Weights

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Ready to break through your bench press plateau?

Today’s guide will help you transform your bench press performance from average to exceptional. This isn’t a beginner’s how-to; it’s a deep dive into advanced techniques that will skyrocket your strength.

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Discover the secrets of the powerlifting arch, master the lockout phase, and leverage leg drive like a pro. Get insider tips on nutrition, supplementation, and the mental game to push your limits. 

Advanced Bench Lifting Techniques

Utilizing the Powerlifting Arch

The powerlifting arch is a technique used by experienced lifters to increase the power and efficiency of their bench press. By creating an arch in your lower back, you can position your body to maximize chest muscle activation and reduce the range of motion, making the lift easier to complete.

To effectively utilize the powerlifting arch, plant your feet firmly on the ground, retract your shoulder blades, and lift your chest up. This will create a natural arch in your lower back, allowing you to apply more force and power during the lift.

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Perfecting the Lockout Phase

The lockout phase is the final part of the bench press, where you fully extend your arms and lock your elbows. Mastering this phase is crucial for increasing your overall bench press performance. One way to improve the lockout phase is to focus on squeezing your chest muscles and triceps at the top of the movement. Practice holding this position for a few seconds with each rep to strengthen your upper body muscles.

Another technique to perfect the lockout phase is to engage in “board presses.” This exercise involves placing a padded board or other support on your chest while performing the bench press. The board reduces the range of motion, allowing you to focus solely on the lockout phase. By practicing this exercise regularly, you can strengthen your triceps and improve your lockout technique.

Leveraging Leg Drive

Leg drive is an important aspect of a successful bench press, yet it’s often overlooked. By utilizing your leg muscles, you can generate additional force and power during the lift, resulting in greater overall strength gains.

To leverage leg drive, plant your feet firmly on the ground, with your feet directly under or slightly in front of your knees. As you lower the bar, tighten your leg muscles and drive your heels into the ground. This will create a strong base, enabling you to transfer more power through your body and into the lift.

Nutrition and Supplementation

To increase your bench press, focusing on nutrition and supplementation is crucial. A well-balanced diet filled with the right nutrients will support your strength, size, muscle gain, and recovery.

Macronutrients play a significant role in improving your bench press performance. Ensure your diet includes:

  • Protein: Consume lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, and plant-based options like beans, lentils, and tofu.
  • Carbohydrates: Opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, sweet potatoes, and vegetables to fuel your workouts.
  • Fats: Incorporate healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

In addition to a balanced diet, some supplements may help you increase your bench press. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Creatine: Research suggests that creatine supplementation can enhance near-maximal strength and endurance in high-intensity bench press exercise.
  2. Betaine: Betaine supplementation can positively affect power performance and fatigue reduction.
  3. Beetroot Juice: Acute beetroot juice supplementation has been shown to improve bench press power, velocity, and repetition volume.

Keep in mind that supplements should not replace a well-rounded diet. Always consult with a healthcare professional before adding new supplements to your routine. Hydration is also essential for muscle function and recovery, so make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day.

Mastering the Mental Aspect

Setting Realistic Goals

It’s essential to set realistic goals when working on increasing your bench press. Write down your short-term and long-term goals and track your progress regularly. For example, you can aim for a 5% increase in weight every month or a specific personal best in six months.

Remember to also consider other factors like your bodyweight, experience level, and available training time when setting your goals. Creating a progress chart can be helpful in monitoring your improvement. Break your goal down into smaller milestones to keep yourself motivated and focused. It might look something like this:

MonthTarget Weight (lbs)
1135
2142
3149
4156
5164
6172

Staying Motivated Throughout Your Journey

Consistency and motivation play vital roles in improving your bench press performance. To stay motivated:

  1. Find a training partner: Having someone who shares your goals can make the process more enjoyable and provide accountability.
  2. Track your progress: Keep a training log or use a mobile app to monitor your bench press improvements and celebrate small victories.
  3. Visualize your success: Regularly imagining yourself successfully lifting heavier can reinforce your belief in your abilities and increase mental strength.
  4. Reward yourself: Treat yourself to something you enjoy after achieving milestones or setting personal records.
  5. Stay engaged and learn: Follow reputable strength training experts and invest time in understanding effective techniques and strategies.

Evaluating Progress and Making Adjustments

Tracking Strength Gains

Tracking your strength gains is essential to evaluating progress in your bench press performance. One effective way to monitor your progress is by keeping a workout journal. Document every bench press session including the number of sets, repetitions, and weight lifted. This will help you identify trends and patterns in your strength development.

The use of velocity-based strength training can also be valuable in tracking improvements. By monitoring the speed at which you perform each repetition of the bench press, you can assess the rate of force development and make necessary adjustments to your program (source).

Adapting Your Program Over Time

As you progress and make strength gains, it’s crucial to adapt your bench press program accordingly. Here are some tips for making adjustments to your workout routine:

  1. Increase the intensity: Gradually increase the weight you are lifting. Ensure you maintain proper form and technique to prevent injuries.
  2. Switch up your rep range: Vary the number of repetitions per set. For example, if you’ve been working with sets of 5 reps, try incorporating sets of 3 reps or 8 reps, depending on your goals.
  3. Adjust exercise variations: Incorporate different variations of the bench press such as incline, decline, or close-grip to target different areas of the chest and supporting muscle groups.
  4. Control your tempo: Experiment with the speed of your repetitions, like pausing at the bottom of each rep. This can help in developing strength at various points in the range of motion.

Exercises to Help Increase Your Bench Press

Incorporating a variety of exercises is key to achieving muscle balance and preventing injuries, as it ensures the development of both pushing and pulling muscles. Exercises targeting supporting muscles like the back, core, and legs are crucial for a stable and efficient bench press technique. This diversity in training also helps in overcoming strength plateaus by challenging muscles in new ways and addressing specific weak points, such as enhancing triceps strength for better lockout

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Barbell Row: This exercise targets your upper back muscles, which play a significant role in providing a solid base for your bench press. To perform a barbell row, hold the barbell with an overhand grip, hinge at your hips, and maintain a neutral spine. Pull the barbell towards your chest, then slowly return it to the starting position. Incorporate barbell rows into your workout routine to create a strong foundation for bench pressing.

Glute Bridge: A strong lower body contributes to stability and force generation during the bench press. The glute bridge exercise helps in activating and strengthening your glutes, which support your pelvis and drive force through your legs during the lift. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes at the top, then lower them back down. Add this exercise to your regimen to improve lower body strength and stability.

Shoulder Press: This exercise enhances deltoid and triceps strength, both essential for driving the barbell upward during the bench press. To perform a shoulder press, hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing forward. Push the dumbbells upwards until your arms are fully extended, then lower them back down to the starting position. Including shoulder presses in your workouts will help you build shoulder and triceps strength for a more powerful bench press.

Close-Grip Pushup: A close-grip pushup targets your triceps and chest muscles, which are crucial for the bench press. To perform this exercise, assume a pushup position with your hands placed closer than shoulder-width apart. Lower your body towards the floor, keeping your elbows tucked close to your sides, then push back up to the starting position. Integrating close-grip pushups into your routine will strengthen triceps and chest muscles, improving your bench press performance.

Dumbbell Pullover: This exercise focuses on your lats and serratus anterior muscles, which assist in stabilizing your shoulders during the bench press. To perform a dumbbell pullover, lie on a bench with a dumbbell held in both hands above your chest. Slowly lower the weight behind your head in an arcing motion, keeping your arms slightly bent. Return the dumbbell to the starting position. Add dumbbell pullovers to your workout to enhance shoulder stability and lat strength for an improved bench press.

Incorporating these exercises into your workout routine will help develop the necessary strength, stability, and muscle activation for increasing your bench press performance.

Specificity and Frequency

When it comes to increasing your bench press strength, specificity plays a crucial role. It’s important to perform a range of chest exercises consistently to see genuine results. These exercises can include the bench press, alternating bench press, single-arm bench press, chest flies, incline/decline flies, and kneeling single-arm chest press.

Frequency is another significant aspect of strength gains. Striking the right balance in exercise frequency can ensure optimal strength stimulus without risking overtraining. Studies suggest that exercisers performing 8 to 12 sets of chest exercises weekly see the largest strength gains in their bench press. On the other hand, those who perform 12+ sets per week experience a decline in strength gains after six weeks.

Here’s a brief breakdown of bench press strength gains based on the average frequency of performing chest exercises:

  • Less than 4 sets per week: Noticeable drop in strength improvements
  • 4 to 8 sets per week: Strength gains, but below more frequent exercisers
  • 8 to 12 sets per week: Optimal range for maximizing strength

Research indicates that performing around 8 sets per week is the sweet spot for maximizing strength. To improve your bench press, it’s recommended to aim for 8 to 12 sets per week.

Improve Triceps Strength

While the pectoralis major (chest) muscles play a significant role in the bench press, it’s essential not to overlook the triceps brachii, a powerful elbow extensor that assists in lifting the bar. In order to enhance your bench press performance, your chest and triceps must work synergistically. As a result, focusing on strengthening your triceps can significantly impact your bench press performance.

Incorporating isolated triceps exercises such as triceps extensions, skull-crushers, and kickbacks into your training routine can lead to increased bench press strength. Studies show that exercisers who performed three or more triceps exercises per week achieved more substantial strength gains on the bench press compared to those who performed less than three sets1.

Following a period of six weeks, there is a noticeable increase in the bench press strength of those performing at least three sets of triceps isolation exercises per week. By adding at least three sets of triceps isolation exercises into your weekly training routine, you can boost your bench press strength by over 8 percent. 

To further optimize your results, consider incorporating targeted resistance training into your routine. This type of training focuses on the specific muscle activation patterns required for exercises such as the bench press and can help you achieve more substantial improvements in performance.

By implementing these strategies, you will effectively strengthen your triceps muscles, leading to significant improvements in your overall bench press performance.

Add chains or bands to your bar

Adding chains or bands to your barbell bench press can be an effective way to increase your strength and power. By incorporating variable resistance training methods such as chains or elastic bands, you can target antagonist and synergist muscles along with motor unit recruitment. This can ultimately lead to greater strength gains when compared to conventional weight training.

To use chains, you should attach them on each end of the barbell so that the chains pool on the floor when the bar is at its lowest point. As you press up, more links lift off the ground, increasing the resistance in the stronger portion of the lift. This provides less resistance at the bottom, where the movement is more challenging and the shoulder is most vulnerable, allowing you to confidently explode upward.

When using bands, you can attach them to the barbell and the rack or floor to provide progressive resistance throughout the bench press movement. This will also allow the bands to add additional tension at the top of the lift while offering less resistance at the bottom portion.

In a study, it was observed that participants who used chains in their bench press workouts improved strength over a six-week period, seeing as much as an 8 percent increase in strength gains. Adding chains or bands after your third week of lifting can help enhance power and strength during different phases of the bench press.

To maximize the benefits of using chains or bands, ensure proper technique, maintain control throughout the movement, and gradually increase resistance as your strength progresses. Experimenting with different types of chains and bands can also help you find the most effective combination for your specific training goals.

Try Lower Reps with More Weights

Using lower repetitions and heavier weights in your sets is an effective strategy for boosting your bench press strength. Research supports this approach for a wide range of individuals, from elite athletes to recreational exercisers.

One study showed that exercisers who used a lower rep range, specifically between 5 to 8 repetitions, significantly improved their bench press strength compared to those who completed 10 or more repetitions per set. This improvement became evident after just one week.

To ensure adequate strength stimulus in every workout, it is advisable to automatically increase the weight for lower rep counts and decrease it for higher ones. The primary goal should be reducing reps while also increasing the weight.

As you set your training parameters, remember to apply the concept of progressive overload. By gradually increasing the weight over time, you allow your body to adapt to new demands and continue developing strength. 

If you prefer a more traditional approach, consider trying a four-week program like Better Bench to help perfect your bench press technique.

Using the “10-20% Rule”

When working on increasing your bench press, it’s essential to implement a strategy that allows for effective progression. One such technique is the 10-20% rule. This rule focuses on the idea that if you can lift less than 10% of your max at any given time, then you should increase the weight until it becomes challenging, and halt at that point.

Suppose your maximum bench press is 225lbs (75kg). To apply the 10-20% rule, you would first need to determine the range of weight you should be lifting. In this example, start by performing 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps each week with a load between 60% and 70% of your maximum. This means you should be lifting between 135lbs and 157.5lbs (45kg and 52.5kg).

To progress using this rule, consider the following steps:

  1. Increase the weight: As you become stronger, gradually increase the weight by 10-20% of your maximum. Keep the increase small enough to maintain control and prevent injury.
  2. Monitor your performance: Track the number of reps you complete for each set. If you can consistently perform more than 10 reps with your current weight, it’s time to increase the weight according to the 10-20% rule.
  3. Prioritize form: Always prioritize maintaining proper form while you lift. Even as you follow the 10-20% rule, and lift heavier weights, maintaining good form is crucial to prevent injuries and ensure progress.

Remember, consistency is key in any training program. Stick to your planned routine, follow the 10-20% rule, and you’ll gradually see improvements in your bench press performance.

Train to failure

Training to failure can be an effective method for enhancing your bench press strength. When you train to failure, your goal is to complete as many repetitions as possible while maintaining proper form and technique (source).

In order to determine the appropriate weight for training to failure, consider applying the 10-20% rule. This guideline suggests that if you’re able to lift less than 10% of your maximum weight at any given time, you should increase the weight until it becomes challenging, but not impossible to lift. For instance, if your bench press maximum is 225lbs (75kg), you should aim to complete 3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions per week, using a load between 60% and 70% of your maximum weight.

Here are some useful tips for successfully incorporating training to failure into your bench press routine:

  1. Focus on proper form: As you begin to fatigue, it’s crucial to maintain proper form in order to avoid injury and ensure that you’re targeting the correct muscles.
  2. Incrementally increase the weight: Gradually increase the weight as you become stronger. This will ensure that you’re consistently challenging your muscles and making progress.
  3. Monitor your progress: Keep track of the weight lifted and the number of repetitions completed for each set. This will help you determine the effectiveness of your training program and make adjustments if necessary.

Add in some plyometric training

Plyometric training is an excellent way to enhance your bench press performance. This type of training consists of explosive movements that stretch and contract your muscles rapidly, effectively teaching your muscles how to manage heavy loads and sudden changes in direction. As a result, incorporating plyometric exercises into your workout routine can help you lift more weight during each repetition.

One basic plyometric exercise to incorporate into your training is the plyometric push-up. To perform this exercise, begin in a standard push-up position. As you push up, explode off the ground with enough force to lift both your hands and feet off the floor. Once airborne, clap your hands together and then land back into the push-up position, immediately lowering yourself into the next repetition. This exercise not only increases upper body strength but also promotes power and explosiveness.

Another effective plyometric exercise is the medicine ball chest pass. To perform this exercise, stand facing a wall, holding a medicine ball close to your chest with both hands. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart for stability. Explosively push the ball away from your chest, throwing it against the wall. Catch the ball as it bounces back and immediately perform another chest pass. This exercise enhances your pushing strength and power, which directly translates to improvements in your bench press.

In addition to these exercises, you can also incorporate plyometric dips. Start with your hands on parallel dip bars, with your arms extended and supporting your body weight. Lower yourself down, and then rapidly push up, propelling your body upwards. Land back on the dip bars and immediately perform the next repetition. This exercise focuses on the triceps, a critical muscle group for the bench press.

Bench Press Variations

In addition to the standard barbell bench press, there are various bench press variations that can help you target different muscle groups and work on specific aspects of the exercise. Here are some popular bench press variations:

  • Dumbbell Bench Press: This variation allows for a more natural range of motion and engages stabilizing muscles more than using a barbell.
  • Incline Bench Press: Performed on a bench with an incline, this variation places more emphasis on the upper pectorals and anterior deltoids.
  • Close Grip Bench Press: By bringing your grip closer together, you increase the activation of the triceps muscles during the exercise.

Balancing Volume and Intensity

To optimize your training program, it’s essential to find the right balance of volume (total reps and sets) and intensity (percentage of your 1RM). Developing strength requires higher intensity and lower volume, whereas muscle hypertrophy is achieved with moderate intensity and higher volume.

For example, you might focus on strength training (4 sets of 6 reps at 85% 1RM) during the earlier weeks of your training program and gradually shift to hypertrophy-focused workouts (5 sets of 10 reps at 65% 1RM) as you progress. This way, you’ll get the best results by addressing both strength and size while continually challenging your muscles to adapt and grow.

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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